Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Journey to Amman and back

Travelling to Amman ( Jordan ) from Damascus ( Syria ) is easy by car , that’s why if you are in Syria you should not waste the opportunity to do so ( or vice versa).The journey takes no more than 3 hrs approximately from the Baramkeh Taxi center in Damascus to the Abdali Taxi center in Amman. Then I usually take a cab to Swefiye in the 7th Circle my favourite shopping – café etc.. place or Shmessani to see my friends.The car you take from Baramkeh is a 5 seater sedan and we pay the fare of 500 Syrian Lira ( = 10 $) each. If you take the car for yourself then you pay the full fare of 2500 SL. Which is what I do , ‘cause I like my privacy , and I don’t like to wait for other passengers . Plus not all complete strangers are dark , handsome and interesting ;) some are complete creeps, heavy smokers and general *sses. This year the price was 3000 SL for the car to ourselves because fuel prices have risen twice in one week- just my luck – thanks to Iran’s nuclear standoff with America and the war in Iraq. Also if you pay the 3000 SL , you get to use the A/C .

In the last few years a new regulation has been launched for travel to and from Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. For example AM you take Syrian cars from Syria and PM you take Jordanian cars from Syria. The theory behind this schedule is that in the afternoon , the Jordanians get to go home, while in the Syrians return in the afternoon from Amman. In my opinion this has put unnecessary strain on drivers and passengers, because taxi drivers hassle you to get passengers and also because if for example I’m in a Syrian cab at the Jordanian side of the border before 3.00 PM the driver will not be let in until 3.00 PM sharp. It really is that bad. This has nothing to do with the war on terror and everything to do with the economy. This is so inconvenient, because it prevents me from the choice of which car I want to use when I go to my destination and the time suitable for me. If I go to Jordan I would rather use a Jordanian car both ways because their fleet is more modern and if I go to Lebanon I would rather use a Lebanese cab as the driver would drop me right in front of my hotel and not at the Port Taxi center., and if I return from Beirut I would prefer a Syrian cab as he would sometimes agree to put me at my final stop and not a Baramkeh. So you get the picture?

Anyway, the weather in the second week of April was quite hot in Damascus so I requested a car with A/C and I would pay the difference. The Baramkeh station master personally assigned one of his cronies to us. I gave the driver our passports for registration and asked him to switch on the A/C because the car was boiling hot in the parking while we were waiting.
Driver: ‘not now maam , the engine will overheat, will switch it on as soon as we move the car’
‘OK!’ I said , his explanation sounded reasonable , In light of how ancient this Dodge was. ‘Stop suspecting everything and everybody Highlander…’.

Oh boy I should been my usual paranoid self, because Syrian cab drivers ( not all OK some are the epitome of kindness) have lately become worse than Egyptian ones. Even a bad economy does not warrant such treatment. And so we drive out of Baramkeh and into the suburbs.

Me – assertively: ‘Please switch it one now we are no longer in traffic jams and your engine cannot overheat ..’
Driver: ‘not yet - a few you more kilometers please’
Me: ‘what do you mean not yet ? I specifically requested the A/C if you cannot deliver then please turn back. I don’t wish to wait anymore. It is stifling hot .’
Driver: ‘ sorry maam , A/C is not working yet as I need to install the “belt” at the garage just round the corner, process won’t take more than 10 mins tops.’
Me – exploding : ‘What ! you deliberately lied to us at the station?
Driver: ‘mine is the only car with A/C’ – he was lying through his teeth .
Me – getting political and angry : ‘you are providing a bad image about Syria . I will stop defending you guys to foreigners now- this is unethical please turn back.’ I can see now how my response would look stupid to this illiterate taxi driver he could not careless about Syria’s image , he only wanted my money. What was I thinking ? that I was at some party discussing academia or on some forum with bloggers ?
Mum- under her breath: ‘For God’s sake shut up with your stupidities.’
Driver: ‘please I swear only 10 minutes, and if you’re not satisfied don’t pay me’

After a quick consultation with the other passengers ( family), we decided to give him a chance. So we went to the nearby garage where the mechanic got on with his job. Half an hour later in the seething sun and the car was in no way near being ready, I doubt it had an A/C the guy was installing too much stuff, or this A/C has never been used since 1973.

