It was late Monday evening as I arrived to the Samara airport in southern Russia The place was small and clean, almost exclusively serving domestic flights with a few key exceptions to former Soviet countries, such as the one I was about to board. Although it was not a particularly hot day out, I was sweating profusely as I stood in the check out line. The total baggage allowance was just 10kg (22lbs), and since I was carrying basically everything I owned (which is by no means a lot but includes an extra pair of running shoes, a laptop, and that cool rock I found in Georgia), I had to work a little magic to make the limit. In other words, I was wearing four shirts and two pairs of jeans, and an unzipped jacket.
I was also a slight bit concerned that there could be some complications due to the fact that Kazakhstan had only just let Americans enter their country without a visa within the past year, but I'd already come this far, what's the use in worrying? Slowly but steadily, the line slinked on until finally I, now about as wet as a golden retriever that ran through a swamp (and probably similarly scented) reached the baggage check in. The lady at the counter seemed a bit shocked by my appearance, but to her credit, she kept her composure and calmly asked me to weigh my bag. Obediently, I did as told, and to my delight, the scale read 9.30kg. Success! Boarding pass in hand, I headed off for passport control, thinking it was all smooth sailing from here on out.... How foolish of me.
Smiling, I handed the lady at passport control my passport and boarding pass. She stared, for the longest time, her face transfixed in a scowl. Suddenly I felt a cold chill down my spine and the sweating stopped instantly. Something didn't feel right. She leaned forward and began asking me questions.
"Why are you in Russia?."
-I work here as an English teacher.
"What's your office? What's their address? What's your boss' name? What's their phone number?"
This was now getting weird. I had flown in and out of Russian close to 20 times by now and never had gotten any question beyond "Why are you in Russia?" Regardless, I answered.
She paused, took out a magnifying glass and began scanning over each page. I began to sweat again in full force. Repeatedly looking up at me in an increasingly uncomfortable manner, meanwhile, thoughts of suddenly getting detained began to run through my head. Then, to my ever-growing horror, she picked up the phone and began to dial.
"Is everything alright?" I asked.
She looked back at me with a piercing stare and held up my passport. "I don't think this is you." she coldly replied.
I tried to keep a calm demeanor but inside, I was screaming in terror, reminiscent of Nicholas Cage's infamous "NOT THE BEES!" yell. Less than a minute later, a police officer arrived. "NOT THE BEES! NOT THE BEES! I yelled internally to myself. It was as if one of those 1950s propaganda films was coming to life, only the clean-cut, ultra conservative looking American was replaced by me, a hairy, sweaty dude with the physical build of an orangutan. It's been two years without incident! How does it end like this!
About a minute later, a police officer was at the booth. He looked young, probably late-twenties, and wore an expression as if to say, 'I'm terribly bored with my job' (which I couldn't tell if that meant good or bad for me). My mind was racing though every possible scenario. What was he going to say? What was he going to do? What insanity was about to go down?!?
Well, actually, none of that. He took one quick glance at the passport, then one back up at me. "It's real," He said very nonchalantly, as if he gets that a lot. The lady seemed furious. "It's definitely him, let him go through," he concluded, trying to get the whole thing over with.
Could this be all? The most anticlimactic ending to the most terrifying airport ordeal (excluding JFK), ends with the reassurance of this chill security guard? Angrily, the lady stamped my passport and let me through, clearly upset that her power trip fell short. Quickly, I grabbed my passport and ran towards the gate, making sure to get away in case she felt the need to call me back for further questioning. Thankfully though, no such thing happened, and soon, I was off to Central Asia, relaxed in my seat with a huge smile of relief.