Thursday, September 13, 2018

My TSA Incident

Have you ever been strip-searched by TSA at an airport?

Alexa, play “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter.

I thought I was going to surprise my family by flying home to attend a family party at my house in Cape Cod this weekend. It was a last minute flight, had to use my JetBlue credit card points to avoid the thousand-dollar ticket expenses.

I had a hectic day; I failed a test in American Constitutional Development, got a ticket for accidentally running a red light on my way home (I swear it was yellow!), then forgot my wallet at my apartment on the way to the airport.

No worries, right? I’ll just have my friends take a picture of my ID and text it to me for airport security to use.


The kind Homeland Security agent asked if I had any prescription medications on me to confirm my identity, and luckily I had one- but one was not enough. So Homeland Security began interviewing me on my identity, my childhood, family, my work history, college classes, and personal information.

After all of my information checked out, I still had to be searched for any weapons or chemicals. To my absolute surprise, my sneakers tested positive for recreational drugs, specifically; heroin.

Hey Mom, I’ve never tried drugs, I promise.

I began crying, insisting they test my blood or urine, but when the agent discovered I live in downtown Waco (Waco has a huge drug problem), he simply told me I must have stepped in an area with remnants of drugs, that it happens often and wasn't a big deal. In order to further conclude I was not a potential threat to the flight, TSA decided I had to be strip searched.

Naked and goose-bumped, I stood in front of two female agents in just my lacey Victoria Secret PINK thong. I have never been more uncomfortable in my life than when the two women ran their cold, rubber-gloved hands over every inch of my bare skin. The rest of my body was clean, they found I was hiding nothing, and after a few more uneasy exchanges they let me go. 

I was finally through security when I get a text saying my flight has been delayed three hours. I definitely should have just driven home to grab my wallet. 

Starving, I sit down at the airport bar to try to buy some food with a picture of my credit card. The men next to me overheard my crying to the manager, and they bought me enough food to last me days! We were all waiting on a flight to Boston. When I finally land at 3:30 a.m., I see my beautiful mother waiting with coffee to take me home to Cape Cod. 

A couple bottles of wine, a few dozen lobsters, lots of laughs, and one corn-hole tournament later: my family's party left us smiling the whole weekend. It's been years since the whole family was in the same place, let alone the same state, at the same time. Overall, my incident with TSA was worth it to spend a long weekend with my nearest and dearest relatives. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"What’s a God to a Non-Believer?”

*Plugs in Kanye West, No Church in the Wild on Spotify playlist*

    I am a student at Baylor University who struggles with my faith.


    I know, we’re unheard of. When applying, I had no idea Baylor’s Christian foundation was such a huge part of the BU experience. My Massachusetts high school was “Christian”, though we celebrated all faiths, had no homework on religious holidays, we were not required to take any religion courses and never talked about the Bible. But it was 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning in Munich, Germany, and my Baylor friends wanted to go to church.

    I went to church growing up (Hi Mom, don’t hate me for this) but we were more as my mother calls it “Christmas and Easter Christians”. This meant my little sister and I participated, as sheep, in the annual Christmas pageant the local church held, and our family would be in the pews on Easter morning. We pray over our dinner as a family, say “bless you” when someone sneezes, and overall hold Christian values of being neighborly to everyone. But I never truly understood why we were all singing to a bearded man in the sky and his son and ghost.

    I have no problem going to church. I just never personally had that one-on-one relationship with God. I think for me it’s an issue of hypocrisy. I take pride in my zero-tolerance policy for religious bigotry. I have met too many awful, narrow-minded people who spit hateful words yet claim to be “good” Christians deserving of heaven. I find too often that a person’s character does not at all match up with his actions, a “you are what you preach” sort of deal.

    So there I was in Munich, getting ready for another church visit. Without breakfast or, more importantly, coffee, I rode the elevator down to the lobby to meet my friends.

    When the average person hears the word “church”, he thinks of a building with a steeple and a bell. Inside, there is a large chapel hall where families (mainly old people) congregate to sing hymns on Sunday morning and maybe, maybe, they won’t fall asleep during the sermon. What I did not know was that we were not going to church, we were going to Hillsong. Under the previous definition, Hillsong is not a church, but a passionate concert.

    It doesn’t matter if you believe, don’t believe, identify as Jewish, Catholic, Evangelical, or any form of Jesus-based religion: members of Hillsong welcome you with friendly Christian side-hugs, warm coffee, and maybe an Instagram follow-for-follow arrangement. The greeters aren’t aggressively spiritual or trying to convert the audience, they’re just happy you showed up. Once the crowd settles down and the session begins, a band comes on stage and leads everyone in faith-based songs.

