Thursday, April 2, 2009

Two Losers and a Prayer

By Kehinde Togun

The jerk at the Dulles Airport Customs and Border Patrol (CBP)

Upon arriving at Dulles Airport, I learned that there was a new protocol for permanent residents of the United States. On my last trip in December, as Green Card holders on the path to citizenship, we were treated like other US citizens.

Not anymore. There is now a required fingerprinting and laser eye picture thing.

After chitchatting with the agent, he kindly informed me that my fingerprints “did not to take” and I was asked to go in the back room with our friends at the CBP’s Admissibility Review Area. I was there with other permanent residents as well as visitors (with visas to the United States). They were not as nice as the first agent I chatted with. Actually, they were not nice at all.

I don’t object to security protocols. In fact I appreciate them and think in these trying times they are necessary. What I do object to is the rudeness of many of the Customs agents. One in particular was sardonic and spoke bitterly and without respect to anyone in the waiting area – his disregard for people in that room was evident, his tone of voice betrayed a lack of humanity.

If I felt privileged to spend the last two weeks abroad working on a project funded by US tax payers, the folks at CBP very easily reminded me (and my fellow immigrants) that I am still not part of the club.

The KLM attendant at Julius Nyerere Airport in Dar es Salaam

While waiting to check my bags in at the airport in Dar, there was a woman ahead of me with clearly too much baggage. There is no doubt she exceeded the weight limit by a lot. To my surprise, they let her carry everything. After going through the process and waiting to enter the gate, she was behind me when the gentleman who checked her in at the KLM booth came by. They shook hands and I saw she had put some US currency in his palm during their exchange. His hand came down and entered his pocket. They exchanged a few Swahili words and he went away.

Corruption is bad, right? Economists say it is a symptom as well as a consequence of poverty. I see this point and I am sensitive to people doing what they have to do. However, I don’t believe it’s any less dangerous. For rule of law to prevail, entry point officials: police officers, customs agents, airport attendants, etc, must be counted on to be fair.

No doubt addressing corruption starts at the top levels of government. However, we all have a part to play, no?


This week the world’s 20 most powerful leaders are meeting in England at the G20 summit. It will be interesting to watch the diplomatic fights and power plays. However, for their sake and ours, I pray they come up with some concrete plans to address this horrendous economic climate.

The Regenerates have some ideas but we don't quite run the world just yet.

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