On Monday the 26th of March at 13:15, we check in at Terminal A in Schönefeld Airport to go on our first vacation together. Elena and I show our boarding passes and passports to an airport employee and are then directed to security. Elena goes through the metal detector without setting it off. Before I can grab a tray for baggage screening, a security officer stops me to ask where I am going. I tell them: Macedonia. Skopje. They ask me where I am from. I say, the U.S. I have some trouble getting things out of my backpack: liquids, computer, etc. I forget to take off my belt. I pass through security, and the alarm goes off.
They ask me to step to the side. Two minutes later, they’re done patting me down. They ask me where I am from. I say, the U.S. The security person behind the metal detector asks if the blue backpack is mine. I say yes. She opens it and takes out my Swiss army knife. I use it for splitting my anti-anxiety medication tablets in half. I try to explain that, in the U.S., the blade is short enough to be legal on planes, and that I hadn’t known this was illegal in the EU. The security person gives it to a police officer to examine, then brings it back. She looks at me questioningly. I panic, not wanting trouble. I have had this knife since a backpacking trip in my freshman year of high school. I tell her to just take it away. It didn’t matter; I didn’t want to get into trouble. I exit the area and see Elena with a security officer. She’s getting her bag checked by security. She tells me they were just swabbing her bag, her computer and under her jeans to check for drug traces — something that has never happened to her before. They find nothing.
Elena says I looked scared. We walk around looking for a place to sit, to calm down, but all the seats outside the security area are taken. She convinces me to go to a cafe. We take a seat next to a white couple, chatting happily. “Okay, so security was bad –, but don’t worry, everything else should be fine,” she says encouragingly. I nod, not quite hearing her.
After some negotiation, Elena finally convinces me to eat a sandwich. I try to occupy my mind with the mozzarella and the tomatoes of the pre-packaged sandwich with no luck. I feel like the woman sitting in the back of the café is watching me — like a lot of people are watching me. We finish our sandwiches and head towards our gate.
I wait with Elena at passport control. She tells me that the people in line are speaking Macedonian and Albanian. She’s excited to be hearing her native language again. I struggle to seem interested, but really I’m still scared. Slowly, she and I get closer to the front of the line. The police officer doesn’t give either of us trouble when checking our passports. I feel my jaw slacken a bit, my shoulders relax. Maybe Elena was right. Maybe everything will be fine.
At the gate, a boarding attendant checks Elena in. The attendant glances at her passport and boarding pass, then lets her through. I step up. I hand the attendant my passport and boarding pass. She looks up at me, frowns. She starts typing something into a keyboard. Two minutes later, she looks up at me again and asks when I am returning to Germany. I still feel intimidated by the events at the security checkpoint. I tell the attendant to ask Elena, knowing that she would trust her word over mine. The attendant asks, and Elena says a week. I am let through — a white woman vouching for me seems to have finally been enough. I am no longer a suspicious character; I am in the responsible hands of a white woman. While she and I wait to board, I watch the others pass through. They are never questioned. The attendant never touches her keyboard. She never frowns. Finally, the boarding process starts. Elena and I get in line with all the others and, finally, we are allowed on the plane.
This article first appeared on Die Bärliner Blog