You would think going off to Europe for a week would be fun, yes? Think again if you’re taking a flight out of Karachi’s Jinnah Terminal.
I’m one of those people who leaves home three-and-a-half hours before my flight is meant to leave. For a 6:15 am departure, means being in the car at 2:45 in the morning. There is some attempt to sleep — basically a three hour ‘nap’ or a euphemism for tossing and turning. In these less than ideal circumstances we are not amused by anything.
Cut to Sharae Faisal and the turn into Quaid-i-Azam International Airport. The fact that Pakistan’s so-called city of lights is now unable to power streetlights does not help visibility or my crankiness. My car takes a sharp turn on detecting a small green signpost. Ah, here it comes — the drive up to departures and the security check points along the way.
The forces-in-black have taken over airport security, I noticed. They could be the envy of many a fashion bloggers in their fitted black T-shirts, tan cargo pants and black commando boots. As my cab comes to a respectful stop, like a dark cloud three or four of them crowd around my cab. One of them carries what resembles a pocket radio with a long antenna protruding in front of him, and circles the cab while peering piercingly inside.
Another approaches the front window even though I am sitting at the back holding to the window my ticket, flipped open for the sake of convenience. But no, the man in the uniform is at the front window and without any warning, he begins to knock violently. ‘Open the door or roll down the window,’ he barks to an unfazed taxi driver. ‘How am I supposed to talk to you?’
I quickly wind down my window, and say, ‘Sir, I have my window down. I’m the passenger. Here’s my ticket.’
In all this, I had forgotten that I am a woman, and am therefore, invisible in this country. Oh ho. Me and my leaky brain. My companion, also a woman but clearly with more presence of mind, jumps out of the car, and asks what the problem is. Panic ensues. The forces in black are not prepared for this. One of them starts to apologise. Another looks cocky, and says that he needs to check the bags.
Apparently the pocket radio with the protrusion has indicated that we might be Pakistan’s first pair of female suicide bombers. I’m not sure about our intrepid man-in-uniform, but I am completely aware that the device does not just look absurd, it also does not work, which is why it has been shipped off to our great country. It seems that the third world is now the dumping ground for all useless security tech equipment. The antenna of this specific device picks up on all things liquid so if you’re mildly interested in hygiene and are carrying shampoo, conditioner or God forbid, face wash, it’s all over for you, my friend.
My friend unzips the cabin bag, and points to the laptop. ‘Maybe that’s the problem,’ she says.
‘Turn it on. Turn it on,’ snaps the cocky one while at the same moment the other says, ‘Forget it. Forget it. Please. You may go.’
Wisely, my friend follows the directive of the authoritative officer. Then the unthinkable happened. My poor pristine Mac, scrubbed and polished like a newborn baby was mauled. The screen flopped open, it was turned upside down, back and forth with the roughest hands. Mac will never be the same again.
I’m not sure what he was looking for, but apparently my laptop’s ‘backside’ revealed that we were not the terrorists we had seemed to be moments earlier. As my companion returned to the car, and we drove away, I glanced at the apologetic security person. On the left of his T-shirt above his heart was written in white ‘PAKISTAN,’ and circling it were the words ‘nice’ and ‘courteous’.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2010.