Me: ‘what’s up ?’
Driver: ‘We’re just going to pop at the next door mechanic and install something else’.

By that time we became kind of subdued , I realized that the area was one huge garage, there was no public transport in site, the people looked rough . We had already wasted 2 hours and it was not fun with the sun getting hotter than ever . We should have been already at the border and were going to miss all our appointments. But when 5 mechanics were pouring under the hood I lost my (legendary) patience. Fortunately a taxi had just come to be serviced and I activated my plot. First I collected all our passports from the glove box, then ordered everybody out of the car. Then I approached the taxi to be serviced and asked him if he could take us back in town , to which he agreed. I walked to our car booth and tried to open it to take the luggage , but it was locked .
Me- to myself : Damn !
Driver- sprinting towards me incredulously : ‘what are you doing ?’
Me: ‘getting my stuff out , sorry we’re leaving , can’t wait anymore’
Driver: ‘ but but we are soon ready , I swear’
Me: ‘we no longer wish to go to Jordan, you made us miss our appointment, you have to choice either to take us back to the station or leaves us here’
Driver: ‘wait..’
Me: ‘are you going to give us our luggage or not? Shall I call the police?’
Driver- probably thinking how dare she and looking menacingly at me: ‘what?’
I can see mum darting nervous glances, this is a very rough area filled with his buddies, what am I doing threatening a guy 3 times my size? We could be murdered here and no one would hear about it – it was a trap.
Me – more firmly: ‘please hand me our luggage, we do not wish to travel with you anymore, you can continue repairing your car in peace’
Driver: ‘just a few minutes more’ He was trying to bully me.
Me: ‘look I’m sorry you lied , and made us miss all our appointments , I don’t think you want to take us for free do you ? If so I would be willing to wait as it would offset the hotel overnight stay. On second thought you can keep the luggage I don’t need it ! I’m outta here .’
I may have overdone it but my sense of fairness and justice was really hurt. I was glad I had not paid him in advance as well. Anyway the driver was the first to let his gaze down, he opened the booth and gave me our luggage and watched as I walked straight to that other cab across the road with whom I had already struck at deal.


The Syrian –Jordanian border crossing.

So we arrived at Nassib Syrian border . Everyone was friendly and professional from the customs to the immigration people. It used to be the same at the other side on the Jordanian border of Jaber, so I was expecting that it would be even swifter as they had more modern equipment . But lo and behold …there were too many checkpoints and too many people frisking our car and I mean inside the handbag as well. They never used to that before. They even got the elderly out of the vehicles. Before you could go stamp their passport without the officer having to see that person because anyway at the last checkpoint someone would check that the passports matched with travelers but now even sick and old people had to be hauled off to the immigration building. So we go there and I find quite a change, new computers , new desks, new tiles and of course at every booth you have a standard issuance biometric retina reader and digital camera and a thumb print reader. Cool man , I don’t even have the choice now not to have my biometrics registered on principle. I can’t protest because I really needed to go to Amman. Well que sera sera I just hope those guys know what they are doing and when they are sending that info to the CIA and to the Mossad and to Interpol they don’t actually mix it up with an Al-quaeda suspect. Welcome to the realities of the War on Terror, Jordan as the gatekeeper of the wannabe jihadist to protect America and Israel. These are not my words these are the words of the Jordanians themselves who are not too happy about this added waste of time on their border. So a process which should have taken at the most 10 minutes when the border is empty and 20 minutes when crowded now takes from 2 -3 hours. I am not kidding. This is how long I had to wait. They told me next time it would be shorter as I have been registered – yeah sure but there will always be a whole bunch of people whom I had to wait for . To make things worse I was made to wait even more because I was Libyan , so I had to sit like a pariah with the Iraqis on a bench. They were having a hard life too. I must admit that the staff was always very polite, even while ignoring my request to speed things up. I mean it was not nuclear engineering but merely a stamp, plus my passport was just lying there on the guy’s desk for hours an he would come and go , take a smoking break, coffee break and not even glance at it. And then he just handed it to me. We were classified into Jordanians, Syrians, other Arabs ( that’s me) , foreigners and diplomats. With the foreigners the guy was deferential and laughed and joked and they were breezed through. I noticed that always happened in several Arab countries , and no 9/11 has nothing to do with it , it used to occur even before. So the day I am breezed through a non –Arab airport or for the matter an Arab airport which is not reporting to US central command I will know that we are finally democratized. On a side note, (beginning of rant) a classmate of mine had went on a business trip to Dubai and upon presenting his Tunisian passport was greeted with a ‘sorry sir you have no visa’.
Friend: ‘but are we not Arabs ?’
Immigration officer: ‘sorry sir these are the rules’
My friend was going to miss his deal and he wasted all that money on airfare etc.., so he remembered that he also had a US citizenship so he got out his B passport : ‘will this do ?’
Immigration officer (talking in English now and with deference): ‘of course sir, why did you not say so from the beginning that you are American, you are welcome , hope everything is to your satisfaction .Enjoy your stay’ .
Friend : ‘ But I’m still Arab you know’
Officer: ‘yes yes but this says you’re American, walk right through please’
My friend was very very angry , and every time he remembers this incident his blood boils. I have nothing against foreigners, but please is an Arab going to walk right through at the a US port of entry ? This is not a criticism of the West , but a criticism of us Arabs before you all start bashing me ( end of rant).

