The first time I laid eyes on the Donger, he was walking across a luggage carousel at a small airport set in the middle of the Guatemalan jungle.
With brooding eyes and a strong posture, he could make you break out into a sweat if he held your gaze a bit too long. The Donger was in charge of the place and he knew it. No one could board a plane without his inspection and approval.
Making a last-minute decision to check his carry-on, my husband had left me to clear security on my own. With nothing to do but wait in the queue, I couldn’t help but be transfixed by the Donger. This German shepherd had balls so large, his father must have been an elephant. The dog knew it, too. He walked around full of Latin machismo. As he hopped off the carousel and approached the growing security line, I wondered how he managed stand let alone walk.
As my bag came off the x-ray belt, the Donger gave it a sniff. He narrowed his eyes and sat down.
That was all the security guards needed. My bag was singled out for further investigation.
I had gone through such a scenario before on a return trip from Mexico. A drug dog had passed from passenger to passenger, giving the all clear, until reaching me. The guards had pulled my bags apart finding nothing but a package of beef jerky. At the appearance of the jerky, the dog barked twice and wagged his tail. Laughing, the guards apologized and put my bag back together.
I couldn’t wait to see what food item had sparked the Donger’s attention. We’d all get a good laugh, just like last time. Even the most dedicated drug dogs want a treat.
I was far from concerned until the investigating agent slammed my bag shut and began shouting at me in rapid-fire Spanish. My own comprehension of the language was just enough for me to order a beer, find a restroom and declare that the cheese was old and moldy.
I looked around for my Spanish-speaking husband who was nowhere to be seen. In choppy Spanish laced with English, I asked them to wait for him. “No comprende. No habla Espanol. Una momenta. Mi esposo habla Espanol! Mi esposo es checking bag!” I explained.
It wasn’t enough. Two large guards appeared from nowhere, raised their automatic weapons, and pointed them at my face. I had no idea why they were pointing guns at me. Whatever they found had to be bad.
Racking my brain for an explanation, I thought back to every moment that my bag was out of my sight on the journey from my hotel room to the airport. Was someone was using me as a drug mule? My mind flashed forward to years spent in a decrepit Guatemalan prison over a crime I didn’t commit.
Throwing my hands up in the air, I frantically begged them to wait for my husband. “Mi esposo habla Espanol. Mi esposo!” I had reached the limits of my Spanish and was repeating the same words over and over. This only infuriated the screaming guard.
The shouting got louder, the gun waiving became more exaggerated. I asked everyone around if anyone spoke English. Met with nothing but head shakes, I was on my own.
Confused and scared, I did the only logical thing. I burst into tears.
A commotion broke out behind me. Having heard the sounds of his very distressed wife long before he could see me, my husband was pushing his way through the crowd. A shocked look crossed his face as he looked from me to the guns and back again. He had only been gone for ten minutes.
I shouted “Mi esposo!” and pointed in his direction.
The screaming guard turned his attention to David. As they went back and forth in Spanish that exceeded my skill level, I tried to make sense of the situation.
The screaming suddenly stopped.
“You have aerosol hairspray in your bag,” my husband calmly explained.
“What?! They’re pointing guns at me over hairspray?” I was hysterical.
“Yes. Hairspray. They’re afraid it will cause the plane to explode. You have to throw it away.”
“But it’s a travel size!” I protested.
My husband looked from me to the gunmen and back. Nodding with comprehension, I shut my mouth.
The guards pulled the offending item out of my bag and tossed it in the bin. Guns were lowered, the Donger returned to his post, and I was waved through security as if nothing had ever happened.
I have never packed hairspray again.