“Do you have any Indian mangoes?” the immigration officer asks me in a conspiratorial tone.
I stare at him, confused. In the background my two kids bicker, tired after our long flight from India.
“Mangoes?” I ask stupidly.
Does this man like mangoes? I wonder. Is this a mango-bribe to get into the United States?
Having just spent six weeks in India, I have become used to bribing my way to the front of every line, even at a grocery store, and that is the first thought that enters my travel-weary, jetlagged mind.
“If you do have mangoes you should tell me now,” the immigration officer continues. “You Indians are always trying to sneak mangoes in this time of year.”
Of course! It is mango season in India and if you are Indian, life is incomplete without summer mangoes. Naturally, an Indian here and there will try to sneak some fruit into the United States.
“We have dogs that are trained to sniff out mangoes,” the officer tells me. “So, if you confess now, it will save you the trouble of opening your bags.”
I continue to look at him stupidly. Having just been in a country where everything is chaos and disorder and often dirty and colorful and noisy, it is taking me a little time to get re-accustomed to the order of the United States.
“No, I am not carrying any mangoes,” I answer and even while I am saying it I remember my mother asking if I wanted to bring some mango pulp back with me, freshly squeezed from the mangoes in my parents’ orchards. I had said “no,” irritably, to my mother but she always helps me pack and I have often returned from India and opened my bags to find things my mother thinks I must have and which I feel I don’t need at all.
Did she pack that pulp? I wonder, suddenly angry with my mother.
Some of what I was thinking must have shown in my face because the officer gave me a paper with a green A on it. That means the dogs will be specially brought to sniff my bags and I have to put them through the X-Ray machine and open each one.
I am too tired to argue and drag my kids towards baggage claim where an officer descends upon us with a dog that sniffs all our bags. The kids are, of course, thrilled but I am not.
The dog can’t smell any mangoes and I sigh with relief and feel sorry for being mad at my mother. But we still have to put all our bags through the X-Ray and every one of my four large suitcases is opened. I have six small jars of lime pickles in there – made from the lime in my parents’ orchards. I am addicted to this pickle and have also passed it on to several of my non-Indian friends who are now similarly addicted. The bottles are sealed but the officer lifts them out with gloved hands and asks me what they are. I answer and tell him they are preserved and sealed and, therefore, safe.
He doesn’t believe me and says I can’t bring them in. By now, I am very tired and very angry. I let him take them and once I have all my bags and my kids out the door, turn around and yell.
“Don’t throw them. They are yummy. Eat them.”
At this point my indignation is turning into outrage. So I cannot bring in mangoes and pickles into the country because they might have some exotic germ, a superbug that will chew through everything, killing people as it goes? It is U.S. protectionism at its best – its people have to be kept safe and what needs to be done needs to be done.
My outrage suddenly writes itself into a blog.
What of all the things that the United States sends out into the world?
The drugs, the arms, the toxic waste, the high-fructose corn syrup, the junk food, the “anything-is-fine-as-long-as-it-makes-us-happy” motto?
United States’ neutrality is only a fantasy as it pits one nation against another, supplying arms, causing internal conflict and, worst of all, having no reservations about invading any place it wants.
We have bases in 74 countries and for what? To save the world from, uh, germs?
Then there are the drugs that the big pharmaceuticals test in Third World countries where they can get “uninformed” consent by offering money. In India, just two years ago, a US-based pharma was testing a contraceptive that had been shown to have serious side-effects – heart failure among them – and it was being tested in the rural areas.
Or how about high-fructose corn syrup that has invaded the world? The MacDonald’s junk food that is giving rise to obesity even in very poor countries? What about dumping its garbage in the developing world?
What kind of genetically-modified superdogs can the rest of the world make to sniff and keep out the United States of America?
In comparison, how bad can my alphonso mangoes and lime pickles be? So now, as I live my American dream, I am hoping it might include some Indian mangoes and homemade lime pickles. If I can have them, my life will be perfect and I will pretend to not notice the other things that cross US borders.