Friday, January 2, 2015

Soap Thieves of Guatemala

I thought I had the travel baggage inspection figured out.

First of all, I travel with only my book-sized backpack. A few changes of clothes and laundry washing make this possible. I’ve even found solid equivalents for most liquids.  Powdered toothpaste, powdered soap, B1 patches instead of bug repellant.

TSA rarely questions anything I bring any more.  I make them read the two page instruction sheet before they pat me down when my artificial hip triggers their metal detector alarm.

So, I was surprised but not concerned when the Guatemala Airport Baggage Inspectors pulled my back pack out for inspection.

I’d brought a bar of soap in case our hotel had perfumed soaps for guests.   I hadn’t needed to use it.  In fact, I was bringing their used bar home to recycle.  I make new bars from old used ones.  The Guatemala agent opened my new soap package.  I told her it was soap. I demonstrated by miming washing my hands.  She took it.

She said it is illegal to remove soap from Guatemala.  So, I gave her the used bar, too.  She made a face as if she didn’t want it.  She looked covetously at the plastic box I’d been keeping the used bar in, but the bar was in a shower cap and the box was dry, so she couldn’t claim even a soap film remained.  She let me keep the box. And let me get away with an officious speech about how soap was a safety hazard.

It sounded suspiciously like American TSA claiming that water is dangerous. But something in her voice tone told me that she wasn’t going to put my soap in the trash. She was going to sell it.

I wish she’d just said, “What a pretty bar of soap. May I have it?”  I’d have been happy to make her a gift of it.

I checked on the web and soap stealing is a common problem when leaving Guatemala, so either they have this law, or they have a lot of underpaid baggage inspectors.

I wrote the Government of Guatemala and asked them if they have a law making it illegal to remove soap from Guatemala.  And I suggested that if they don’t, they should be aware that their airport baggage inspectors are taking passengers’ soap.  I suggested they should give these employees raises so they don’t feel the need to steal soap.   And I pointed out that taking soap away from people who are ending a tour of Guatemala leaves an unpleasant thought about the country as the last thing a visitor experiences – not a good way to get more tourism.

No comments:

Post a Comment