OK where was I ? ah yeah passport ready and we drive to Amman. Of course we are very very late so when I recount our adventure to our hosts , they tell us , ‘oh you have been registered too ? well these are straight orders from our masters in America, this is what they want and we are complying. They are forming a database about us’. OK guys I don’t know if this is a conspiracy theory or not but I tell you this is the gossip around town and knowing that the government of Jordan has no choice but to cooperate with US security agencies ( and Israeli ones for that matter) because of signed treaties I’m not really surprised. I mean there has been a horrible terrorist attack in Amman a few months ago, and Iraq is just across the border and Syria has become persona non-grata…so it all fits together. …


When we returned to Syria a week later we made the mistake of taking a Syrian car too early, that means we reached the border from Jordan side before 3.00 PM and were turned back . Yep we actually had to park on the side road and wait for the officer manning the check ppoint to decide whose face he liked and whom would he let in. When at 3:00 PM our driver tried to get in he shouted at us and he said it will be 3 when he decides it is even if he had to leave us on the side road till next day. The guy was really obnoxious and sadistic and though it was not his job to search the car as this was done by the security and customs people at the next checkpoint he took out every single item even underwear and threw them all over the place. The poor drivers could not say a thing as he would use his authority ( and arms) to accuse them of anything. I must say he was equally rude to a European diplomat as well who made the mistake of driving in a Syrian car. Well I could not take this treatment and I asked him to search my stuff and to please return everything to its properly place , you should have seen his face he almost hit me and said that if I did not get in the car he was going to spill every single possession of mine on the tarmac. The other passengers are by now asking me to cool it and grabbing me by the arm. I took his name and rank and filed a complaint as soon as I reached his boss at the next checkpoint, torturing travelers is not his job he has to be civil . By then I was very very angry so was in no mood to be chatted up by the immigration officer. That guy was holding me up because guess what ? I did not smile at him …doh . Do I have to be dopey eyed with every immigration officer? Is it not enough that I was polite and civil? What now I have to wink , pout and run my fingers through my hair and look from under my lashes ( no idea how this is done by the way). Was I being discriminated against for not having a hijab , for looking hot and yet at the same time not playing the part of a hottie ? Was that too much for this guy ?
Grrrrr. Someone heard me complain and he said : ‘have you read the news today ?’
‘No’ I said , so he replied ‘well when you read them you will know why have these people been edgy’….

Well we safely passed all those hurdles. The Syrian border seemed like heaven in comparison. The men there did not even look at me.

Ten days later

When I returned to Amman ten days later, the process was faster at the Jaber border because of course I was already duly fingerprinted, again I ran into very polite and nice staff, but we still wasted hours at the border, because I left Damascus at 7.30 AM and reached Amman at 1:00 PM ( that is too much) .I felt immense pity for those traveling by bus. Our journey back and forth was with a Syrian driver whose politeness, decency and consideration erased the bad memory of the earlier catastrophe. He could not have been a driver all his life !

It’s a pity that this year I could not organize to meet Jordanian bloggers , maybe another time.


