I ARRIVED AT THE AIRPORT, in the land of confusion, where people say yes when they mean no, no when they mean yes, and keep silent when they mean both. She expressed all of them: first a yes with enthusiasm, and then a no with regret, and finally, she was silent on the phone when I mentioned that I was coming to India to meet up with her. Was she going to meet me?
My plane landed almost two hours ago but I was stuck behind a very long queue of passengers going through immigration where a male officer not only checked that the European women's faces matched their passport photos but also, like a good and thorough shopper, frisked the entire body from top to bottom, before consenting to stamping their passports. Immigration here is comparable to a market, only allowing desirable goods to pass and when you are not sure about some goods you hold them up -- you check them carefully by analyzing their eyes, facial expressions, looking at their hands and their body expression before letting them pass through. In my case, I was perceived as a doubtful good because I am from Afghanistan. The immigration officer has the right to look at the beautiful European women with desire, and at me with concern. Since my hands do not show any evidence of having handled explosives, he reluctantly stamps my passport after a long list of questions. What can he do? His embassy in Afghanistan has, after all, issued me a visa.
While I was responding politely to the questions of the immigration officer my mind was wandering beyond the immigration area, where another long queue of dirty old taxis was waiting to earn a killing from visiting tourists who frequent India for the first time. But before reaching this queue of taxis, there is another barrier of people to pass through who offer deluxe and super deluxe hotel rooms, tempting money exchange rates -- excellent rates of course, excellent tours, head massage to relax, as they have been tortured by immigration officers, and then, between all these waves of services, the layer of family members and friends who have come to greet the new arrivals and pick them up. Once I pass through immigration, I look everywhere while molested by these waves of people who offer me different services. I cannot find her among the crowds. Finally, no one bothers me anymore and the people who offer services get busy with other new arrivals.
Full text at
Originally published in Swans commentary, May 23, 2011.