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Frowsy rub-up at Trinidad and Tobago's Piarco Airport


By Francis Wade


It cannot have escaped the frequent traveller's attention that Trinidadians are exceptionally warm people.

Their warmth extends to their inclusive and friendly nature, their insistence that ''All ah we is one," and their enjoyment of what we Jamaicans call "frowsy rub-up," especially at Carnival time.

Perhaps this explains why the security guard's physical search and pat-down at Piarco Airport is the most... "familiar" and "touching" experience I have ever had in too-frequent encounters with airport security in my travels.

On my first trip leaving the old Piarco Airport in 1996, I remember being quite surprised, and even shocked. On my 50 plus trips since then, I have detected no change in method, except perhaps a slightly more business-like approach right after 9/11. To this day, their process requires every passenger to be physically touched (to put it mildly.)

At some point my shock transformed into a mild amusement. Each time I approach the appointed search after stepping through the metal detectors I can be heard humming the line line from "Linstead Market" - "Everybody come feel up, feel up." To myself, of course.

I have never detected that there is any malice intended, or even awareness on the part of airport security that this search is a little too "deep." There are no knowing looks, and no winks to indicate that a knowledge of the exact quantity of fat around my waistline is for my wife's edification, not theirs.

They have the bored look of people just doing their jobs.

This only makes it all the more surreal. Especially as Trinis make no bones about the fact that they have (perhaps) the highest percentage of pretty women in the world. Inevitably, the frequent traveller encounters one of these pretty women doing "the search."

Now, if you are not a frequent traveller, you may not understand the tedium and boredom that goes with the chore of flying from place to place. It sometimes gets so bad that a young, attractive airport security guard can (unfairly) conjure up imagined images of arm-outstretched encounters at Gate 7. This is through absolutely no fault of the innocent traveller.

You see, upon exiting the twin metal detectors, there are usually two security guards standing there waiting to do their duty -- one man, and one woman.

The man usually looks like an ex-policeman who was fired from the force for beating up some mouthy citizen. The woman might be the one from Gate 7's dreams. His job? To search the men (especially those damned Jamaicans.) Her job? All the rest.

The frequent traveller is repelled (with evolutionary force) from his bad stale-Carib breath, to her Chanel No. 5. One learns how to time the process of emptying the pockets, taking off the shoes, removing the laptop, walking through the metal detector... just right.

One one occasion, I was faced with the worst of extremes. He - an unshaven, unkempt brute rotating from his night shift at the penitentiary. She - a fine-boned girl from South, who I could swear I saw standing in front of me in Girl Power fete several nights before.

I employed my usual "frequent flyer shuffle" to ensure that he was occupied when I stepped through. I put on my "confused traveller face" (essential for getting favours) and stepped towards her.

She waved me over to him.

I slowly (and painfully) looked at him, and then back at her. Mustering up my best Trini "ole talk" I lifted my arms to the search position and loudly exclaimed -- "But don't I get a choice?"

Much laughing all around... Chanel No.5... the usual too deep search... a hum of "Linstead Market" in my ears.

"Man, dem Trinis friendly sah!"

Such are the very small joys of frequent travel.


Francis Wade is a management consultant based in Kingston, Jamaica. He blogs at Chronicles From a Caribbean Cubicle.


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