Safia speaks said...

My experience as a dual-citizrnship traveller between Syria and Jordan 1999:

Syrian Police Officer upon seeing my Danish passport with Arabic name: "Where are you from originally?"
Me: "Does that matter? I am a citizen of Denmark now."
SPO: "Where is your father from?"
Me: "What does it matter to you?"
SPO:"This is important, you know!Is he Lebanese or Syrian?"
Me: "He is neither. And why do you bother? Lebanese, Syrians, Egyptians, and so on...we are all the same, their is no difference between Arabs. We are all citizens of the great Arab nation."
SPO laughing: "Who told you this crap?"
Me: "President Hafiz al Assad in his annual speech to the Syrian People March 8, 1977!"
(Syrian Police officer´s face turning hot red, the mukhabarat guy next to him staring at me in disbelief)

Yes, I know I was acting stupid, but I had a Danish passport and I hate racist Arab brothers.
End of story was that the mukhabarat stopped our taxi a few miles after the border, ordering everybody out (taxidriver cursing me for being the reason the Syrians found his smuggling goods), letting us stand in the desert sun for hours to check the luggage.

But I don´t care - let them work. There is a limit for everything and that that I think both mt own limit and the Syrian limit was put to the test ;-)

NBA said...

Great stuff, Highlander. I liked your resistance to cheating taxi drivers, that's the way they should be treated (and Safia's story above is equally great).

I think every one of us could add some horror border stories here. I think my personal record is wasting altogether around ten hours on the two sides of a given border. Unwilling to name the two countries (not in the Middle East) here because I don't want anyone to judge the countries because of some bureaucracts getting their kicks of making people queue and showing their power.

However, about the Tunisian/US passport issue, I think it's simply a question of citizenship, not of nationality or origin. With my Western passport I'm usually well treated, however wouldn't claim that I was ever really treated preferentially anywhere... perhaps. And my iris has been photographed, too...

Highlander, BTW, was I dreaming yesterday evening or did your Alaa post have a comments section then? Seems to have vanished now.


programmer craig said...

Sounds like quite an adventure, Highlnader. And not a fun one, but maybe you'll look back on it in years to come and find some good that came from the experience :)

We have crooked mechanics, cab drivers, etc in the US too. I recall once when I was about 19 and had a high performance hotrod that I took my car in for a tune-up, and afterwards the car ran like an old boat... do I opened the hood and found that my $600 carburetor had been swapped out with some beat up old used 2 barrel carburetor from an old oldmobile sedan or something... so I went back with two of my buddies and we watched the mechanic re-install my carburetor. Very frustrating. But sometimes handling a bad situation well is as good as it gets :O

About the passport issue... I think I'd be very angry if it was easier for a foreigner to get into my OWN country than it was for me. But, in the case of Arabs from one Arab country enterring another Arab country... I don't really see the relevance there. You're assuming that all Arab countries should automatically have perfect relations with eachother, no? Enterring a foreign country is all about the relationship (and the agreements!) between the two states. Believe it or not, things like border crossing are actually governed by treaties in many cases. And having a US passport (versus some other) is not ALWAYS a "good" thing :)

Safia speaks said...

I have a real horror story from the Libyan/Tunesian border from the time of sanctions in 1994 - I won´t tell any details but the result was that Tunisia forbade me to put my feet on Tunisian soil the next 5 years.

Short version: the Tunisian border police behaved so racist i just couldn´t shut up; they think they are the creme de la creme of francophile civilization. Well, they aren´t and I told them both verbally and physically, whereafter I ended up in jail, was transferred to Sousa and took my chance to leave the courtroom there in bare feet while a stupid young Tunisian police officer went to get my shoes (he asked me to hold my passport and legal papers while he went, idiot). I walked back to the Libyan border. It took me two days.

I have never been back to Tunisia since, having to endure nausea on the 12-hour Tripoli-Malta ferry each time. Glad the sanctions are over!

Border-crossing in the Arab world has always been a special experience for me....

gatorbait said...

American masters? Puuuuuuuuhhhlllllllleeeeeeeeeezzzzzzzzzeeee.

The guy was a lazy bastard with a ready excuse.

Highlander said...

