My husband before my three security checks

My nomadMy dear husband allowed me to go to the U.S. without him.  Even though he had a ticket to go with me, he stayed behind for several reasons:  expensive, long trip, he still has bronchitis and he needed to rest up after a brutal semester for next semester’s punishment.  He is my hero!!!

Security check in Almaty

Sad irony that Ken and I began “celebrating” our day on our fourteenth wedding anniversary apart on Christmas Eve, in the very city where our romance had started in 1993.  After we kissed our last goodbye of 2007, about 6:30 a.m. at the new Almaty airport, I felt defenseless without Ken. 

Two “helpful” Kazakh guys with a cart really took over on taking care of me. Ken told me that their fee for toting my luggage would be 200 tenge, about $1.50 which he had given me.  For some reason, one of the guys took off with my passport, I was too tired to resist.  I followed with my eyes where he went with my precious passport while the other was filling out my customs form in English.  He knew enough English to ask the appropriate questions from the Kazakh form. He found out if I had any Euros – no, American dollars – no, but I DID have a 10,000 ($80) tenge bill, he didn’t put that figure down for some reason.   After being asked all the other usual questions, I simply signed it and we deftly moved into the bottleneck to get my luggage checked and my KLM boarding passes.   

However, for a fee of 5,000 tenge ($40) they claimed they could expedite my passage through to ticketing and customs.  Nix on that, I was only going to pay the 200 Ken gave me and NOT break my 10,000 tenge note.  They persisted by dropping their charge to 2,000 and then 1,000 tenge.  Fortunately, the guy who had been helped by me with his English interview at the consulate was also in the gridlock crowd.  He asked his dad for another 200 tenge note and then when I gave them 400 Tenge, the two guys disappeared.  They went to look for another clueless victim. 

Security check in Amsterdam

Once we landed in Amsterdam, I had a quick lunch with my young Kazakh friend along with his girlfriend.  She was eager to get a smoke before their 11 hour trip to L.A.  This was my chance to ask what questions he had been asked at the American consulate so he was able to get his visa.  They simply had asked “Why do you want to return to Kazakhstan after studying in the U.S.?”  He said it lasted two minutes, he felt indebted to me for instilling confidence in his English language abilities.   He promised he would keep in touch once he got established in art school in L.A. 

At my gate leaving for Minneapolis, I sailed through the usual security checkpoint questions conducted in English, ready for my trans-Atlantic passage.  The first security guard saw by looking at my passport that I had spent much time in Ukraine and had just come from Kazakhstan.  He asked if I knew Russian.  I said I knew enough Russian to haggle with prices and to get in and out of taxis.  I didn’t think anything of his question until the woman who interviewed me asked if I would help them out with asking an older Kazakh couple the same types of security questions.  I said dubiously I would do my best since I knew my Russian vocabulary didn’t include, “Who packed your bags?”  “Have you always been with them?”  “Did anyone give you anything to take with you?” kinds of questions. 

They were nice grandparent types from Almaty, Kazakhstan traveling to Dallas, TX after Mpls to meet up with their two daughters who are studying in Normal, Oklahoma.  Murat is a businessman and Klara an engineer.  We talked some in Russian so I could gain their confidence and then we launched into the ticklish questions initiated by the security clerk.  The one that was difficult to answer was “Why were you in Cairo, Egypt?”  Finally, after much working around 10 day vacation or holiday, the questioner let us all go.  We talked some more once we passed the x-ray security but then waited for our flight to Minneapolis with the rest of the crowd. 

Security check in Minneapolis

Since I had a six hour layover in Minneapolis before my FINAL destination, I took a taxi to my sister’s place while they were in church.  I found their secret key and let myself in to shower up before they returned home. My sister and brother-in-law were “IN” on my little secret to surprise my two nephews.  When the boys got in the door, the older nephew asked his parents, “Can we watch Polar Express?”  To which I called out from the downstairs, “Who will play chess with me?”  They knew it wasn’t their Mom’s voice but then how could it be Auntie Kristi?  Misha was the first to race downstairs to find me and he pointed and said, “Auntie Kristi!”  Zildjian was on his heels and soon the whole family gathered around me and my laptop that I had just booted up.  I was ready to make my next move on with my nephew. 

Fun to play with him while being face-to-face instead of half way around the world.  However, NOT fun to lose to my 9 year old nephew in a checkmate while we celebrated the Christmas Eve festivities. After the wonderful ham dinner my sister served up, Misha was very busy opening his presents as was Zildjian.  What wonderful memories to be around a real tree and a real fireplace with family!  My gifts were given to the boys and I received some in return.  One was a jar of honey as well as some jasmine tea.  I thought nothing of this as I packed it into my hand carry bag.  At the appointed time, my sister dropped me off for NW departures back at the airport and I went through my third security check of my 30 hour odyssey.  They spotted the honey jar on the x-ray.  I almost lost my honey when the security guard found it, similar to a year ago when my new Mary Kay makeup was dumped by the guard who went through all the suspicious items.  Thankfully, due to it being Christmas Eve, the security guard had mercy on me and let me keep it but warned that honey was considered a liquid.   

Traveling is only fun when you are with your HONEY and have reached your destination and you are with your loved ones.  I’m sorry that my HONEY is not with me to share in these experiences but I’ll be back to Almaty soon.

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