There’s a lot of work getting an expedition off the ground.
There seemed to be a zillion things to do, not the least of which was finding the $91,000 required for the expedition. That was my job. And, as my personal motto is "on a full stomach anything is possible", I also had to research best practice on foreign food and foraging techniques.
Being a bloke, TH (the husband) got the grunty, blokey, hard edged jobs to do – just little things like pulling the entire Land Rover apart with his bare hands and rebuilding it in preparation for the trip. To keep him fully occupied, I also gave him the task of route planning and border crossings.
We didn’t realise then, but our hardest and longest border crossing turned out to be our very first – arriving by ship from New Zealand and entering the United States of America. It took three days.
On that third day at US Customs I gazed once more at the customs form. It seemed that the only option to proceed was to take up American citizenship.
I eyed up the customs officer – he was large, rotund and his sagging stomach bulged over his straining belt. A tiny name badge was perched on the mound of his chest. Inspector Clark. He pronounced it "cluck" when he had introduced himself.
I noted the handgun resting against his ample hips. My eyes returned to his face, with his pink fleshy lips pursed like an overblown rosebud. They parted as he drawled, "Like I said to your shipping agent, if yer don’t tick the boxes, yer don’t get your stuff."
(The word "said" came out at in two syllables: "say – ed")
I examined the form again. The problem was not with the Land Rovers, but with our molehill of clothes, camping gear and spare parts. To avoid a mountain of duty I needed to tick the boxes which were positioned under the heading "FOR U.S. CITIZENS ONLY’.
I decided to play dumb to elicit some support and said, "Please could you help me? I’m from New Zealand. I can’t understand the form."
He gave a small, exasperated sigh, but nodded.
I rewarded him with a grateful smile and went on, "I can’t tick these boxes because they’re for firearms and explosives, and we don’t have any of those. That’s right isn’t it?"
"Uh-huh", he confirmed, with the tone that suggested he thought I was more than a little slow.
"And I can’t tick this next set of boxes because it says they’re for household effects. We only have camping gear, parts and things. They’re personal effects, aren’t they?"
I held my breath after this, because household goods were dutiable, whereas personal effects were not. According to our shipping agent, it was on this very point that she had stuck with U.S. Customs the day before.
"Uh-huh", he confirmed again.
"Got him!" I thought, but resisted the urge to sound triumphant.
I continued as evenly as I could, "Well, that means that I must tick these boxes for personal effects." I pointed to the ones headed "FOR U.S. CITIZENS ONLY".
"But NZ is not part of the USA" and then I added, "yet."
"Like I said, if yer don’t tick the boxes, yer don’t get your stuff."
I hastily ticked the appropriate squares and nervously handed the form back.
Inspector "cluck" gathered the papers together and walked off.
I called helplessly after him, "What do I do now?"
I looked at TH and we both shrugged our shoulders. I wondered if I should be studying The Constitution, or memorising the names of past Presidents, in case there was going to be some sort of test.
In less than 10 minutes our Customs Officer returned.
"What now?" I wondered.
"There yer go!" he said, and went to walk away.
"Oh, please wait. What do I do now?"
He turned and spoke in short sentences. His tone suggested that even an imbecile should be able to understand what to do next:
"Yer take these forms to your shipping agent. Yer collect your stuff. Yer free to go!"
© Eventful Woman, 2005