Tuesday, August 28, 2012

tuesdays in turkmenistan: departure edition

I'm headed to the Ashgabat airport in about 2 hours. Between now and then, I'll be going back to the staff house, taking a shower, and pretending I need to pack. In reality, there's nothing to pack. It was already done in a semi-panicked state during the lunch break in Balkanabat. Now, I have about 28 hours between myself and arrival at SFO. Good old SFO. I will see you soon enough.

When entering the US on an international flight, the first thing you need to do after deplaning is to clear immigration controls (which is not the same thing as custom controls). You inevitably have to stand in line. Perhaps in rare cases if yours is the only international flight to have recently landed and you are one of the first ones off the plane and/or you run past everyone else, then you might not stand in line. (Pro tip: Running in an airport is generally a good way to draw lots of attention to yourself. Whether that is good or bad is a separate matter.) In the queue for immigration controls, there are some TV monitors that play a video that loops every couple minutes. It shows people of various ethnic backgrounds engaging in various activities and various jobs in various settings with scenery shots of various flora and fauna. Did I mention that it is all quite varied? Combined with the upbeat and Copland-esque accompanying music, it is classic Americana like the family portrait that is in the family home of one of my friends. If you're a member of this family, yes, that is your wonderful portrait to which I am referring. There's something about the video in its overly wholesome and charming way that I find so endearing, kind of like many people from the upper Midwest. Combined with being back on American soil, it puts a nice little smile on my face.

By the time it is my turn to hand over my customs declaration form, I'm feeling pretty upbeat and I'm much friendlier than normal with the immigration officer. For sure I'm incredibly tired and want to shower, change clothes, and stop sweating, but I'm always friendly. For starters, I'm back. This is the culmination of a semi-long trip involving an equal number of take-offs and landings. Second, the immigration officer deals with a lot of people all day long, most of whom are probably tired and boring. I might as well liven things up a little bit. And finally, I cannot actually be turned away. As a US citizen, the only requirements for entry back into the country are demonstration of citizenship (ie: my passport) and filling out the customs declaration. Of course I'm never snooty about this but just knowing this makes me happy.

Getting back to that immigration vs. customs distinction. Immigration is the first check, prior to getting your checked luggage. This is when they check to make sure you are who you say you are. Then you get your bags. Then you go through customs, which usually only consists of handing the officer the form on your way out. Perhaps if you're (un)lucky (or had previously been running through the airport and are very sweaty) then they might ask to see what you have in your bags and why you are importing seeds and other undeclared agricultural products.

See you all soon.

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