Crossing Borders

I drove into New Hampshire this week, on my way to visit a friend in Maine.  For the first time I had my E Z Pass mounted below my rear view mirror.  It allowed me to pass into New Hampshire at 65 miles an hour through the E Z Pass lane without stopping to pay toll.   The experience made me feel like I was a local.  It felt powerful!

Fast passage through borders has a way of making you feel like an insider.  As you come to a border via an airport, you quickly divide between those who are insiders, returning home, and those who are outsiders.  I have experienced the power of having Canadian and New Zealand work visas–making me an insider for a time.  One of my greatest pleasures while living in Hong Kong was to be able to travel in and out of Hong Kong through the Hong Kong resident line as if to say–look at me–I belong here!  The second time I lived in Hong Kong I had a Hong Kong ID card which allowed me to avoid the lines all together.  I could use the card and my thumb scan for most border crossings into Hong Kong.

As I left Hong Kong, I held on to the I.D., lamenting the expiration of its magical power to define my identify and thus freedom to cross borders with speed.

I have had many interesting border crossings.  As a child I remember the U.S. border police taking our Canadian-bought fire-crackers from us because they were made in communist China.  Our dog had a difficult time getting into Canada that trip.  When in graduate school, a colleague’s dog got his immigration papers to Canada before he and his wife received theirs.  We questioned the wisdom of the border system because this particular dog was known to be on the low end of the intelligence scale, but my colleague was brilliant.

Coming back from countries, especially in Latin America, when the immigration officials have identified me as a geographer, I have been quizzed on the geography of the places I’ve come from, to ensure my legitimacy.  One time the immigration official asked me to name the volcano on the island of Martinique.  I quickly replied that it was Mt. Pele’.  “Good, ” he said.  “I just had someone who claimed to be from Martinique but didn’t know.”  I was actually coming back from Bolivia that trip but had taught Latin American geography enough time to know the answer.

I have to say that the most worrisome crossing was when we drove back from Canada from my Fulbright there.  My younger daughter was 3 and had lost her sense of self in the time we were in Ontario.  She now claimed that we were not her mother and father, but rather she had 4 brothers and sisters, had a dog and cat, and lived somewhere with someone else.  I’ve never quite understood who she thought we had become.  But if you have ever crossed a border with children, the border guard will often ask them–“are they your mother and father?” or “how are these adults related to you?”  The parents are not allowed to answer the question for them.  I had nightmares of my 3 year-old telling the border guard that we were not her parents and this was not her sister, which then led to a big argument between my older daughter and younger daughter as to their parentage–not a laughing matter at any border.

My solution?  Dramamine.  Anything to make the crossing smooth.

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