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Interesting Experience

It was my first trip to Europe. My 18-year-old daughter was finishing a one-year exchange stay and we had taken a train from Luebeck, where her host family lived, to a seaport town in Belgium so I could meet her host father, a ship's mechanic, who was living on board a boat anchored in the English Channel.

We stowed our gear in the train station, each carrying just a small pack to get us through the day 'til we returned to the little village to spend the night. We took a bus to the shipyard and began going through countless checkpoints, with Melanie explaining each time that we were seeking Karl Pfeil on such-and- such a boat. Security was tight; apparently not just anyone could get in. I was proud that my little girl was able, in her year-old German, to communicate to these people that we had been invited and that we were expected. The guards grew more and more jovial as Melanie cleared us through gate after gate. Each was phoning ahead with a lengthening announcement of our arrival.

Finally, we were ushered through the last gate, and approached the cargo carrier where Karl had been stationed. While Melanie talked to the captain at the top of a ramp I peered down into the hold of the ship, where several dozen dock workers clustered in the huge opening of the ship, looking back up at us. I looked from one to another, wondered which one was the head of the family that had so graciously taken my daughter into his family's home for an entire school year. They seemed equally interested in me and Melanie. They were animated, gesturing and punching one another, but no single one stepped forward in recognition.

Meanwhile, I noticed that Melanie was poring over a map of the nearby town and the ship's captain was pointing out a pension where we could stay. The captain was speaking into a phone, something about making a reservation for us. Melanie seemed to be listening intently to the phone conversation and nodding. Suddenly, she stiffened and gasped. She jumped backwards, yanking her windbreaker up over her head. Only a little of her face was showing as she turned to me. I read terror in her eyes. She choked out a muffled "Mom, we gotta get out of here. Put your pack under your coat. Follow me. Quick." Fearful that something dreadful had happened to Karl or that we were about to be robbed, I jogged breathlessly behind her, clutching my pack to my chest. Finally she stopped and said to me through the little peephole at the top of her jacket zipper.

"Mom, they were going to put us up in town, but not to meet Karl. These little packs we're carrying, they thought we were carrying sanitizing supplies."

"Sanitizing supplies, Melanie, what in the world for?" I asked.

"Mom, they think we're prostitutes."

It was a lot faster for these two "prostitutes" to get out of, than to get into, a shipyard in a little seaport town in Belgium.




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