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  • Writer's pictureNikko Norte

The disastrous customs officer …

‘I’m able to defend myself,’ I answer in French as I notice Heidi, next to me, shaking her head disapprovingly, which makes me realize I should come up with a funnier line when asked whether I speak French. The point is, though, that customs officers keep interupting our journey, the last time only two hours ago, and it starts to annoy me.


A French customs officer leans into the open window at my side of the car, his forearms crossed on the window frame. Fellow customs officers stand around our car. Some seemingly uninterested, others in Dirty Harry mode.

‘Where are you coming from?’

Nous venons d'Espagne.’ From Spain.

‘Ah, let’s speak Spanish then,’ the customs officer answers in Spanish.

‘No, we won’t,’ I reply. ‘We are in France, so we speak French.’ Again, I notice Heidi shaking her head, a frown on the customs officer’s forehead. ‘Where are you going?’ he then asks in French.

‘The Netherlands.’

‘To do what?’

Travail.’ Work.

‘And what are you transporting?’

‘A German shepherd and camping equipment.’

‘You go camping when you work?’

‘Is that suspicious?’

‘Uh-hum... Where have you been en Espagne?

‘The north.’

‘Holidays?’

Non, nous habitons en Espagne.’ We live there.

‘Where in Spain do you live?’ I look at Heidi and ask, ‘What is the name of our village?’

‘Ordis,’ Heidi replies. I look at the customs officer and say, ‘Ordis,’ upon which he asks, ‘You don’t know where you live?’

‘We live in Spain for six days now.’

‘And before that you lived in Austria?’

Non, en Angleterre.’ In England.

‘But you drive an Austrian car.’

Richtig ...’ German for right.

Quoi?’ What?

‘Before England, we lived in Austria.’

‘Then, how long did you live in England?’ Fed up, I answer, ‘If this enquiry drags on like this, I’ll make us some coffee,’ and I bend toward the customs officer because I suspect Heidi to lash out at me, which she does. Her hand hits my shoulder, the customs officer bursts out in laughter, and he finally gets to the point: ‘Cannabis, cocaine ...?’

Ça dépend du prix,’ I reply. That depends on the price, Heidi and the customs officer both shaking their heads now. But then, even the customs officer decides there’s a limit to everything, and he wishes us bon voyage. I pull up, brake, and reverse. The customs officer crosses his arms in front of his chest as I ask him, ‘You don’t want to see our passports?’

Bon voyage ...’


Again, I pull up, and I think of an article I recently read. The introduction of biometric, digital passports is a matter of months, according to the EU, flawed reasoning being brought to bear for the introduction of those passports, if my opinion counts. A simple scan of our face and we pass a border control without a trouble, which in itself is troublesome because according to the Schengen Agreement, border controls in mainly all of Europe should no longer exist. In addition, we avoid physical contact between citizens and keepers of the law, which helps us stay healthy. That kind of reasoning. Before I read that article, I heard Ursula von der Leyen, chairman of the EU, rant that biometric, digital passports will make the internet safer, and ... oh man. Lies travel halfway around the world before the truth has laced its shoes.


Since the outbreak of covid, Heidi, Moos the German shepherd, and I travel across Europe as we have always done. No closed borders anywhere, but inland we are halted regularly, no customs officer or policeman ever interested in passports, negative PCR tests, or proof of vaccination, which, I realize, is not entirely true. Once, two bulky, young women in the uniform of the Austrian police refused us entry to Italy. The incident provided me with the inspiration to write the blog Delusions and false miracles, and ... ‘You were looking for an Auchan, right?’ Heidi interrupts my thoughts. True. I am looking for an Auchan, for its comic strip section is often better supplied than that of other supermarkets. I follow Heidi’s directions until I park in front of an Auchan. Not much later, I trot back to the car, happy as a child, with two Tuniques Bleues and the latest Lucky Luke.


Late March 2023. Six days ago, we received the keys to our new house in Spain, an old stable converted into a home. All rooms except the bedroom have arched, stone ceilings, and eh... man, that house rocks! But no furniture. After having moved house across European borders seven times within eight years, we don’t have much furniture left, and what we still own in terms of clothes, books, and other things we are attached to, we stacked against the walls. Pacing the wonderfully tiled floors of our new house, ideas for pieces of furniture I could built fighting for prominence in my head, a passing villager asked me through an opened window about the size of the matrass he saw on the floor of our bedroom. An hour later, we were the proud owners of an antique bed, which I will soon sand and paint.


