Your 2017 Airport Arrival Instructions
They will ask, ‘Why are you here?’
Before you get off the plane, deactivate your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Erase all those cheesy pictures you took at your cousin’s wedding with sweaty people dancing in kuffeyahs. Individually type every country in the Middle East into the search bar of all your email accounts. Delete every email that comes up.
Buy a few bottles of whiskey for your friends at the Duty Free before getting in line at passport control.
If you happen to be noticeably female, take off your jacket. Your exposed shoulders will make you look less suspicious. Less Arab. Less Muslim.
If you happen to be noticeably male, for god’s sake, shave. Yes, all your facial hair needs to go. And seriously, now is not the time for your revolutionary t-shirts, not the time for your “fight the power” tag necklace. Not the time for your baggy pants and those kicks you spent way too much money on. Instead, try that pastel-colored polo shirt your mom makes you wear on the holidays.
Your exposed shoulders will make you look less suspicious. Less Arab. Less Muslim.
Wait until the passport security officer waves you over. They will look down at the name written in your passport. They will look at your face, look back at your name, look back at your face. Smile.
They will ask: What is your father’s name? Tell them. Do you have brothers? Tell them. But be careful. Don’t let the automatic “Allah yarhamu” (“God rest his soul”) slip through your lips after saying their names; speaking Arabic, after all, has gotten people kicked off of flights, and most English speakers fear the word allah. Keep it in your mind. Keep this for yourself.
Your mother’s name? Tell them. Your father’s father’s name? Tell them. The name of your mother’s mother? Have any of your family members been to jail?
They will ask for the names of all your male cousins and uncles. They obviously have no idea how big your family is.
Puzzled by your friendly, “normal” appearance — bared shoulders, wide smile — and all the Arab names coming out of your mouth, they will ask, Why are you here? Before you get a chance to answer, they will close your passport and use it to point toward the small room brightly lit with flickering halogen lights. Go there and sit.
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Tell them the truth.
Tell them that, yes sure, you hate terrorists. But do not elaborate on the U.S.’ own long and sordid history of enabling terrorism in the Middle East.
Tell them that Arab culture is misogynistic . But don’t go into one of your tirades about the one universalism you believe is true across almost all cultures — misogyny.
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Tell them that what’s happening in Syria is a tragedy. Do not explain further! Just say that too many of those women are traumatized. Say that it is so so sad…
Tell them that you are interning for an NGO or remind them about your visa papers and your official research. Tell them that you are an anthropologist. Tell them that the purpose of your visit is to help poor women who are victims of both political and domestic violence.
When they ask you why you were denied entry three summers ago, tell them that you don’t know but that you go to Yale. Repeat the names of all the fancy universities that you’ve attended whenever you get the chance.
Repeat the names of all the fancy universities that you’ve attended whenever you get the chance.
Above all else, tell them that you are American.
Contain your excitement when they find the bottles of whisky; maybe, if they know anything about Islam, they’ll notice that you’re not one of those strict Muslims.
Act relaxed while sitting at the narrow metal desk across from one of the four i̶n̶t̶e̶r̶r̶o̶g̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ ̶o̶f̶f̶i̶c̶e̶r̶s̶ people assigned to t̶h̶r̶e̶a̶t̶e̶n̶ y̶o̶u̶ ask you questions. Because, by the way, did you mention you go to Yale?
If they offer you coffee or water or the chance to smoke a cigarette, accept it. Thank them for their generosity. Smile.
The reason you get handcuffed has nothing to do with you singing under your breath.
There is a whole lot of down time when they are not asking you questions, when they are not asking you about every item in your luggage, when they are not asking you out of your jeans and tank top and running them through metal detectors and security screeners.
Listen to something upbeat on your laptop without headphones. Something American — Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and The Supremes. Don’t be shy or demure; the reason you get handcuffed has nothing to do with you singing under your breath.
The way life used to be
Hum through the verses you don’t remember.
… alone now
No love to shield me
Trapped in a world
That’s a distorted reality
Seven hours will go by faster than you think. On a good day, they just might allow you t̶o̶ g̶o̶ h̶o̶m̶e̶ entry.