Our bucket list items have done many things for us. They have taken us to exotic lands. Introduced us to interesting people. Cost us a small fortune. Taught us new skills. Gifted us memorable moments. Even changed our life paths. All things, I suppose, are to be expected from solid bucket list items. But on Tuesday morning, an accumulation of our bucket list items brought us something we never could have predicted. Never.
An ordinary morning of Dad and Lambeau doing the morning chores took a turn for the out-of-the-ordinary when an unfamiliar car began driving slowly down Tallgrass Road. The car went past Shamrock Farms, turned around, passed by again and ultimately ended up in the driveway. Once Lambeau decided to allow them out of the car, two men stepped out and spoke to my dad. This is when I can only assume Dad’s heart skipped a beat or two.
The men asked for me and said something a parent never wants to hear. “We are with the FBI.” Their badges and business cards indicated they meant that FBI. The FBI that stands for Federal Bureau of Investigation. You know, the FBI you never want looking for you or your daughter.
There was the standard exchange of questions. Where is she? Can we have her contact information? How do you know her? Those were the questions posed by the investigators. Then there was the exchange of questions posed by the rightfully protective father. How do I know you are really with the FBI? Where is your office? What do you want with my daughter?
I am certain at some point someone had to think, who is really doing the investigation here!
An agreement to share information was met when the investigators agreed to tell Dad why they wanted to see me.
“We want to talk to her about some of her past travels.”
Pause. “Oh, you mean her travels to the Middle East.”
“Oh, you are profiling her…”
Dad informed the officers he had accompanied me on all of my travels and that my husband was a part of the travels too. This was surprising news to them, but deemed beneficial. The meeting turned quickly into a discussion of how our love of travel and my deep affection for camels had taken us all around the world, especially the Middle East.
The officers asked about how we chose our countries, what we did on our travels and how we were received by other cultures when we landed in these foreign places. Dad explained how it was on my bucket list to experience the Dhafra Camel Festival in the United Arab Emirates, to walk among the cameleers at Pushkar, India and to visit the Camel Market in Douz, Tunisia.
A few of our trips were apparently red flags. Our travels in Syria probably seemed suspicious as did the fact we landed in Algeria & Tunisia just as the Arab Spring was erupting. Dad explained to them how the old song You Belong to Me guided our trips to see the Pyramids of Egypt, the Marketplace in Old Algiers and other stops.
The officers had done their research. Off the cuff, they recalled nearly all our trips and the dates we traveled. They were prepared for the meeting, but not for what my dad did next.
Like a dramatic sharing of a pinnacle exhibit in a movie courthouse scene, Dad walked the officers, one from Kansas and one from New York, over to the barnyard and introduced them to our camel herd. This was met with shock. “Camels in Kansas!?!” Then followed the obligatory photos with our beautiful beasts. I am going to guess this was filed in the you-can’t-make-this-shit-up file when they returned to the office.
Even though it seemed my dad did a great job handling the interview, they still could not close out my file without speaking with me. Luckily, dad called and gave me a little warning. I can only imagine what I would have thought if a random FBI officer called me or showed up at my home.
The officer contacted me and asked me a series of questions about where we traveled, how we chose our destinations and what happens when we are traveling. I explained our very democratic approach to Trip Meetings where we each present a list of countries, try to sell our top choices to each other and then cast a secret ballot. I told him how I choose countries because of camels, my husband chooses countries because of SCUBA diving and my dad chooses countries based on cultural and historical intrigue.
I explained how I started loving camels after a comical, brief encounter in the Libyan Desert on our first Father-Daughter trip to Egypt. The officer seemed intrigued (and maybe a little jealous) with my dad taking me out of school, flying across the globe and spending a month trapesing around Egypt.
I explained how we were routinely treated with warmth and genuine friendliness each time we landed in these countries and how rarely our nationality was an impediment to our sense of safety, feeling respected or to receiving gracious hospitality in each country, even Middle Eastern countries. I wish I would have remembered to tell him about the shopkeeper in Tunisia who clasped my hands, bowed his head and said “Bless you” because he was so thankful Americans would come to his country for holiday. Or the two Syrian women in a small café in Damascus who stood up in a show of respect as we walked out because we had told them how beautiful we thought their country was.
After a bit of talking he revealed that he read our travel blog (www.travelblog.org) after my dad’s prompting. His comments indicated he read about all of our trips. Funny thing, when we were writing those little blurbs about our whereabouts it never crossed our minds that the FBI would be part of our reading audience!
Before the interview concluded, the officer confirmed it was my recent passport renewal that caught the attention of the Joint Terrorism Task Force and that the stamps in my old passport caused my file to end up on his desk. He was kind and almost apologetic. He confirmed what I already knew, the world has changed quite a bit since Dad and I took our first trip to Egypt and that my dad is a “very cool guy.” He gave me advice on future safe travels and extended himself if we were ever in a sticky situation in a foreign land.
In the end, I was cleared by the FBI and will hopefully not end up on America’s Most Wanted Terrorist list, but if there is one thing I learned, it is that you never know where your bucket list may lead you!