Dublin Diaries – 6

Still Smitten

I think I am smitten by these affable people and the fascination gets augmented with each passing day. Why am I so smitten; what about the Irish fosters this feeling in me? This time around let me attempt a macro comparison. India – Ireland comparison make me melancholic. Ireland is a joyous place and so is India. So, I take a bit of detour this time.  Bitten by the travel bug, I can claim to be cosmopolitan. I have been in and out of many countries and transited through many more airports. I will limit this episode to my experiences at different airports. Practicing the ‘Last in First out’ approach I recapitulate my freshest anecdote first.

Last May, my daughter and I visited Vrads Sande in Denmark, for a meditation workshop. Our flight had a stop-over at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam; we had to pass through the whole immigration rigmarole and then board a different flight to Bilund, Denmark.

One thing I find most disconcerting about Non-Indian airports and comforting about Indian airports is the people! If I have a doubt or a question all I need to do is tap someone’s shoulder and ask! There is people everywhere and all have time to listen and assist. Anywhere else I am forced to read the whole notice board, look at signboards, follow the arrows, am sure you get the drift of my predicament here. This cautious following of arrows is very stressful and with another impending departure to my destination; these immigration lines are harrowing and unnerving, always. So, after dutifully following the labyrinth of arrows and notice boards my daughter and I were standing in this Schiphol Airport immigration line. I freeze at the mention of looking at maps and finding directions; my mind goes blank; hence I won’t describe my state of mind again.  

The officer looked at the passport, then looked at me, and again looked at the passport. I smiled, a natural reflex for me, even though I was inordinately nervous. He looked past my smile, unmoved and asked, ‘You are going where?’

I said, ‘Vrads Sande.’

Officer, ‘How long?’

Me, ‘Two days’.

Officer (with a very skeptical look), ‘You going back to India in two days?’

Me, ‘No, I am going back to Dublin, Ireland, which is where I am presently living.’

Officer, ‘You Indian, here for 2 days ONLY…. Let me see your return ticket!’

Now, his scrutiny and his unreasonably cold voice was getting on my nerves. I was getting a bit miffed with his looks and highhanded attitude too. Yet I calmly pulled out my return ticket and handed it over to him. He took his time scrutinizing and reassured himself that we were really returning! He asked my daughter also, the same set of questions.

I felt as if my integrity was being questioned. I was merely transiting and this person was making me feel distinctively unwelcome. I calmly took my stamped passport, mentally making a note to tell my husband NOT to book any more transits from this pricy place.

I was still simmering from the recent experience in Amsterdam when we stood across the Bilund airport immigration check. The officer was not as stiff as the Schiphol officer, but equally cautious and took her time inspecting my passport, Visa stamp, return ticket and all. In the span of just 3hours I felt unwelcome and totally robbed of my dignity.  I am sure, they were doing their duty.

These two episodes were like a déjà vu. I remember feeling the same way when we went to Singapore, at Changi airport, years ago.  And worse when we went to Adelaide, South Australia. Singapore, I did not mind that much. The queue was too long and most of the people before me were having language problem, understanding simple English in a different accent is a huge headache if you have frayed nerves and are tired from a long flight.  It was tempers galore and I was happy to just be done with it.

Adelaide is a different story. It was a long uncomfortable flight. Squashed in the middle seat with my seven-month-old daughter on my lap for 9 hours, was, needless to say, a one torturous flight.  We were going to meet my sister. It was Christmas time and my first visit to Australia. I had painstakingly bought gifts for every member of the family and carefully gift wrapped and named them.  Secondly, travelling with my seven- month daughter; the packing had only two sections; carefully wrapped gifts or my daughters milk powder cans, diapers and other accessories.  I was glad when we landed at the Adelaide airport, I would soon be able to stretch my legs, change my daughter pooh loaded nappy!

This is the only airport where I have seen sniffer dogs. Every suitcase is ripped open and every item searched thoroughly. This again is procedure, I agree; yet, having all my gifts getting ripped open and commented upon, left a bad taste in the mouth. Obviously, they found nothing suspicious. I kept requesting them to check through a few items; I had a screaming, restless 7month old in my arms, but to no avail. They stringently did their duty. When all was done, the opened bare suitcase was cast aside and I had to bundle everything back into the suitcase and shuffle out. Weary and exhausted I was almost in tears.

Now coming to Dublin airport.  We have been here a year now and been in and out of that airport about a dozen times.  The immigration officers are smiling and very friendly, that’s the first distinctive difference. They make you feel at home. They also ask all the necessary questions; the tone and attitude is not menacing though. My husband travels a LOT; lives more at airports than at home! The Dublin immigration officers recognize him and remember his name.

After checking my passport, the officer asked me how long we will be staying in Ireland.

I said, ‘Maybe three years or so, not very sure, sir.’

The officer smilingly said, ‘That’s great! Welcome, and hope this country treats you well!’.  

Now, that was the first time I was being welcomed so lovingly! Now you must forgive me if I continue to be smitten by this place and its wonderful people.