1. SMUGGLE GOODS – 2009
The chicken salad croissant was an after-thought. Eating half at LAX and dropping the rest into my carry-on, the lunch was forgotten until an x-ray machine at Auckland Airport picked up the distinctive radar of rotten poultry.
“Is this yours?” The Customs Officer held the croissant between two distasteful fingers, as if pastry was only slightly less contraband than digested balloons of heroin. Gulp. “Are you aware that bringing illicit food products across the border is considered bio-terrorism?”
By the time my interrogation finished – “Did you pack this bag? How long has this item been in here? Where did you purchase this . . . croissant?” – I was blacklisted with the Department of Agriculture and short $250 dollars. The $500 fee was halved, once I convinced her that it was a careless mistake, and not an act of international espionage.
2. FALSIFY DOCUMENTS – 2013
This time, the lack of an exit flight was blamed on misinformed airline attendants. “You know you can’t enter New Zealand on a tourist visa, unless you can show a ticket out within the next 90 days?”
I didn’t know, nor did I love the flush of embarrassment that came from being escorted out of the Customs queue by uniformed officials; I got no thrill from frantically scanning Expedia for the cheapest flights. And that final climatic moment (Will the confirmation email arrive before my laptop battery dies?) was a challenge I never needed to face again.
You denied me power outlets, I denied you an exit ticket. Or, I bought the most expensive one I could find, then promised the Senior Officer that it was a stupid oversight, and not an international act of espionage.
3. HAVE A BABY – 2014
Now, I approach that painted line on the carpet with a liquid anxiety that oozes out of clenched palms. This side, safety. That side, fines, fees and the inevitable look of disappointment on the Customs Officer’s face.
“And what brings you to Queenstown?” Panic. Does having your first child qualify as business, pleasure, or other? What did I circle on my Declaration form? I grin weakly and explain my situation: a visa granted just weeks before, a baby just weeks from arriving, this South Island city the place I need to call Home.
The officer frowns in concern and studies my passport. “Does Immigration know about this? Sorry, but I’ve never had anyone come to Queenstown to give birth before!”
20 nervous minutes and one rushed phone call to the embassy later, and my 9-month-bump is kicking in relief. Still surprised no one patted down my stomach, searching for a whole stash of unused airline tickets and chicken salad sandwiches . . .
Photo credit: AIGA symbols; Hadyn Fitzpatrick