We Are Back in the Philippines!

Or…alternative title, “How We Were Almost Arrested Doing Kids Ministry”! OK, a tad dramatic, but yes, we did have a bit of an interesting experience with the TSA as we were leaving the United States. I am just now over the trauma enough to talk about it. OK, a tad dramatic again…
When we were in The States, we had the fun opportunity to share about what we do in the Philippines at a Vacation Bible School at the church our daughter attends. On the final day of class, the kids made cards, notes, and pictures for the kids I teach in Davao. The night before we were leaving, we were down to ounces of space left in our checked luggage, so we dropped the papers in our laptop sleeve, which went with our carry on pile.
When we reached the belt at the X-Ray machines in the first airport, we did everything we’ve done a hundred times. Phones out, shoes off, pockets empty, liquids out. Laptops out of the backpacks, however, Dan didn’t remove the laptop from the sleeve. Once it entered the X-Ray machine, the line came to a halt, the belt stopped, and the number of people in official looking clothing rapidly multiplied. “THIS STATION IS NOW CLOSED!” barked one officer. Doing a quick mental inventory, I thought it was the lithium ion batteries we had with us, which multiple websites told us we needed to carry on, not check in. Meanwhile, Andrew’s bag, which was going through the other belt, was being frisked and gone through by another officer. I asked if she could tell me what was triggering the alert in his bag, perhaps the batteries? She looked at me like I was the dumbest person she had encountered that day (possible, but still…), and said in a voice dripping with condescension, “I don’t even know what a lithium ion battery IS”. Wow…my confidence soared. They reran Andrew’s bag, it cleared the second time, at which point we returned to Dan and the laptop, still stuck in the machine.
At this point, there were several agents looking at the screen under a black veil, taking pictures, and one loudly asked, “Do we need to get Port Authority police now?” What the heck?! We asked if we could assist in any way, maybe we could describe the offending object? Miss Lithium Ignorant had joined in the fun at this point and said in a no less sarcastic tone as before, “oh…THEY’RE looking” giving us a stink eye that clearly said, “and you know why!” Finally, lead guy #1 risked life and limb by removing the laptop from the bag, and pulled the papers out. “So…are you a teacher or something?” was the first time he actually acknowledged us face to face, to which Dan answered “yes, actually”, and explained what the pictures were. As he continued to swab down the laptop with chemical detection paper, and asked Dan to turn the power on, lead guy #2 started asking me questions about where we live, what we did, and proceeded to thank us for what we were doing overseas. I don’t know if he was trying to compare stories, or diffuse a situation they had to be feeling a bit sheepish about at this point, or maybe both.
In any event, we were eventually free to go, but as we were gathering our stuff, the agents were high-fiving each other on a “good spot” and keeping the world safe another day. The only information they gave us was that the stack of paper looked like something was possibly wrapped around the computer.
Yes, I absolutely understand the need to be overly cautious. I understand we live in a crazy, dangerous world these days. But it would be nice to be treated innocent until proven otherwise. We have had questionable blobs and shapes spotted in the machines before, but have always had the opportunity to explain what it was before backing the lines up past check in. Needless to say, the laptop came out of the sleeve from there forward, and there were no further security threats. What can I say, Children’s Ministry is dangerous work. 😉

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