The Age of Nations is Past and #InternationalCustomsDay (T)
Among horrible recurrent nightmares, a really bad one I have takes place at Customs. Sometimes I have the wrong passport or there’s a new requirement that makes my entry illegal. But the worst is one that actually happened. I’m about to get through US Customs when the Officer asks my daughter with a different family name on her passport: Is this your mother?
My three-year old fires me a glance. It’s a nanosecond that’s long enough for me to read, why the hell come is this Officer asking me this stupid question? but too short for me to stop her from producing a look of utter puzzlement. So naturally in the second that follows, I’m manically nodding my head up and down, pleading her to do the same. But my parrot nods backfire and as my daughter starts wearing the look of terminal dismay, the Officer becomes convinced I’m trafficking kids. In my next move, I do what any mother who has lost her last ounce of pride at Customs does and flash my best and most appeasing smile at the Officer, who, seems momentarily put off his game before he repeats the question with my four-year old: You must know, he said. Is this your mother?
This time I’m ready for my son’s deer-in-headlights look since my brain has already visited multiple passport agencies and consulates to forever change my name to reflect my kids’. Oddly, something happens in that mental jaunt because the buttonholes on the Officer’s chest relax from figure eights to slits and he motions us through with a just-kidding power move. Exhausted by the eleven-hour flight with two young children but more by Customs, I extend the corners of my mouth one last time to thank the Officer then silent scream me and the kids out of the airport.
Although I can’t say I’ve since developed a warm and fuzzy feeling for Customs Officers, I do recognize the work they do. Customs Officers manage everything from scaring moms and their kids to moving the London Bridge to Lake Havasu City, USA bought for $2.5 million in 1968 by industrialist Robert McCulloch. This year’s theme for #InternationalCustom’sDay which took place on the 26th of January is creating a digital data ecosystem, making Customs now include digital governance. A couple of decades on from my Customs nightmare, it seems there’s been a change of perspective in the way we think about gatekeeping and managing our borders.
In fact, this forward-looking outlook towards managing the movement of different peoples and ideas isn’t new. Three-quarters of a century ago, the paleontologist and philosopher Pierre Teillhard de Chardin said:
The age of nations is past. It remains for us now, if we do not wish to perish, to set aside the ancient prejudices and build the earth.
Physical or digital, I parrot-bob de Chardin’s optimism and wish for a focus on ways to share and let good things come through in 2022 – more who we can let in than who we can keep out.
 See WCO Customs Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya describe the 2022 theme here.