By Stephanie Madan
I apologize for that recent excitement at Puerto Vallarta International Airport. Although it had never been my ambition to create an international incident, there are some things you just have to do. Someone had to speak for the dogs.
Amanda, our Westie, and Rachel, our mainly wire hair terrier, joined us on that trip to Puerto Vallarta. It was Rachel’s first visit to our house there. She was enjoying an extended puppyhood and ever so happy gnawing on anything she could get her teeth into. Paul and I noticed she preferred furniture legs and millwork along the lower edge of walls, but she was not above chomping on those fake plastic tea-light candles set around our pool occasionally to dazzle visitors. An innovative and humane strategy of redirection was called for.
So, I brought chewies with me from Houston. Not innovative, true, but unquestionably humane. Rachel enters her state of purest joy when offered a chewy. She instantly abandons furniture legs, millwork, and plastic faux candles. She jumps into the air quivering with anticipation and executes a double pirouette before she lands; all the while making little squeaks I interpret as endearments meant for the chewy. Amanda, past her puppyhood, considers it deeply uncool to leap for chewies, but she chews on them with enthusiasm, if only for old times’ sake
The chewies I purchased were beef flavored. They were made from a vegetable base so their appeal was solely the flavor of beef. I emphasize that they were beef flavored and also in their original packaging. I was not bringing in meaty soup bones, for heaven’s sake
I define food as a substance one voluntarily places in one’s mouth and swallows. Dog chewies, therefore, are not food. Chewing gum, therefore, is not food. They are stand- ins for food. Neither is swallowed. If the general population has accepted that chewing gum is nowhere to be found in the food pyramid and if dogs everywhere have determined the same thing regarding chewies, what prevents the crack team of customs agents managing import security at Puerto Vallarta International Airport from doing so?
This is how import security is managed by the customs office at Puerto Vallarta International Airport: Press a button – If the light is green, you may continue your journey. If the light is red, you are not going anywhere till the person in charge says so. This is putting a lot of faith in a button.
Seriously, how many threats to Mexico’s well-being have been neutralized via this method? Well, now we know of at least one.
Paul and I caught the customs’ red light that trip which meant accepting a luggage search before going on our way. I, for one, was cheerful about it. It gave me an opportunity to pretend I am flexible and not easily ruffled. This matters because Paul has mentioned more than once that he knows of fifteen people he would rather travel with than me.
We slung our luggage up on an inspection table. A young fellow unzipped my suitcase and noticed the bags of chewies right off. He was stunned by such luck. He had just prevented criminal entry of numerous prohibited items into Mexico.
He eyed me. He looked again at the chewies and injected his inspection with new vigor. A genuine incident was unfolding at his table. When you are at the bottom of the customs food chain, thwarting an international smuggler is no small thing. The thrill in his expression was truly touching. Sure enough, there were more chewy bags stuffed in whatever air pockets had been available in my suitcase. He told me they were forbidden. I told him that was ridiculous.
The young man laid the chewy bags out on the table and summoned the customs supervisor of the Puerto Vallarta International Airport.
As I have mentioned, there are times when you have to do what you have to do, no matter that it plays out as an international incident. The battle with the customs supervisor began.
She immediately announced to me in broken English and with finality: The chewies are beef. They are forbidden food. We are taking them. Her expression was disdainful as she prepared to collect them and be off.
And welcome to you, too. Have some bottled water. Obviously she was making her decision before collecting all the facts so I began to acquaint her with them.
No, they aren’t forbidden, I conveyed to her in my inventive Spanish. First, they aren’t food. Dogs don’t eat chewies. If they did, chewies would not be called chewies.
‘Swallowies’ doesn’t resonate as a replacement, but it would not be difficult to come up with something catchy. In any event, chewies would not be their name. Dogs chew them till the flavors are exhausted and then store them in peculiar places. They do not ingest them. Second, the chewies in question are vegetable based. They are beef-flavored, not beef.
