I thought we were safe.
We were at the airport, ready to head home from a short vacation in Oman (read about our adventure here). We made it through the entire trip without a major incident. Aside from nearly missing our connection with our AirBnB host and the typical adventure of missing a turn or two and temporarily getting lost, there were no concerns at all. I should have known better. In true New Griswolds fashion, we could not get through a vacation without a glitch.
And I have no one to blame but myself.
One of the places we visited in Oman was the Souq in Muttrah. What an experience! We’ve visited several souqs, but this one was unique, both for its beauty and history. We wandered through the shops, as usual, looking for decor for our home (we decided we would start collecting home decor from various places we visit now that we sold our house, got rid of most of our belongings, and moved overseas).We wanted something that represented something specific to Oman. As usual in the souqs, we happened upon a helpful shopkeeper who was willing to show us his beautiful items and negotiate a good price. He had the perfect item. It was a Khanjar, or the iconic Omani knife.
It was framed. It was a beautiful piece of art. And only 13 OR (13 Omani Rials = about $30). Of course we wanted it! The dagger is the most recognizable symbol of Oman. It’s even in the flag. It was the perfect piece for our wall. The shopkeeper bubble wrapped it for safe travels and we were on our way.
So there we were, going through security at the airport. I hadn’t packed the art in our checked luggage because it was afraid it would break. We put our items on the conveyor, stepped through the magical metal-detecting arch, and were ready to head to our gate. But, not so fast…
“Does this belong to you?” a security guard asks, holding the bag with the picture in it.
“You can’t take that on the plane. It’s a knife.”
Now, I’m no travel rookie. I have flown many, many times. I always pack my carry-on so I can easily pull the electronics out. I wear slip-off shoes in case I have to remove them. I know to take off sweaters or jackets before getting to the front of the line. Liquids? Rarely placed in my carry-on, but if they are, they are pre-packaged in the baggies within the limits. And, of course, I would never dream of trying to bring a knife on board.
But this was a work of art!
A very friendly officer came over to explain my options to me – I could leave it there or I could walk back out to the check in gate, package it, check it as luggage with no guarantee it wouldn’t get broken.
I thought, “Well, we have time and I don’t want to throw away 30 bucks without at least trying,” so I was escorted back through security and all the way to the front of the airport. I was embarrassed. Why didn’t I think of this before getting to the airport? The officer was very helpful, though I suspected he was thinking, “This silly American woman and her art.” He helped me get a box, pack the artwork (I refuse to refer to it as a knife), and check it. Then, he escorted me all the way back through security to catch up with Jim and the boys.
We boarded the plane, sans artwork.
When we got to Bahrain, we went to pick up or baggage. Of course, there was no box waiting for me. I took my ticket to the delayed luggage desk where the friendly agent sent me to the customs counter.
Sure enough, there was my box…marked with a big black X. The customs officer asked me to open it. He looked at what was inside and shook his head and said, “What were you thinking!?!” OK, that might have been my imagination. He did say “it is not allowed to bring in daggers to Bahrain.”
Oh, boy. In my head I was screaming, “It’s a work of art!” but I knew the rules about bringing things into Bahrain. We didn’t even ship our good kitchen knives from home because knives weren’t allowed in.
This officer explained that I could wait one week and contact the Ministry of the Interior who might allow us to have it while we live in Bahrain. If not, we should be able to ship it to the U.S. (the U.S. wouldn’t hesitate to let in a knife in, right?).
We traveled to Italy for the rest of our holiday break (read about that – possibly the most New Griswoldy of all – New Griswold adventure here). Upon our return, we went in search of our confiscated art. Let me tell you, it is not easy to figure out where to pick up confiscated items in Bahrain. It’s almost as if they don’t want you to have them! I looked on the form I was given at the airport. There was no address. No phone number. The top simply had the Bahrain crest and “Department of Interior, Customs Services.” I figured, okay, Bahrain is a small island. Maybe that’s all you need to find the place. I did a Google search. Nothing helpful. I tried Google Maps. I was directed to a complex in Manama. Super! Jim and I hopped in the car and followed the directions.
When we arrived at the complex, there were no signs indicating where to go. Jim waited in the car while I wandered into an open door and handed my paper to the woman at the counter. I asked if she knew where I should go. She looked at me with a quizzical look, raised her eyebrow, then went into the next room where a uniformed officer sat. He looked at me, said something in Arabic to the woman, and she directed me to the next gate down.
I walked to that gate. I entered, stopped at the first security guard I saw, asked where to go, and he directed me to the shack behind me. I went to the counter there, asked where I was supposed to go, he directed me back to the first place I was. Ugh. I walked out of there, ran into another guard, and asked him for help. He also directed me back to the first place I was. There was no way I was going back in that door. I didn’t need them to think I was a complete idiot. I sneaked past that door and walked to the end of the block where another guard stood. Finally, he told me I was in the wrong area. I needed to go to a different location altogether. He nicely drew a map for me, which I followed… until I missed a turn. When you miss a turn in Bahrain, you’re in real trouble. There’s no way to turn around. We’d have to drive miles out of our way before we get back on track.
As we were finding our way back, I saw a road sign that said, “Customs Services.” Oh! I figured that was where we needed to go. After all, that’s what the paper said. We drove into the area of the Bahrain port and found the big building labeled Customs Services on the side. YES!!! We found it! We went in, walked to the desk, showed my paper, and were told, “Not here. You have to go to the other port building.” Double ugh!!!
Back in the car we went. We were able to rediscover the route Guard Nice drew for us.
We followed the directions this time and ended up at a building that looked like this……but without windows. In small letters, it said “Customs Storage” on the side. Whew!!! What a relief! We finally found it.
I went inside, handed the paper over yet again, and almost hugged the officer when he confirmed I was in the right place. He took the form and my CPR card (resident ID), made copies, and said…
“It’s not here. It’s in our other store.”
He very cheerfully added, “I’ll bring it here tomorrow and then you can get it.”
I explained I wouldn’t be able to pick it up the next day because I had to work. He said, “No problem. I’ll call you. You can send a friend or anyone to get it.” I guess once you successfully find complete the labyrinth of locating customs, they reward you by giving your contraband to anybody.
I’ve definitely learned my lesson. Next time we’re souvenir shopping, I’ll stick to something easier… like keychains with my kids’ names on them: Valvano, Karston, BreighAnna, and Brooke. 🙂