A Canadian flutist has been left baffled and distraught after U.S. customs agents decided to destroy his traditional, handcrafted Middle Eastern bamboo flutes.
"I am still waiting for that answer," Boujemaa Razgui told CBC Radio's As It Happens, when asked why he thought U.S. Customs and Border Protection would destroy his instruments.
Razgui was flying from Madrid through New York's JFK airport to Boston. It was at JFK airport that officials found his flutes, and after classifying them as agricultural products, destroyed the flutes "in accordance with established protocols to prevent the introduction of plant pathogens into the United States," the border agency told As It Happens in a statement.
Razgui found out his instruments were missing when his instrument case didn't arrive at his home in Brockton, Mass. He rushed to Boston airport to find his flutes, and was given a phone number for the "department of destroying things," as he described the border agency. He phoned the agency and learned that his flutes were gone for good.
"They don't tell me anything — they just act," Razgui complained.
Razgui insists that his flutes are no different from any other plant-based instrument. "Like guitars, they are all from plants—from trees and stuff," said Razgui. "They are dry."
But the border agency told As It Happens that it "discovered fresh green bamboo canes approximately three to four feet long" in unclaimed baggage that belonged to Razgui. Fresh bamboo is prohibited from entering the U.S., the agency said.
Since the purported "fresh bamboo" and Razgui's instruments were in the same container, he lost his entire collection of 13 flutes—and with them, his livelihood.
"They were my life," Razgui said.
Finding the right bamboo for his flutes is not easy, as the variety he needs is not available in the Americas, said Razgui. His flutes were made from bamboo sourced from Morocco.
Razgui said he must also ensure that the stems are at least two years old so that they have the right knots and thickness for a proper flute.
Once he has the material, Razgui crafts the instruments himself, heating and cooling them alternately to tune them. "You have to tune it one time for life," he explained.
Razgui has played the flute for over 40 years and performed at concerts all over the world, including Toronto and Montreal. He insists that he just wants to play his flutes in the time he has left.
"I must have my flutes," said Razgui.
"Maybe tomorrow I'll be dead—but I need to play some flutes in peace."