    I know what you’re thinking: hymns. But no! Actually, maybe. I’m not super familiar with hymns. But I know the songs are written by the original, Australian-based Hillsong band with a young-adult audience in mind - so the songs are upbeat, easy to follow, and most importantly: moving. As a new-Christian who only went in fear of fomo, I found myself singing along and swaying to the rhythm, an occasional tear welled up in my eye (I swear it was the dust).

    Of course, it is “church”, so a preacher will appear and, well, preach. However, I will admit: Hillsong pastors (judging by this singular experience) spread their message through hilarious, relatable, personal stories that connect somehow to a passage in the Bible. This guy announced that he was from Boston, so automatically he earned points in my book. As he continued his address, I found myself laughing, crying, empathizing, and personally identifying with the preacher. Once his lesson was over, the audience continued standing (we never really sat down) and belted out more songs.

    I was touched. Inspired. Wholeheartedly affected by my Hillsong experience. My faith in good morals, overall kindness, the “practice what you preach” type of humanity, restored in my mind. I had met people from all over the world who were truly loving and good to others, regardless of sex, ethnicity, country, or faith.

    Though my stance on Christianity and God still stands where it is, Hillsong is the type of church I would sign up with. A community of passionate people who congregate to share in their love of people and all things in the name of the Lord. This type of gathering, where all are accepted and greeted with love and kindness, that’s church for a non-believer.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Munich, Germany

36 Hours in Munich, Germany
June 9-10

     While abroad in Budapest, Hungary, my friends and I planned to venture to Germany during one of our free-weekends. Because of our university program, travel plans were limited to Saturday and Sunday, with a return deadline of Sunday night. We knew we wanted to make the most of our German adventure, but how can you pack a full cultural experience into under 48 hours?

      The answer is a 3 a.m. airport journey, quick flights, 12 miles walking, and prioritizing sightseeing based on personal desire and historic significance.

Our German Breakfast
        Once arriving in Munich at 7:15 a.m., and after a quick breakfast our first point of interest was the Nazi concentration camp, Dachau. The 1933 establishment only took 45 minutes to reach by a bus and train combination. Formal tours lasted either three or six hours, so we opted for a self-guided walking tour instead. The most astonishing facts about Dachau (besides the thousands of murders) were the original camp structures, preserved and unchanged over 80-plus years.

     The cold, textured concrete walls of the buildings still displayed the stained, original, now peeling paint begged to tell tourists a million stories of the horrors that haunt them. The gated entrance to the camp read "work brings freedom" to all the prisoners forced to march to their deaths. 

"Work Brings Freedom"
Since the site is now a museum, everything original is maintained excluding some lighting updates and occasional floor repairs for safety. To stand in a courtyard where countless people were exterminated for their faith or values is simply sickening, if not one of the most powerful experiences you could have. To empathize is merely not enough. Though not the most Instagram-worthy experience, the concentration camp is an absolute must-do while in Germany. Dachau forces visitors to connect with the victims and take away an overwhelming desire for humanity in the world.

International Monument by Nandor Gild, May 2007
      With heavy hearts, my group decided to cheer ourselves up by visiting the famous Victorian flea markets of Munich, where vendors were selling fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, cheeses and sausages that surrounded our senses. The square was like most farmers markets, tourists and locals swiveling throughout each tarp or tent with woven baskets of garden-fresh food and newly-picked flowers. With a slab of cheese and a carton of strawberries, the group wandered over to the English Gardens.

Rathaus-Glockenspiel in Munich
     We picnicked under a willow tree in a grassy field overpopulated with chamomile flowers. A small waterfall flowed into a lazy river that looped around our fatigued bodies as we fell asleep.

English Garden Wildflowers 
     An hour or so later, we woke to our friends calling us for dinner. If in Munich, the one thing tourists need to do is eat at Hofbräuhaus. If Germany is known for anything, it’s the beer and sausages. The famous beerhouse of Germany, Hofbräuhaus bursts with energy from happy customers drinking liter-sized beers. We easily spent three hours at our table, laughing and drinking with people from around the world. I enjoyed one of their pork dishes and several (whoops) liters of Radler beer. 

     It was getting late, rain began falling and our energy was fading quick. My friends and I decided to retreat back to our hotel for some well-deserved sleep before our very early flight tomorrow.  

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