Monday, July 19, 2010

Garlic Smuggling

Over the past twenty years, the hippy-esque kibbutz Neot Semadar has coaxed a surprisingly green oasis out of Israel’s dusty, brown Negev desert. While touring the kibbutz, I mentioned to my guide Coby, one of the kibbutz founders and tender of the community’s vegetable garden, that I was working on a history of garlic. He immediately bounded over to his truck and pulled out two huge, rose-tinted heads of garlic that he had just harvested. “Would you like these?” “Oh my God, yes.” They were spectacular.

When I landed at JFK after an exhausting flight from Tel Aviv, I had one goal -- to evade the airport’s legendary Beagle Brigade. The US Customs and Border Control has trained beagles to scout out food, plants, and fellow animals for decades. Beagles were recruited as federal agents because they have an acute sense of smell and they’re so cute that they don’t intimidate passengers. As a result, contraband-bearing travelers are tempted to cozy up to the adorable pups, dressed in their bright green vests, and before they know it, they’ve been busted by Snoopy.

I heard the beagle before I saw her. Quickly, I turned around. She was three feet away and headed right for me. I tried to hide my nervousness, but my heart was racing and beads of sweat exploded across my brow. My eyes darted around the carousel nervously. (I’d be a lousy terrorist.) Slowly, so as not to attract attention, I headed for the other side of the carousel, weaving between my fellow passengers and grateful, for the first time, that the flight from Tel Aviv had been full. Deputy Dog and her handler followed, stopping to check on other people, but I knew she would reach me in seconds. In a flash, I dropped my carry-on on the conveyor belt. The beagle arrived just as the garlic glided away. I picked up my suitcase and headed back to the other side of the carousel to collect my contraband-containing bag. When the customs official scanned my form and ushered me on, a smile broke out across my face. Victory and garlic were mine.

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