Bringing Home the Bacon

Beth with JasmineMy plans to travel to the UK in September began with an invitation to attend the SIM International Health Advisory Committee’s annual meeting. What’s really not interesting is that I was to present to the committee on the subject of gluten-free diets amongst missionaries.

Much more interesting was the fact that the meeting was held in Scotland in Musselburgh (for my readers in the USA - “Muscle-bruh”) a short distance from Edinburgh (“Edin-bruh”) where it just so happens Beth, Paul and Jasmine live. Once I had packaged Bertokan up and couriered it off to the repairer’s (finally!) I flew up to Edinburgh on an EasyJet flight that was as smooth and simple as the previous day’s flight with Ethiopian Airlines had been complicated. Having had four days of Grandad time and a very enjoyable meeting, my next stop was to attend a wedding and then spend a couple of nights with old college friends, including a visit to Chester Zoo.

Equally uninteresting were the following two days of medical education in Birmingham, although of some interest was the fact that James travelled up from Cheltenham to spend the evening with me – we had a great meal together.

Back to Balsham to repack all the stuff I had bought to bring back to Addis, but sadly Bertokan was still at the repair company - a new motherboard was needed so Chris will have to wait until Christmas to be reunited with her trusty laptop. But then things began to get a bit more interesting. Not the time in Heathrow, nor the flight; but the events just before and shortly after landing.

The most interesting thing was the “Customs Declaration” form handed to me on the aircraft as we approached Addis – something I had never seen before (and hope to never see again) - more of that shortly. I knew that having a new Epson printer packed away in the middle of one of my two cases could attract attention. It did. For reasons known only to him, the customs official decided to x-ray only that one bag, ignoring the other (smaller) one and also ignoring my backpack. I was stopped, summoned into the adjacent room where amidst all sorts of chaos baggage was being unpacked and inspected. Aware that my case contained a variety of things they could be interested in (fortunately though the butter, bacon, sausages and two fillets of wild sockeye salmon were in the other bag) I decided to be proactive. I plonked the case on the long bench in front of a rather hassled-looking official and with some difficulty (it was very well padded with clothing) pulled out the printer. The official was dealing with a seriously disgruntled Chinese woman who puttered and pouted as he tried to work out what she had hidden in a box totally sealed with endless sticky tape. I caught his attention, smiled happily (I’m getting good at this) and told him I had a printer to declare. He seemed relieved to talk to me. Taking the printer and inspecting it he confirmed it couldn’t fax (apparently this matters) and gave me a flimsy form to take to window 4. I pushed into the melee at window 4 and, thrusting my form through the window at the person sitting staring at a computer screen, I waited.

Next to me something new was happening. A group of women were clustered around a second hole in window 4’s glass screen trying to persuade a woman sitting behind it to register their pile of iPhones. The woman was writing the IMEI numbers down in a list. A new regulation was introduced while I was away, that all phones brought into the country have to be registered by Ethio Telecom or they won’t work. Why? Who knows…

Eventually the guy staring at the screen looked at me and said “842 Birr”. I agreed – that’s less than £30 in duty. I found a cash machine nearby, paid and headed out of the airport to find Haile who’d been waiting patiently for around an hour longer than normal.

And at no time did anyone want the “Customs Declaration” form. (Click the images below to read them - it's worth it!)

Front page of the Customs Declaration formBack page of the Customs Declaration formIt starts off so well. Just some flight details, demographics and a passport number. Only one per family.

Section 1 – “prohibited articles” – is fairly easy to comply with, although why every paragraph is in parentheses beats me. I had no machine guns, chemical weapons or “germs such as anthrax etc” (…but what if I’d had the ‘flu?)

Section 2 gets more tricky. These are “restricted articles” requiring “permission from responsible body”. I had no “crocodiles, cobras, turtles, ivory, musk, cactus etc”, but I did have “meat products”. I also had medicines (I have high blood pressure) so I need a “responsible body” to give me permission. No clue as to who that would be. In the past I have brought numerous “measuring instruments” (e.g. thermometers, blood pressure machines), but I’ve never felt the need of a “satellite camera” – I have no satellites.

Section 3 lists “duty-free allowances” in a rather non-specific and startling way. (Although if you’re a crew member or a “frequently flying” passenger you are either exempt or can bring as much as you like – it could mean either.) We won’t spend time worrying about how big a “bottle” or a “packet” is, but 600ml of Chanel No. 5 (for example) would be worth more than the total amount of currency you are allowed to bring in. Then there’s a duty-free allowance for… clothes. I have a question – do I have to pay duty on all my underwear? And why are men allowed more shirts than women?

Over the page to section 4 and things get scary. (b) will always be “yes” unless you’ve brought no underwear (as will (a) if you take any regular medications or you simply have some Pepto-Bismol just in case), so you have to list them all in section 6, where there are 7 lines for your whole family’s stuff.

Just in case you think I’m over-interpreting this, check out section 8: “…you are required to declare all the articles that you have purchased or acquired abroad…” – well for a new arrival that’s literally everything!

Finally, see section 7. There is in fact a sign on the ceiling in customs that says “Green Channel”, but it has always been roped off and no-one is ever allowed out without going through the “Red Channel”, which is the x-ray machine that found my printer. But missed all my meat products. I brought home the bacon.


Oh my goodness, that tickled me! Just hilariously rediculous!

Hey there! Do you use Twitter? I'd like to follow you if that would be okay. I'm definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

Hi Blair. No I don't use Twitter. I used to, but it became an intrusive nuisance so I deleted my account. Glad you like the blog though.

No wonder you have high blood pressure!

How do you feel now you have delved into the world of crime as a meat smuggler?! That form is extraordinary and as a dyslexic formaphobe, terrifying.

And Jasmine is adorable.

Why would anyone bring in a camera designed for orbiting the earth? Surely they’d launch it from Kazakhstan or Florida. So some research and I conclude ‘satellite’ means remote. So no spy cameras allowed! Which might explain the need for IMEI numbers, just to keep track of who’s saying what to whom and on what. Best keep your drone under wraps then! Along with your illegal undies!

Great story and well told! Enjoyed it

After a working life of form-filling, I have come to the conclusion that designing a form is complex and time-consuming and for that reason, the task always gets delegated to a subordinate. The said subordinate, for the same reasons, similarly delegates it down to their subordinate ad infinitum until it reaches someone who has no subordinate. Then the form that this person designs gets used until there is public outrage and/or it features in Private Eye or similar - and then it gets revised by someone with a brain-cell. Keep smiling!

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