“Muhandis” I said at the Damascus airport, happy for knowing some Arabic and picking “engineer”, of all possible professions. After that I thought I would have to stick to that answer each time I visited the country again. But people do change careers too, alas! Is that suspicious, or what?
What do you say when the border control asks about your profession? Why do they even do that? To find out if you are a journalist? For me this has always proven to be an akward situation, not because of being a journalist (which I am not), but because of the chameleonic nature of my career.
For years I told at the Senegalese border that I am a merchant, just because it reads so in my residence permit. It so happened, years back, that I wanted to become a merchant at the time when my residence card was created. I even have a license for import-export, though I was never able to fill more than a corner of a container, and moved on very early to the arts.
“Artist and merchant, with a background in research? Can’t you just pick one, please, to make everybody’s life easier?”
As far as research is concerned, I was once asked by the British border control about the reason for my visit to the UK and ended up chatting about African literature. During the conversation I had a feeling that the officer was bluffing his interest in my babbling about Tayeb Salih’s literary merits. On another occasion they looked at my passport and greeted me with a good morning in Finnish, with an accent. I smiled and returned the greeting and thought what a clever move to expose anyone who is not what’s written in their passports. On the other hand, I could have been a Swedish-speaking Finn from a remote island in our archipelago…
Is it the air travel that made this question so frequent? In the heyday of Interrail, woken up by a border control in the middle of the night between two countries, I never heard that question. Perhaps I looked like someone who did not have a job? Or they just did not care.
Lately I have formulated more to the point definitions of “photographer” and “writer” despite of what their system might say. Perhaps I should get more creative with my answers. “Viking”? The evidence, should it be needed, is detectable on my left hand and, if you are interested, on my soles too. This phenomen goes also by the name of Dupuytren’s syndrome. Or perhaps “influencer”, as much as I dislike the word? I don’t know if that would do the trick and put a smile on those serious faces behind the plexiglass. But one thing is certain though: in Damascus at the airport I picked up “engineer” just because it was the only one that popped in my head in Arabic at that moment. Maybe I could still become one?