Safia 3azizti, it must have been horrible for you , you know you are lucky to have been able to walk from the Tunisian border. Gosh you have reminded me of the horrible days of sanctions- which are not that far away I'm afraid.

You know during the sanctions preferred to brave the seas in those ancient ferry boats to Malta then go via the Tunis border. My experience once there put me off forever ( at RasJder). I noticed one thing though that as soon as I start using French I was treated differently - so unfortunately these things happen everywhere :(

AS for Syria, I never had problem with their immigration officer although they do love to ask where are you from originally always lol, and never had problems in Jordan either, it's just that this time the Jordanian border control was just tooooooooooo tedious and I was in a bad mood at the obvious rudeness to Syrian cab drivers at the checkpoint. Which was compounded by my earlier bad experience with that stupid driver.

I'd love to hear your story about walking back to the Libyan border, maybe you should post it ? What did you family do ?

Highlander said...

NBA it's not fair you have to name and tell , Safia and I did name did we not , of course that is without prejudice to the said countries which I love and enjoyed ver much ! And you must give us details come on I'm very curious what happened to you :)

As for the Alaa post yes it had a comment section and I'm afraid I closed it because it was getting shall we say a bit out of hand - and you know I don't like that so to be fair to everyone I just removed it from view. But all your comments are still there and I did read. With regards to your questions for which you put a link, obviously I did not comment on SM's blog because I did not want to ;) ( is this response enough for the time being ? ).

Highlander said...

Programmer_Craig, this is too funny about your car carburator, I'm glad you discovered it early and where able to recover it with your buddies. My last misfortune with a mechanic resulted in 4 car pile up on the highway a four year long debt and emotional distress. Maybe I'll write about it one day .

A for Arab countries , I'm a hopeless romantic dreamer Craig and as you say I am assuming they should all have perfect relations with each other. I can see from your point of view how illogical that seems to someone watching on the outside, but for me it is very emotional. Of course I would never go to a country without having my visa first ( if needed ) and I do sympathise with the officer who refused the Tunisian passport without a visa. However, I am disapointed at his attitude when he saw the US passport, he did not have to be so obvious, he could have just said something like ' yes this complies with regulations' and not the other phrase which sounded almost like "you should have said you were American from the beginning man ;) and we would not have troubled you at all.."

Highlander said...

Gatorbait , I swear that was the exact term the guy used 'our american masters ! '...

NBA said...

Well, Highlander, this is of course your blog and not mine, so whatever you publish or allow to be published here is and must be your decision alone based on whatever you want the decsion to be based on.

Anyway, when I wrote my comment to the Alaa post, I only remember we had Craig's there before me. Whatever and how many newer posts you received I have no clue about as the next time I checked your blog the following day the comments section was deleted. So how out of hand it got, I don't know.

We've had quite fierce and sometimes (also by me) low quality discussions here during the you-know-which conflict a couple of months ago and lately with Lybian Warrior starting his information warfare. However, this is the first time I've seen you block an entire comments section. Whatever the rest of the comments were simply can't have been worse than stuff I've read here before in earlier comments sections.

What I think is especially sad that the comments section you blocked was one attached to your post in defence of the freedom of speech. Honestly, it's a bit contradictionary which you of course have to right to.


Safia speaks said...

Highlander, it is a very long story and it happened a long time ago. These are the details:

It started when I was a guide for some Danish politicians attending a conference in Libya in late September 1994. We travelled from DK to Tunis and then with a bus to Ras Ajdir. At the border the thing started and I noticed the Tunisian police officers shout and acting rude - now the Danish people are very polite people but The Danish also do not accept police bullying. A scene was created and I managed to break it up and get my people to the safe side of the Libyan border. (A Danish politician asked a Tunisian officer for a trash bin to threw his napkin, and the officer shouted to him: "Shut up and stay in line!")

10 days later I had to bring the Danish people back - same idiot Tunisian police officer received the party and made the people step from the bus to search it.
We waited for hours at the border - while we waited I saw a Libyan family with lots of kids cramped into a car. The Tunisian officer gave them a screwdriver and told them to get out of the car and screw open the doors to inspect the car. Then some time later the same Tunisian officer violently slaped a packet of tea out of the hands of an old Libyan man. I commented on that and the officer told me to shut up.

