Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Must Lie Situations: Customs Officials

If there is one thing I have learned over the years it is that one must lie to customs officials on principle. They are part-cop, part-bureaucrat, all cold blooded, rule lovers. Like cops, customs officials have a great authority, and equally small brains (lizard-like in body: brain mass I believe). But unlike cops, they have no power to make judgment calls. Their power comes from the faithful application of a dry set of rules, and the rules of the customs official variety never reward honesty. With a cop, if you bullshit him or her minimally you may get on his or her good side and they can let you off. With a customs official, you might as well lie because there will be no additional penalty beyond whatever you had coming pre-lie.

In the trip back from Tanzania, I deviated from this maxim to great woe. The problem was that I was in Amsterdam, and the cool-laid back reputation (really misconception), clogged my vision of a icy, all too Teutonic reality. The customs official asked me if I had any pornography on my computer. My first thought was that she was checking to make sure I had enough porno on my computer, or perhaps suggesting that we make a film. I admitted I did not have any pornography on my computer--and then as an after thought, I said "well, maybe there were a few pictures of my wife on a vacation, but no, in fact, no pornography. No nude photos at all actually." The customs people took that as "yes, I traffic in kiddie porn," and directed me out of the line and into the room of suspected kiddie-porn fiends. Of course, they were all regular dudes eager to get their Amsterdam vice of choice on. We sat in the kiddie-porn fiend detention center while Interpol went through our hard drives. I have 150 GB on my laptop. These guys all had laptops and digital cameras. It suffices to say that we were in the detention center for sometime before we were all exonerated.

And the best part is, literally, in my other hand from the laptop, I had all the blood samples from the Tanzanian malaria cases. And of course, the many CDC permits for said specimen transportation were partly in checked luggage, partly missing in conjunction with KLM's free Heineken, and otherwise wholly in disarray. No notice was ever taken of the blood specimens, and after the porn search I was in no mood to mention them.

Monday, February 23, 2009

BS Report

The Bill Simmons podcast week has been the background for my life for about 4 days. All told, I can listen to him on any subject unless he's paired with someone from the Jimmy Kimmel/Adam Carolla scene.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Jet Log

A friend and I were talking about how jet lag has physiological phases. For me first my sleeping adjusts then eating then everything else. The conversation reminded me of how another friend, CH, coined the term "jet log" for when jet lag messes with your shitting schedule.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tanzanian Adventures

Among the many strange and wondrous surprises I came across in Tanzania was the legend of a Peace Corps. volunteer who had tattooed a picture of a mustache to the inside of her left index finger. Then when she wanted to impersonate someone with a mustache all she had to do was raise her left index finger to her upper lip. Why didn't I think of that?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

He's a witch!

Among the many, many memorable experiences I had in Tanzania over the last few weeks was meeting a witch doctor. I was collecting GPS coordinates in a village with a sizable band of translators, supervisors, and village staffers. We approached a home on the outskirts of the village. An old man came out and told our crew he was a witch. A westerner translator who was with us later explained to me that he used a word that actually meant "witch doctor" and was not to be confused with another Swahili word that translates more closely to "traditional/herbal healer." The man was friendly and invited us into his hut for lunch. The staff politely declined the offer explaining that we were too busy, and we left. I noticed the witch dr. had a tortoise in a large cage. I have long believed that tortoises and turtles might have magical properties and I consider this suspicion confirmed.