by Brian Kerstetter
Last summer O. and I spent a week filming bearded women in villages along the Sepik River in Papau New Guinea. When we could no longer take the sight of another beard that didn’t belong to a man, we filmed a crocodile that, we were told, had eaten the top half of a man the week before. Primarily we turned the camera on the famous Mudmen tribe – the reason for our trip – O. managed to capture an impromptu fight scene between myself and the Mudmen, in which I dance around in leather sandals and poke their chief with a long stick. In the evening, during an argument with O. about Paul McCartney, I tore the contact lens in my left eye and spent the rest of the trip looking like a pirate with an eye patch. I told the other tourists in our group I’d been stung by a malaria mosquito in my eyeball and they spent the rest of the tour applying insect repellent to their eyelids.
After a week of this, mentally and physically broken, O. and I took a return flight back to Tokyo but, due to a typhoon in Japan, we were diverted to Brisbane, Australia. Leaving the plane in Brisbane, the Australian Customs officers lined us up in a hallway, with our bags at our feet. A round female officer with yellow hair, accompanied by her drug-sniffing dog Charlie, announced, “Now, Charlie’s going to have a sniff of your bags before you pass through Customs.”
“Charlie?” O. said, consulting his fake Rolex.
Charlie zigzagged in and out of the bags, flaring his nostrils and running his moist nose over the line of carry-on luggage. He hesitated over a businessman’s briefcase and the man looked at the other passengers with a nervous smile. Then Charlie hovered over an old woman’s purse long enough for her mouth to drop open. When Charlie arrived at O.’s feet, he completely disregarded his backpack, instead fixating on his Addidas tennis shoes. We’d just spent a week trekking in the jungle, so Charlie was like a glutton at a 10-course meal. His nose wiggled, twitched, expanded, finally producing a noise somewhere between a sneeze and a bark. He licked O.’s shoelaces and moved on, leaving a distinct, shiny trail of saliva over O.’s shoes.
Charlie continued down the line of passengers, hesitating over a few more bags, just long enough to destabilize their owners. The more agitated the passengers became, the more O. was amused by the whole process – human beings standing nervously in a row being sniffed by a dog named Charlie.
“After the dog finishes,” O. said louder than necessary. “They should bring in a giraffe to smell our bags, then a lion, a kangaroo, a monkey, one stupid animal after the other!”
I had the image of businessmen, tourists and someone’s grandmother standing in a line being sniffed for drugs by a selection of wild animals. As I passed through Customs, I had tears in my eyes, straining so hard not to laugh as the Customs Officer wished me a good day.
To this day, I can’t disembark from an international flight without hoping that a customs officer is waiting for me with a camel or a zebra to sniff me for drugs.