Guilty until proven Innocent
I stood there nervously, my pockets emptied, my bag examined, I couldn't understand their language but I knew the drill, guilty until proven innocent. This was not the first time this had happened to me. A guard blew into a blue latex glove, a surgeon at his own profession probably capable of smelling fear and drugs from a mile away.
In the room, there were charts on the walls with details about international terrorism and pictures of guns and grenades and symbols for explosives. I was not alone, in fact there was over two hundred of us.
I had to take off my belt as a precaution and I could see others taking off their shoes.
There were dogs, intimidating dogs, I have always been afraid of big dogs and prefer the term Alsatian over German Shepherd. There is nothing shepherdly about an animal trained to attack on command.
I don´t mind admitting I´m nervous around dogs, there is something about seven stitches around your throat when you are only seven years old and the scars to remind you; the screaming, panic, sirens and blood pouring from under your line of sight, to make you anxious around aggressive animals.
My father´s beloved golden labrador having to be destroyed afterwards, makes you associate big dogs with bad things. These so called shepherds were still on their strings and I knew acting nervous was not going to help me.
You could tell other people were afraid of dogs but I´m sure, that just made them look guilty to our armed friends.
The suspicious stare of one of the men watching us, his hands on his hips looking like a Wild West gunslinger, ready to unclasp the inch of leather that restrains his old fashioned Dirty Harry revolver. Ready to make my day, if I as much as sneezed.
Maybe the gun-toting sheriff was baptized Clint, I don´t know, maybe the man without a name saw me as more a terrorist that a tourist.
I wonder if he saw me as a potential threat, had he assessed me as a person or just another product passing through this inhuman conveyor belt?
There was another man holding a dog and his eyes were as cold as the beast he held. Did they see themselves more as soldiers than guards and I asked myself, were they at war? Were we friend or foe?
As the blue gloved guard patted me down and reached into my pockets, I could smell his cheap imitation CK1 cologne, his fingers tracing the inside of my waistband for drugs or knives, unnecessarily close to my crotch. "Oh Detective Darcey" I wanted to joke at the Jane Austin meets 40 shades of Gay intrusion but no one was protesting the intrusive searches that night, we didn't have much of a choice where we were and we knew it.
Anywhere else you would expect to be treated properly and less like a criminal, You believe in lawyers, juries and above all else the presumption of innocence. They however assume the worst. Weapons and drugs and terrorism are the order of the day. Rights get washed away.
They had taken my ID, being Irish, I don't normally carry ID but I handed mine over immediately when I saw them. They never mentioned anything about charges and the whole group quickly moved downstairs through a grey concrete staircase to be transported, far away.
There were several different languages being spoken, none of them English. As this wasn't my first time, I knew we would spent the next few hours confined in small spaces, no wider than shoulder length.
The space was so tight that you had to sit down as there was no room to stand. The group did not protest nor complain, we simply sat there and we were told to restrain ourselves. Which everyone did. Quiet and secure, they checked us, one by one.
There was only one toilet for every hundred people, this was getting better and better.
This was going to be a long night and I really hoped I could sleep but just like climbing a mountain, the pressure builds in your temples and only adds to your discomfort.
Some people were really cramped especially those who were taller or larger than average. It was not just adults, there were children too and they were crying out for their mothers which made the whole thing even more unbearable. I was lucky, I was by a window and while I still had my phone with me, we were not allowed to make any phone calls, not even one. I needed to talk to my parents, to make arrangements but we were told to turn off our phones.
Sometimes we take our freedom for granted and even though I was in Brussels, in the heart of Europe and E.U. law, I was guilty until proven innocent.
The doors were locked, air tight and our tables upright, we could now fly the friendly skies.
THE SPACE ISSUE: A National Geographic demonstrates the shortage of space for a passanger.
Note: This is my account of a passenger passing through Charleroi security controls before heading through a concrete staircase to their plane below. Nothing more. Inspired by a Ryanair flight to Dublin on July 2013 but I don’t remember seeing any dogs.