Pre-9/11, I flew to New York with a carry-on full of knives. I mean, not only knives, but plenty of knives. Steak knives, a pocketknife, and a box cutter, among other pieces of silverware and tools and a roll of duct tape. When I sent this backpack through the x-ray machine at the airport, the security guard saw these things and asked me what was up, and I just explained that I was moving to New York for three months for an internship, and I wanted to be prepared. And he completely understood and sent me on my merry way.
These days, I’m sure I would have been pulled aside, strip-searched, put on fourteen different lists, and basically had my day ruined. We’re so used to heightened security now that we forget it was ever any other way–or that it might be another way somewhere else.
Which is why I was so surprised by the lack of security I experienced entering and exiting Morocco.
When I was taking the ferry from Algeciras to Tangier, the border guards were on an extended break, causing us to be late to the ship. While we were waiting, many bags were left sitting around with no clear owner. When the guards were finally hustled up, they did a very cursory job of glancing at our passports, and they also didn’t seem to mind when an anxious-looking man wandered back and forth through border control, acting like he’d lost something. As we boarded the ship, our bags were not checked in any way, and none of us went through a metal detector.
I think I was the only person who even thought this seemed unusual.
Upon arrival in Morocco, our passports were again given a cursory glance, and our bags and persons were not checked in any way.
I thought maybe it had something to do with entering via ferry. Surely, I thought, the airport must be more secure.
And it was. A little.
At the airport, once I had my boarding pass, I did send my bags through an x-ray machine and I walked through a metal detector. I didn’t take off my shoes, jacket, or belt, and the lady just waved me through. I didn’t take my liquids out of my bag, and no one blinked at it. I’ve experienced this before at European airports, though–they give you a brief screen when you first arrive and then do a thorough check at the boarding gate.
Except here there was no check at the boarding gate. There was no additional security at all. No further passport check. No bag check. Nothing.
The thing is, when I was a kid, this would have been pretty standard everywhere. It’s just that we’ve been extra-sensitized to security issues and feel the need for searches and scans and observation and double-checking. But there have been only three or four (depending on how you want to count them) major terrorist incidents in Morocco in the past decade, none of them involving airplanes or ferries. So does Morocco know what it’s doing, or has it just been lucky? That’s the trouble–we can’t really know the answer to that question. We just do what we can to try to keep ourselves safe, whether what we’re doing is actually effective or just a superstitious ritual that makes us feel better.