On a recent trip to South America I nearly got into trouble with the TSA Customs folks over, of all things, a knife.
First, some background. Last September I was invited to the CIA (Culinary Institute of America). They included a chef’s outfit as part of the perks. I’m a knife guy. I always wear a knife on my belt, but chef pants don’t have a belt. So, when dressing at 5 AM for a day of cooking at the CIA’s foodie bootcamp, I put my knife in a zipper compartment of my carryon bag and promptly forgot about it.
Fast forward three months. Santa already knows I’ve lost my knife and promised me a new one – if I was good. I’m trying to be good as I prepare for a trip to Medellin, Colombia, but it isn’t easy. (It was even harder when I was there!)
I went through customs in JFK. I looked the model of respectability in a sports jacket and slacks. This was the peak of the TSA “Don’t Touch My Junk” x-ray fiasco, and I passed unmolested. In Miami my carryon bag was x-rayed again – and passed. In Colombia, before leaving the airport to enter the country my bag was x-rayed for the third time. Again, it passed. No red flags, no searches and no suspicions.
Two days later, pulling my bathing suit out of the zippered compartment of my carryon, my knife fell out on the bed. Oh My God! Three times I could really have been in trouble if they’d seen it on the x-ray screen. Should I risk trying to get it home?
When I told my tour operator about it she told me I couldn’t risk trying to get it back home in my bag. In Colombia, customs agents empty everything out of your bag; they’d be sure to find it. I had to think about what to do.
In Medellin there was a young man (isn’t there always a young man?) This one was acting as one of our guides. We were together all day every day. When I was leaving, as part of his tip I gave him my knife. I let him know what it meant to me, and how happy I was not to have it lost, or thrown out during screening, but rather knowing it went to someone I knew and liked. I also made him promise not to hurt anyone with it. He seemed genuinely touched to receive it. I believe he will use it well. Silly as this sounds, it comforts me to know that he carries a part of me with him in his journey through life.
Follow up: leaving Colombia my bag was searched and completely emptied not once, but three times! I got home unscathed, happy I had given away my favorite knife to Carlos. We are now Facebook friends. His icon is a picture of us together in Colombia.