Greetings from Chicago

I’ve just arrived to Chicago for the 75th annual conference of the Midwest Political Science Association Conference… I’m theoretically going to present a paper on how the threat of ISIS shapes Bahrain’s sectarian challenges (more on that later, although perhaps never).

Arriving back to the U.S. sometimes feels like the ultimate culture shock… I’ve been in plenty of airports around the world, and it’s always natural to feel a bit of tension in the immigration line… but hands down the U.S. seems to be the best at this.

To put it this way, some years ago at a border crossing in eastern Europe, some stupid woman snapped a photo of the guard armed with a machine gun. He subsequently flipped out, and made her delete the photo. The 5 minutes before that, I don’t think a single person on the bus took a breath while watching him question her about her choice. So why does that story matter? Because the minute I enter the area for US border and customs-whatever-they’re-called-these-days, I would rather be on that bus, and sometimes I would rather be the woman who took the photograph.

Yes, I love my country (especially the whole freedom of speech thing), but entering/exiting this country I do not love. I have countless stories of immigration horror. You may say “Well that’s because you’re coming here from x y z place in the Middle East…” But the truth is that even flying in from Europe or Canada, it’s not much better.

Take yesterday for instance… beyond the fact that I thought the couple in front of me was about to get a divorce since the husband FORGOT to eat his apple on the plane, and his wife was panicking that they would face trouble from the checkpoint for bringing fruit in… I just don’t like that whenever I enter the U.S. I have to feign relief/happiness/gratitude so that at the various checkpoints to enter the country, they don’t give me more trouble. After 14 hours flying with screaming babies, maybe I just want to hand over my passport and walk on.

The guy looking over my paperwork asks me “so you back for good, or just a break?”

me: “just a break – 3 days, and I’m back out again”…

him: “well you certainly don’t look happy to be back.”

Me: “Sorry (smiling), I’m just tired – long flight and all.”

Him: “Well this is America. Welcome back. Put a smile on.”

me: Smiling the biggest smile I can put on without looking sarcastic. “That’s true! thank you!”

or the times before that, when border guards have dumped the contents of my luggage out and gone through it piece by piece in the most degrading way possible.




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