The journey from Barcelona to Dublin was long. Longer than you’d expect! The trip included a Barcelona city bus, train and metro, an hour-long bus ride to another city, the flight itself, a shuttle from the Dublin airport to the city centre and a ten minute walk to our hostel. And all of this after a full school day that ended at 4:00 p.m.
We drag our tired and slightly cranky selves from the packed airplane at 11:30 p.m. and proceed towards the baggage area. That’s when we see it. Customs. We had all but forgotten about this particular anxiety-producing aspect of travel; almost all of our European destinations have been Schengen states which means that are no Customs areas when one enters these countries from Spain. It’s just like travelling domestically. Later, I learn that Ireland and the United Kingdom were the only EU members that did not sign up to join the original Schengen Convention in 1990.
The boys seem a bit revved up by the sight of Customs. They turn and announce, quite loudly, “Hey! Customs!” Yup, we see it! Thanks!
So we six head towards the Customs official for Non-EU Passport Holders. We are the only people in the airport who fit this description so he is waiting just for us. I open my knapsack (that’s a backpack in the rest of the world) and give the kids their passports. When we created the Travel Club, I did not anticipate carrying all of their travel documents. I assumed that the kids were responsible enough to look after their own passports; this was faulty logic on my part and probably betrays the fact that I am not a mother. Several months later, I embraced the idea of holding their passports (becoming a modern-day pack mule for travel documents) after one of our students left an envelope with his passport and all of his money in a tray at security and the entire group spent ten frenzied minutes searching for it.
Passports in hand, the boys dash ahead of us and after about 30 seconds, we see the Customs man waving to us, the adults. We approach the counter and hold our Canadian passports in front of us like an offering to the Irish Customs guy. Please go easy on us. I feel grateful that I asked the parents to fill out and sign a permission form for international travel… the last of these forms had to be faxed to us that very afternoon as the original copy got slipped under my office door and went missing. We do not, after all, look like a family.
The boys, fearless, swarm around us like bees. They are waiting to hear their first Irish accent. Customs Guy asks the usual questions. How long are you here and when are you leaving? From where are you travelling? His accent does not disappoint and, thankfully, he seems satisfied by our answers. He then asks for the passports of the kids. (Only one student has slightly suspicious residency status in Spain and I am sure that this will be worked out soon).
Customs Guy looks up, our passports in his hand. “Does George Bush know that two Canadians are traipsing around Europe with all these American kids?”
A smile creeps across the face of the Customs Guy. The smiling leads to actual laughter. DP and I join in, mostly out of relief, but the boys (one of whom is actually Canadian) howl with their whole bodies. The Customs area echoes with the sound of real joy and teenage boys meeting a kindred spirit.
Customs Guy asks one of the students what he is going to learn in Dublin. The boy shifts uncomfortably for a moment and says, “About Irish culture and history and… bars.”
“I’ll expect a two page report,” Customs Guy tells the boy and then, to the Canadian student, he says, “And you too. Typed.”
There is a bit more banter and Customs Guy wishes us a great weekend. “Welcome to Ireland,” he says. We have never felt more welcome anywhere.