I shuffled forward, pushing my carry-on bag with my feet.
“Passport and visa please.” The official stated.
Silently I handed them over. She flicked through my well-worn passport and looked at the photo comparing it to the face, puffy from aeroplane plane air and lack of sleep with the unblemished features that stared back at her from my passport.
“Business or pleasure?” she asked, although the answer was obvious. My visa was a work one.
“Business – I am here as a teacher for a year.”
“Place of residence?” I gave her the letter that stated where I was to live and work. I surreptitiously wiped sweaty palms on my jeans. I couldn’t relax until I knew I was ‘legal’.
Satisfied, she stamped the passport on a page already filled with stamps. Why doesn’t she use a clean page? Of course there weren’t too many of those left! She attached the visa to the page and handed back the work documents. Without a flicker of a smile she intoned, “Welcome to our country.” It was clearly something she was trained to say, there was no warmth in her manner.
Relieved I walked away from the customs desk, and fetched my meager luggage. Pack light I had been warned, so all I had for a year abroad was my carry on bag and one suitcase. But, no one had noticed the contra-band I carried, and I hoped I would be able to disguise it long enough to walk out of the airport and into the taxi that waited to take me on this new venture.
I didn’t realize how much I would stand out here. I was petite by British standards, but here I positively loomed over people. And my blonde hair and green eyes didn’t help either. Act natural I instructed myself. I deliberately slowed my pace and strolled towards the entrance of the airport where freedom awaited. Almost there.
The weight of what I was carrying was almost more than I could bear, but it seemed that I was the only one who noticed anything amiss. Oh, locals stared, but I realized that had nothing to do with the contraband I had brought with me. It had everything to do with my appearance.
I made it out the door and flagged a taxi, which wasn’t hard to do, there were plenty waiting for passengers just like me. I opened the door, tossed in my bags and climbed in after them. I handed the driver the address of my new residence, and reclined my head on the back of the seat. Safe!
In the security of the car I silently thanked God for bringing me this far. Entering this communist country was not easy, and I was grateful for the teaching degree that had opened the door, allowing me to teach English as a second language to thousands of students.
The ‘contraband’ who lived in my heart, the one I had invited in ten years before, was the only answer to the woes of the people and although I knew I had tread carefully, I couldn’t wait to begin sharing with others the joy that my smuggled goods would give them. Smiling now, I lifted my head to look at this strange new country that would be my home for the next year.
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