Well, I wouldn´t! I told him what kind of man he was. One word took the other. He warned me he could arrest me; I said he should try if he dared to do that in front of a bus of Danish politicians and journalists.

We had spent almost an entire night at the border when the Danish people went angry. The delay was caused by a Danish-Palestinian journalists whom the Tunisians didn´t want to let pass thru from Libya to the airport in Tunis. The Danish people then squatted down in front of the bus and refused to go into the bus or let other cars and buses through the road until the Tunisian border police came to their senses.

The officer told me to get the people on the bus, I refused and told him to speed up proceedings. Then or conversation went like this:
Me:"Now, listen brother..."
Tunisian police officer looked upon and down at me, saying: "In which way am I your brother?"

Now this happened in Arabic and this was a very hard insult. I then told him he was right, he is no brother to me, told him: "You behave like a petty officer, harrassing people, making trouble and pretending to be French. You will never even get a visa to France. I am tired of you and your behaviour. I am tired of you and Tunis and the way you treat people. When you are there (pointing to Libya) you shop cheap goods like a crazy man - but when you are there (pointing to Tunis) you behave like a colonialist."
He was angry and placed his hand on the gun, I was not impressed. He told me to shut up, and I told him I talk like I want - I do not listen to orders from a colonial francophile petty dictator (something like that, I do not remember the exact words). Then I took of my shoe and went to a poster of Tunisian president on the wall of the border office and hit the face of Zeinalabidine BenAli 3-4 times telling the officer that "your colonialist system means so little to me".

Then I was arrested. One of the officers took my shoes. I remember I laughed when they put me in a small closet - they probably thought I was crazy! The Danish people in the bus promised to go on to Djerba Airpot and alert the Danish consulate for me. Then they left me.

I spent a long time in the closet. Around morning two police officers opened the door and asked me to get in a car without windows. The car drove away a long ride and I did not know where it went (later I learned it was Sousa for some reason).
I spent a few days in jail in Sousa - first they put me in a cell with lots of other women, drug addicts and whores. I shouted insults to Zeinalabidine Benali; then they took me to a single cell. I wrote an insult on the wall in french about what I thought of Tunisia.

I received bread, water, tea and macaroni which was actually very delicious, with chili. The toilet was very dirty and there was water flooding the floor - when I complained they asked me to clean it; I asked them to get the Tunisian president to do it - then I was escorted back to the solitary cell again. After 4 days the chief of the station told me I was going to court - he was a very nice and friendly man, who said he understood why I was angry at the border- I was escorted to a court building with a young Tunisian officer.

At the court I was to wait in an office - I had no shoes (I was wearing high heels at the border and they took the shoes away from me) - the young officer was very polite, he said he would get me some shoes or slippers before I was to go into the courtroom. "Can you hold this while I get the shoes?", he asked me and put my file in my hands. I promised to stay put, when he was gone I opened my file and saw my passport and my papers. So I just went down the stairs very quickly down to the street. They did not notice and I hope the nice young police officer wasn´t sacked or punished for having behaved so stupid.

I did not know where I was, I thought I was in Tunis city. I went to look for the Libyan taxi parking space and asked people where it was. I was dirty and had not washed my hair for a week and had no shoes. I had not changed my clothes since the day at the border. I had no money and at the end I was afraid the police was looking for me. I found a mosque and stayed there at the womens quarters. I stole some plastic slippers there (so sorry) and when it was night I started to walk south, avoiding people since I was a female alone. It was very easy when I left Soussa then I walked away from the road and followed the motor highway from a distance. I tried to sleep someplace near a field and some bushes in the morning but I could not sleep. During day I walked south until I came to a small city and found Libyan taxis. I talked with a taxi driver explaining him that I wanted to get back to the Libyan border and that I had lost my money but that he would be paid at the border if I could ride with the others (a family) back to the border. He was very reluctant but then he agreed when I gave him the telephone number to my superior bosses in Tripoli.

