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October 28, 2014
Ebola or Explosive
by Imo Eshiet

For the past five years I have been traveling to Salt Lake City twice or sometimes thrice yearly to translate and interpret works of enduring significance into Efik language.

I love the service for the opportunity it affords to give back to my communities. An itinerant childhood had exposed me to diverse Nigerian languages. The amazed looks on the faces of other Nigerians and the instant connection I make with them as I converse with ease in their languages make me feel there was purpose growing up that way.

Though mentally challenging, the impact and immediacy of the message on the audience as it receives my translation and interpretation is enough reward. Of course, there is also the thrill of the five star hotel often booked for me.

Passing through security at the Salt Lake City airport recently, however, turned that joy into nightmare.

My palms were scrubbed with substance no one told me what. Given the viral load of Ebola on popular imagination and having been reading Richard Preston's "The Hot Zone," a narrative eerily focused on the dreaded virus, I missed several heartbeats during the screening.

After all, I was originally from West Africa, a space the American press has since conflated into one country.

When suddenly two machines started beeping, I knew I was damned. I had interacted with diverse people while working, so you can understand my panic. Worse, one of the fellows had recently returned from Nigeria.

Though I had none of those scary Ebola symptoms, I started unburdening my conscience to make peace with my Creator in case I was referred to some hospital and got the Duncan treatment!

I thought of my lovely wife and five promising kids! Would someone help mentor the kids if I passed? Three of my kids could set off on their own, but the last two — oh the thought of what could happen to them was chilling.

And there was my grandson. He calls me Papa, hops on my laps frequently and hugs me as if his life depends on it. I was about his age when my only surviving grandparent was murdered, and it hurt to think of the void in his life in my absence.

It turned out I was not being scanned for Ebola but for something just as devastating.

A supervisor took my ID and boarding pass. After passing my ID through a machine, he handed it back to me but held onto my boarding pass. He would give that to me later on, he said. My computer and suitcase made it through the scanner without problem, and so did I. Just when I heaved a sigh of relief, my personal effects were once again manually searched.

The same stuff that had been previously used on my palm was now used on my computer, my computer bag and my suitcase. I looked on, aghast at the way my suitcase was rifled. I was relieved this was done out of the view of the gawking public.

Still not finding anything incriminating I was now taken into a cubicle to be frisked. There I was made to assume various postures while one of two men padded me from head to toe. Then he padded me frontally and backsides and then in between my thighs. Each time he stroked me invasively I winced, hoping that after the search I would not have lost my potency!

Then he asked me to hold my pants since I had been asked to remove my belt. He said if I let my pants drop he would have to do some paperwork. Asked why, he said he was not supposed to see my nakedness. I wondered why that was more sacred than the intimate frisking I had received. At the end, I was made to sit down.

At that stage I thought maybe I was about to be given an enema, or had a camera inserted into my intestines. Instead, I was asked to lift up my legs one at a time so my feet could be checked. Finding nothing, I was told to relax while the supervisor went out to test his gloves.

He returned shortly, handed back my boarding pass, and announced I was free to go. Before I left one security man asked what my business was in Salt Lake City. I replied, deflated.

I took advantage of the opportunity to why I qualified to pass through the proverbial needle’s eye scrutiny. I was then told it seemed a whiff of explosive was picked up on me, hence my dissection!

That was nerve-wracking. The last time I handled an explosive was more than fifty years back. I was then four years old. I had struck a match and put it back into the box. It exploded into flames which leapt on to my shirt. The only adult at home was an old aunt. Since there was no water in the house, she pushed me down and rolled me on the dirt floor.

Since then I have not messed with dynamite. I wondered where it must have rubbed off on me. Could it have been in the microphone, papers, pen or pencils I worked with at the studio or the delicious food I ate and comfortable bed I slept on in the hotel? Could it have been in the sweet-smelling cream and soap or tooth paste I found in the hotel bathroom?

One of the security men who heard me thinking aloud said it could have been the body cream I used because some of them contain glycerin. I had no idea what glycerin was, but after the experience I decided I stick to my normal thing of not rubbing any cream on my body anymore no matter how alluring the smell.

Interestingly, I was never upset. I knew whatever it was I had nothing on me to worry about — or so I thought. I also knew the men were working in the best interest of all travelers, including my embarrassed self.

I realized that if some fanatics did not visit this country with evil on 9/11 and continued from then to try to do more havoc I would not have passed through the invasive screening.

Once I got the permission to leave, I walked to my departure gate and I googled up glycerin on my cellphone. It said something about “a colorless sweet thick liquid which is used in making explosives and medicine and for making foods sweet.”

I shivered at the pairing of good and evil, an oxymoron where one can freeze and burn at the same time.


About Imo Eshiet

Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.

Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North Carolina Stake.



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