A bed, underfloor heating, and sunshine! Quite a contrast to how Heidi, Moos, and I spent the last winter, living in a too-small tent on a campsite in the north of the Netherlands. We would have loved to stay in Spain a bit longer, but the day after tomorrow, I will be a guest in the talk show of a prominent Dutch politician, a man being accused of being a right wing extremist, which is mainstream media slang for someone who prefers logic over reason when it comes to political decision making. I read two of his books and firmly believe the last elections in the Netherlands would have had a different outcome if people had shoved their mainstream media aside to read those books instead …


The weather is still good when I leave the highway to negotiate a narrow road that leads to the castle of Sévérac. Not much later, having taken some equipment from under Heidi’s seat, water comes to boil in a kettle on our gas stove. Moos rolls in the grass in which Heidi rests on a sleeping bag, staring at the blue sky, as I read l'Arche de Rantanplan. Lucky Luke without Goscinny is no Lucky Luke, but my childhood affinity with Lucky Luke still holds firm. That apart, I use the comic strips I collect to keep up with my languages. Spanish I learned from Asterix comics, and I remember the first Spanish line I ever spoke, when, long ago, a real estate agent steered my open Land Cruiser through Andalusia, where I desired to settle back then. Being a passenger in my own car, I enjoyed the scenery. Noticing some pigs next to a farm, I asked, as Obelix had taught me the previous evening, ‘Son cerdos salvages o jabilis domesticos?’ Are they wild pigs or domestic boars? Those first Spanish words, which I spoke after months of silence, almost landed us in a ditch, but my first Italian words cost me dearer.


Not wearing a helmet, I once toured Italy on a scooter. Two carabinieri halted me. High, black boots, polished to a degree, puffy pants, bandoliers with buckles across the chest, huge caps with supersized cap badges, grumpy faces completing that freak display of authority. To break the ice, I remarked, as Obelix had taught me the previous evening, ‘Sono pazzi questi romani,’ these Romans are crazy, and ... ‘Do you know that story of little Adolf?’ I ask Heidi as I pour boiling water over ground coffee.

‘Hm...’ Heidi replies.

‘Six years old, never spoken a word. One evening at the dinner table, little Adolf suddenly says, “Die Suppe ist kalt.” His parents are overwhelmed with joy, and Adolf’s mother asks him why he has never said anything before. Little Adolf thinks for a moment and replies, “Bis jetzt war alles in Ordnung.”’ (Until now everything has been under control)

‘Very funny,’ Heidi murmurs, her eyes closed, and I divide coffee from our Stanleythermos over two mugs. Through the steam from my mug, my gaze wanders over the walls of the castle of Sévérac. No coffee in the glory days of that castle, but if only I had a time machine ...


The entire day, I could stare at the castle of Sévérac, lost in thought, sipping my coffee, but that is not to be. Reluctantly, I store what I have used to brew coffee under Heidi’s seat. I close her door after she has gotten in, gesture Moos into the car, and after about two hours of driving, customs officers halt us near Clermont-Ferrand. It’s the third time today. I lower my window, say, ‘Pas de cannabis, pas de cocaine,’ and think of how I once escorted two people from a part of Africa where life, for them, had become a challenge.


Fatigued, we trudged through dense vegetation consisting solely of marijuana plants. At the edge of that marijuana field, I instructed my travel companions to warm up some rations as I set out to explore a seemingly abandoned settlement nearby. An old woman greeted me and somehow made me understand she had gone to fetch water from a well or stream. Upon her return, she had found the settlement deserted. The woman guided me to where she expected her son to be in hiding. We found the son, as well as most other villagers, and after I had made clear I did not represent any kind of government and, my weaponry despite, bore no ill intentions, the son and I crouched and talked. Soon, my new friend conveyed in broken French that the white men would come to buy his marijuana.

‘Have you sold anything before?’ I asked him.

Non, non ...’

‘What did you grow before?’

Maïs.’

‘Why are your plants so tall? The buds of your marihuana should grow, not the stems,’ I stammered, my brain struggling to make words like ‘boutons’ and ‘tiges’ available.

Oui, oui … très haute. Bonne récolte,’ very high, good crop, he answered, my despair growing.

I asked him how he transported his harvest, the nearest road being about three days walking from where we crouched, a road teeming with all kinds of police, military, and marauding militia.

Nous marchons.

‘How much do you carry when you walk?’

Cinquante ka-zjé,’ he replied, fifty kilos, his eyes gleaming with pride. I looked at his malnourished frame, shook my head, and said, ‘Show me.’ We walked back to the settlement, villagers in rags trailing behind, and before my friend entered a hut, he pointed to a car door embedded in one of the clay walls of the hut, the logo of UNICEF on it. Once inside, he rolled down the window in the door. He stuck his head through the open window and grinningly said, ‘Air conditioning.’ Coming out of the hut, he carried a bag, which he placed in front of me. He pointed to what was printed on the bag: 50kg.


On later trips through Africa, I found more marijuana fields. The conditions under which most future drug lords and their families lived were shocking, I painfully remember as I stare into the face of the customs officer at my window. All that tax money to recruit, select, and train friend dipshit and his colleagues, all that tax money to have friend dipshit and his colleagues halt me on a roundabout in France, not preventing a single case of drug addiction, ruining a part of the world in due course, and ... ‘Bon voyage.’

Tu ne veux pas voir nos passeports?

Bon voyage ...’

 

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