It was a very long ride to Ben Gherdane there was a police checkpoint and I was so afraid getting caught, but I sat between two veiled women and pretended to sleep and the police just waved us through. We stopped in Ben Gherdane and the Libyan family bought me cake (I had to accept although I could not eat it and threw it away). I went with the driver into a post office and he then called my bosses office in Tripoli (after I promised him they would pay for the call), we called my bosses in Tripoli and asked them to wire the money - but UN sanctions had forbidden the transfer of money between Libya and abroad but my boss told the driver they would pay everything when he arrived in Tripoli with me.

When the car finally reached the Tunisian border it was almost dark evening I was very worried. I told the driver that I had a problem. He kept asking what was my problem, I refused to tell (he probaly thought I was smuggling something). - We agreed he would let me off the car some miles of the border so I could walk over the border away from the fences and mine fields (!) and at night I went crossing the border, running in plastic slippers toward the Libyan border house. A Libyan border officer came running and shouted: "You must be Safia! We have been looking for you!" and I was very happy; the Libyan border police was very nice and gave me Miranda to drink. The driver was paid by the border police and the Libyan police drove me back in one of their cars to Tripoli. I was very tired but was afraid to fall asleep in the police car with two men alone with me. It took many hours and in the morning we arrived in Tripoli where my boss was waiting for me.

In Tripoli they told me people had been looking for me the last few days; I later learned that a relative of mine had been at Tunis airport showing pictures of me to the Tunisian police there and he was arrested and questioned by the Tunisians for doing so. My family in Denmark had alerted both Red Cross and Amnesty International, and the Tunisians had been lying to them all the time saying they did not know where I was and I was not in Tunisia!

Later I filed a complaint to the Tunisian embassy in Holland (Tunisia has no embassy in Denmark). A few months later I received a very nasty letter from the Tunisian embassy in Holland, saying that I had violated this and that rule of the penalty code and that I had evaded justice and that if I ever came back to Tunisia they would arrest me and persecute me for all these things. I further was denied entry into Tunisia the next 5 years.

I have never been to Tunisia again! Today we all laugh at the story and I gave some interviews to some journalists about it - but at the time it was a very bad experience but I would have done the same again. I never forget the face of the old Libyan man when the wannabe-french Tunisian petty officer kicked the bag of tea out of his hands and scremed: "No tea!" at him. There are lots of other details but this is about it.

I know I was very lucky - if I hadn´t had a Danish passport I would probably have been punished and even received some kicks and slappings in jail. I saw a woman getting slapped on the back of her head when she wasn´t moving quick enough. Instead I was actually treated very nice even if I behaved not very nice, getting away with insulting the tunisians all the time. But I was angry and I knew they would not dare to do anything with me, so I took advantage of the situation.

Highlander said...

NBA, thank you for this reply , the comments are not deleted they are all there, however only visible to me for the moment, no they were some more comments ( from Libyan Warrior unfortunately) after you and Craig and those were very insulting and out of topic to a whole section of the population in this world and I can't just handle that for the moment ( I am overwhelmed) and unbable to cope with another blog fight- the last time it was emotionally draining for me and I still have not recovered from that ) . You know my thoughts about freedom of expression and it should be enough for you that I did post about Alaa. I will re-instate the comments on that post in few days time, but for the moment there is too much ugliness and I need peace of mind. So don't worry you still are free to post on this blog I accept all your ideas and reply to them always have I not ? It does not matter if we agree or not about things as long as we discuss them.

Note to Libyan Warrior :
Dear LB,
I know you love my blog, don't give reason to the others when they warn me about you. I still have faith in your goodwill so don't disapoint me man, please for the last time stop posting things out of topic, you have your blog which is perfectly good and which I read so post them there and I promise you that people are reading them ; you are popular man because you are active all over the blogosphere.

Safia, wow thank you for sharing your story with my readers this is fantastic just like in the movies and I admire your guts ! you actually went to jail for it .. mashallah ...

programmer craig said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
programmer craig said...

OK, I self-censored my last comment, in the interests of promoting world peace and not stressing out Highlander :)

NBA said...

OK, Highlander, understood it now. Besides my comment there wasn't really worth saving. Let me tell you honestly, the world can cope very well without it as well :).

Safia, you're a true hero. Well, at least until the moment in your story when you escaped from the authorities. The world needs people like this who can stand up to petty bureaucracts whatever the consequences are for themselves.

Yeah, let's all resist idiocy and wannabe Hitlers in all their forms!