“When I was 26, I traveled to the African continent for the first time. Since then, I have lived, studied, and worked in different African countries for varying amounts of time and though I have spent time on many continents, it is the only place I consider a second “home” outside of Appalachia. My first time, I landed in Freetown, Sierra Leone, which was a place I loved for many different reasons, though the evidence of recent conflict was palpable and heartbreakingly visible in the shattered infrastructure of the city. As someone who lives in a country where “wars” have not been fought on our soil for many generations, I had to keep reminding myself that almost every person in the country had lived through conflict because it was just that recent…
All of the travel books at the time said that women traveling to Sierra Leone should bring tampons with them since they were not readily available and, when available, were very expensive. So, I had stuffed a bunch of tampons into my suitcase. At the time, there were no scanners for examining the baggage in the airport in Freetown so our luggage was examined by hand by the officers at the airport. One of the officers examining my luggage pulled a tampon from my bag, held it out to me, and looking at me suspiciously, asked, “What is THIS?!” His colleague quickly grabbed the tampon, stuffed it back into my bag, looked at his coworker and said, “That is for women!” Then he profusely apologized to me, saying, “I’m so very sorry!” as if I must have been mortified for something so private to become public, even for a brief moment…I imagined that the reason security was so interested in examining our luggage, beyond the more general security concerns, was concern over smuggling diamonds (out) and drugs (in), so my first thought walking away from that experience was, if a person ever wanted to smuggle diamonds out of Sierra Leone, they should use tampons, since intense meanings around gender and civility seemed to collide in that particular piece of feminine hygiene to render it above scrutiny.
I have crossed many borders. I will never tire of telling this story because it was the most disarming experience I have ever had at a border crossing. I found the shift from suspicion to care such an uncharacteristic one in that brief moment of entering or leaving a country. Border crossings are fraught with tensions around “security” and “documents” and “containment,” but in this brief “crossing” in Sierra Leone, I found an element of human interaction I’m not sure I’ve experienced at any other border… “
– Jessica Scott
030/100 of #100DaysofConfessions Instagram Project