Thursday, July 7, 2011
Ready, Jet Set, Go!
The plane touched down finally after a few turbulent hours. First time again in another Asian country. It was a bit gloomy outside. The petite flight attendant just announced in heavily accented English that the local time is half past four in the afternoon.
Eager passengers started turning on their cellphones, based on all the weird sounds from rows one to 30+. More eager ones started unbuckling their seat belts to retrieve their carry ons from the compartment.
I sat frozen in my window seat, with my heart in my throat. Since takeoff, I could not put myself to sleep. All I could do was watch as my fellow tourists were deep in slumber throughout the entire flight.
Yes, it's another trip with my ARVs. They are tucked somewhere in my first aid kit, checked in my luggage, somewhere in the plane's fuselage.
I stood up nervously, almost hitting the young mom who was racing towards the exit. Her kid cried tactlessly throughout the flight. My partner was trying to calm me down, while I pulled my carry on from under the seat in front of me. "Don't worry," and he smiled as if telling me to do the same.
The pretty FAs bade us goodbye and thanked everyone for flying their airline, minus any eye contact.
"You look scared", my partner whispered. All I could do was put my arm around him. Walking from the plane to immigration seemed to have taken forever. By the time we were in line for immigration control, I swear I could have named at least ten local hotels, twelve touristy things to do and five brands of local soda, all due to the gigantic billboards along the way.
"Next!", the officer said. With my best local accent, I tried saying "Hello" in the local dialect. He scanned a couple of my passport's pages before asking, "How long you stay?". With a big smile on my face, I retorted, "Couple of days. We leave on Thursday."
When asked an immigration question, you should just provide what they need. His eyebrows met. So to regain my composure, I just immediately said "Four days", before he could ask another question. He stamped my passport and my partner and I were off to baggage pickup.
Never leave your ARVs in your luggage, is what The Body, an HIV site, says. But my fear of being questioned by Philippine airport security outweighed my fear of my luggage being lost. My partner finally pulled our flaming red suitcase from the carousel. Since I own the ARVs, I had to, of course, face Customs in case they ask what they are for. So I was in charge of carring this big bag. Though I got a medical certificate, which I had to ask from my doctor, it still says that I am immunocompromised. It would be tougher if we were gonna spell it out in bold letters. HIV.
IMMUNOCOMPRO... What? I can just imagine the Customs officer asking. I would just do all the explaining in 300-words-per-minute English, to avoid further questions.
Going through Customs is always like shooting a movie scene for me. Everything I do within that thirty second walk is fake. You may be randomly chosen to open your luggage and next thing you know, they would be questioning everything in your possesion. So to avoid their watchful eye, I tried blending in, faking looking at the airport signs, faking texting, faking asking my partner weird questions, faking scratching my back, until finally, I am past the yellow Customs line with no inspection.
Before they could call me back, I spotted the taxi bay sign and signalled my partner to hurry up.
The exit door opened. The rain has stopped. The sun was about to set.
A sigh of relief.
Another undetected entry into another weird country. My partner handed the driver our hotel's address. All I could say to him was a big and loud, "HA!". As we drove on the expressway towards downtown, I could just imagine my paranoia again flying back to Manila.
But until then, I have about three and a half days to forget about being detected; three and a half days to discover another culture; and three and a half days to realize that HIV is not the end of my passport stamp collection.