Posted by: nastylittletruths | September 28, 2008

Airport Security – Piarco Style

You can’t make up the kind of stories that unfold in front of my eyes. I must have a strange luck to be at the wrong place at the right time… In my last post I was heading out of Trinidad on the morning of Friday 26th, so let me relate an incident I saw:

There I was heading to the security checkpoint before proceeding to the departure gates and a young woman in front of me was accosted by the two female security guards for an item she was wearing as a pendant – an item that did not trigger of the metal detector, but had a look the guards deemed as “suspicious”. I will mention that the two guards were of Afro-Trini extraction and the young woman was Indo-Trini, but I want to also say it was more of a case of over-exuberance and an ignorance that should not exist in TnT rather than racism.

It was an education for me as well since I heard the word and spelt it phonetically as thabeej, but could not find it on the Internet. After trying many different variants, I got over 8,000 hits for tabeez so I will use this spelling. The tabeez (locket or amulet) was made of copper and looked about 20-25mm long and 4-5mm in diameter hung like a pendant from what looked like a shoe lace like string. The guards said it looked like a bullet (!) and must be removed before she can proceed to the departure gates. You would think that if one was properly trained as a security guard, you would know what a bullet is, as opposed what you think it looks like.

Copper Tabeez

Copper Tabeez

The young woman became very emotional explaining that she has been wearing it for over a decade (passing many security checkpoints in the US, Canada and Trinidad during that time) and it was a gift from her deceased grandmother. She also tried explaining that all it contained were Quranic verses written in paper and sealed inside, but to no avail. With the guards insisting she remove it – the end result being that it will be taken and destroyed – the young woman asked if she can return downstairs to see if anyone can take it back to her parents. This was allowed but when she returned some time later her personal effects were searched even more vigorously. I couldn’t help but overhear the guard who said that she had to “satisfy her conscience” that it wasn’t taken out and hidden somewhere.

I felt the frustration this young woman was probably going through as I’ve been on the wrong side of security guards before. But my question is, what’s wrong with this picture? The tabeez didn’t trigger the alarm and the explanation given for wanting it removed was that it “looked like a bullet”. So what if it was hidden and out of sight? There’s a reason why objects of a certain size are looked for and others are just not, or we will all be travelling naked.

Based on the size I estimated it to be, even if it held the most powerful explosive in the world it wasn’t going to amount to much. I remember just after 9/11 travelling to Guyana and I had to check my carry-on because of my shaving razor. Now what could I have possibly done with a twin blade safety razor? Threaten to shave someone on the plane to death? Over-exuberance and a penchant to make up rules as they go along are the hallmarks of a not too bright security guard.

I mentioned before that it was too much ignorance for a multi-cultural, multi-religious country like Trinidad and it’s true. People, especially in jobs/occupations like these, should make more of an effort to know about other people’s customs and traditions because the guard’s “conscience” wasn’t the issue here. The issue here is if she was attentive enough to really know what constitutes a threat or not. I mean, seriously, a simple walking stick can hold enough explosives to knock an aircraft out of the sky but they are largely ignored.

The Airports Authority should invest in some real training for their security or next thing they are being sued for religious persecution. That will be the least of my worries. I travel occasionally and I would want to know that the guards are doing the right thing instead of operating by “vaps”.

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