I reached over to pick a chewy bag up to point out the ingredients listed on the label, but that customs supervisor of the Puerto Vallarta International Airport objected with fury more reasonably associated with someone reaching for an automatic weapon. I was not allowed to touch the contraband even if it was my contraband. I wondered, based on my masterful interpretation of body language, if there was some concern I might swallow the evidence. Ha! My point exactly – the swallowing part. I fell back on Plan B and invited her to read for herself the words on the wrapper. The invitation was declined.
Maybe she had lost her reading glasses, but I suspect she just felt like asserting her sweeping power over me. By now a small crowd had formed, comprised of all the people the young fellow on the lowest rung of the customs food chain could muster. The customs office had an incident going and it was his.
The true nature of the Puerto Vallarta International Airport customs supervisor was revealed as I continued to debate with her. I regret to report she is a disagreeable sort. She insisted that the vegetable-based chewy was beef each time I voiced my assertion it was not. She did this in a strident voice of increasing volume. The volume part was pure theatrics, considering we were now in each other’s face.
Possibly she was concerned the chewies were freeze-dried cows that would rise up as porterhouse steaks with malicious intent once hydrated. I concluded I was communicating with the wrong level of management.
I politely asked to speak to the store manager; thinking a bit of levity might improve the atmosphere. As she did not respond in a light-hearted way, I am guessing my Spanish version of that request was imperfect. Instead I was awarded a glare she did not discard as our dialogue continued.
Willful obtuseness in others leads to impatience on my part. I commented to no one in particular that any person possessing a brain knows vegetable-based dog chewies in original packaging pose no threat to the great country of Mexico. She accepted this in the spirit it was conveyed. Her glare grew fiercer and I was taking less and less pleasure in her company. Accusations of smuggling hurt my feelings and bring out the worst in me. I returned her glare.
The customs supervisor began scribbling something on an official-looking form which she eventually thrust into my hands. I asked her if it included the name of her supervisor so I could report her ghastly manners and defective judgment.There is no one else, she hissed.
As she scribbled, Paul had wisely edged away from me. Someone needed to remain free to hire the attorney after they took me into custody. For all we knew, that piece of paper consigned me to a dank and squalid Mexican prison. (Charming prisons may exist all over Mexico, but I had only reality shows to draw on for my information.)
I paused. I saw myself in prison, attired in an orange prison jumpsuit. Orange does not suit me. Jumpsuits are passé. And internet speed would be slow. Cocktail hour would be absent. Sushi would be rare. (Couldn’t resist that.)
My love for Amanda and Rachel is deep, but rational: Serving a stint in prison would deprive them of a mother and me of almost everything. I hated doing it, but I began a dignified retreat. The supervisor seized the chewies and probably took them home to her own dog, although she does not seem the type to share. It was painful. I was beaten. But I was free.
So, here’s how things ended up: Paul and I got to our car and, once safely off airport premises, I deciphered her scribbles. The words announced the items had been confiscated. Nothing more. Next, we stopped by a grocery store on the way to the house. There we discovered Mexican dog chewies on the pet aisle. The pet aisle is one I had never investigated, for the good reason that we had not before required replacements for confiscated stowaway chewies. The chewies we spotted were similar to the ones seized. In fact they were so similar the dogs would not be able to tell. I wish I had known that.
I have since familiarized myself with the prohibited items list. Fruits are prohibited. What about that peach-flavored lip gloss I brought into Mexico? Was the Mexican agricultural system compromised as a result of the flavoring in my gloss? This is a slippery slope that Mexico must face squarely and at once. The threat of peach-flavored gloss has been overlooked. What else has been missed?
When the Mexican government heeds my warning and gets moving on this, everyone in the customs office food chain at Puerto Vallarta International Airport will no doubt be instructed to read the labeling. Flavoring will be given a precise definition. And if the wise heads of the Mexican government decree that the customs supervisor of the
Puerto Vallarta Airport must wear an orange jumpsuit and enjoy no internet access for a month or so as penance for being so disagreeable, my hurt feelings will be mollified. I have hope, but I manage my expectations.
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