we’d overslept. again. i think this is the Ravi syndrome. i’m not letting him control the alarm tomorrow. we checked out of Hisham Hotel, almost sad that we were leaving this nice, peaceful gem on Jebel Amman so soon.
we rushed down to the Citadel and were bowled over by the museum there. so much to read, so little time! ruins are exactly that – ruins. you gotta stand there and have a pretty wild imagination to envisage the glory that would have towered over you hundreds of years ago. the view of Amman from up there is breathtaking. we saw the Roman theatre nestled right in the middle of Downtown, though absolutely out of place in a modern city, it commanded some kind of authority over the entire area. it was carved out of the base of the mountain. the guide also expressed wishes that his wife looked like me – we didn’t tip him.
we sped down to Allenby/King Hussein bridge to make our way to Israel. on the Jordanian side, the guards were extremely cordial and even led us to exactly where we needed to be. it was a long waiting game, going to the Israeli side. the bus had to stop a few times and immediately outside the Israeli checkpoint, we waited like what felt like the Jurassic Age.
what was to come was what we had not expected at all.
i’d always imagined Israel to be super-organised. if you were to ask me why that is, it’s got to be everything you see on cnn. the Israeli army always in their green fatigues, strong and muscular, commanding and assertive – the Palestinians with their t-shirts and rocks-in-hand.
here, at the Israeli checkpoint, there was absolute chaos. there wasn’t an efficient system in place. what we experienced cannot be described as a system at all. a Brit lady who constantly shuttles out of Israel had a mouthful and a half for everybody who worked at this checkpoint. i was almost afraid to be associated with her.
this is what you have to do at the Israeli checkpoint.
1. get down from the bus and look like a lost chicken.
2. hang around with other lost chickens with giant backpacks.
3. head towards the area where cackling, experienced chickens could be found with giant luggage bags and large bottles of water. we believe them to be Palestinians who shuttle in and out of Israel regularly for supplies – more of this later.
4. watch the entire process from behind the cackling chickens.
5. follow. hand your bags and passport to the “bag” guy behind the barriers and pray to God (Jew God, Christian God, Islam God, Kitchen God) your bags doesn’t disappear behind the wall, never to appear.
6. watch and tremble silently (with cool exterior) as “bag” guy walks to a row of counters and hands over your passport while your bags disappear behind the wall.
7. pretend you know what’s going on by telling the Swiss guy beside you what to do.
8. play “I Spy with my Little Eye, a bullet hole in the wall” while they process your passport and every other Palestinian’s passport. “bag” guy returns to the barrier and hands out the passports back to cackling chickens and lost chickens.
9. stare in bewilderment as a girl behind the counter stands up with your passport and your husband’s passport, and shouts to a lady behind the door (where the bags disappear to).
10. wait longer than everybody else.
11. go through the security check, metal detector, bag scanners.
12. get interrogated, er, questioned by the lady behind the door.
13. she questions Ravi separately to tally our answers. we must look very dangerous.
14. she concludes we are safe enough to travel into immigration. wonder why it was you thought “bag” guy and the infinite counters of inefficiency were immigration.
15. go towards “Visitor Pasport Control” (missing S ran away out of fear) and act extremely surprised the Swiss lost chicken is still there. he was pushed from one queue to the next.
16. queue behind hot Swiss lost chicken and engage him in conversation. make friends with very angry Brit lady.
17. hot Swiss lost chicken caught the eye of the gatal immigration girl and we were stuck there for 30 minutes. or so the Brit lady thinks.
18. make friends with the Francescan monk behind you who holds a Vatican passport. contemplate stealing his passport.
19. go to another counter and ask them to stamp your passport and let you through. nicely.
now, here’s the point where i stop having a sense of humour whatsoever.
the girl at the counter was chatting with the other two girls in the cubicle. when i handed over my passport, she grimaced – the kind of look i used to give when Miss Y.L. Low gave us “geophy” homework (she never pronounced “gra”).
she starts asking questions (“stupid questions”, the Brit lady calls ’em) like “what’s your name?”, “what’s your father’s name?”, “what’s your grandfather’s name?”, i swear i thought she’d ask me for my favourite colour.
she started employing the Intimidation Technique.
she doesn’t smile. she’s mean, in fact, i’d say she was a bitch. she wasn’t bitchy. she was a bitch.
in all my life (and Ravi’s longer life), through all the immigration counters and immigration officers i have ever encountered, i have to state for the record that she is the most arrogant, high-handed, rude, ignorant, naive and lazy immigration officer i have ever met.
when asked if i was married, she asked Ravi to come forward.
this was where our problems started.
“why do you want to come to Jerusalem?”
“for a holiday.”
first, she INSISTED that a honeymoon is not a holiday. that Christmas is a holiday.
listen, missy, not everything revolves around the Hebrew-American English dictionary. holidays, vacations – it’s a good time. whatever.
little missy and her two lazy cubicle friends started laughing at us because we are two poor Asians who cannot tell the difference between “holiday” and “vacation”. awww, we must also live in little straw roof huts by rice fields.
i asked politely if it was possible to stamp our Jordanian exit slips which is actually the departure tax receipt. without looking up, she indignantly replied “no” with a lifting lilt at the end of her rude “no”.
in fact, i felt like i was talking to a kid who refused to share her toy with another kid, just because she can.
i am, in no way, exaggerating any of this. i promise.
“we plan to visit Syria and Lebanon, please do not stamp our passports.”
“no.” she didn’t bloody care. like i said, she wasn’t bitchy. she was a bitch.
little missy’s partner-in-sarcasm took on Ravi’s passport. it started becoming more obvious that Ravi’s Malaysian passport was a problem.
“where is your visa?”
“i don’t have one, i don’t need one,” replied Ravi.
listen, this is where it gets weird. Malaysia and all of its so called secularism, does not recognise Israel as a sovereign state.
after this, it was a string of “you need a visa”, “i don’t have a visa”, “he can’t get a visa”s back-and-forth. i explained, “Malaysia does not recognise Israel as a country, which means that an Israeli embassy does not exist in Malaysia – so he cannot apply for a visa.”
“no, you must get a visa.”
i’m not sure if she understood clearly, but i am pretty sure it was more a case of “i don’t give a shit, you don’t have a visa, i don’t care why, too bad, get lost”.
“thousands of Christian Malaysians are allowed entry into Israel even if Malaysia and Israel does not have diplomatic relations. they do not get visas either, how is he any different?”
after waiting for 3 hours, you don’t really feel like giving up. Ravi was pissed, Mr Marble Slab was visibly pissed!
little missy’s friend disappears behind another wall and comes back with the same news “you cannot go in without a visa.”
we started arguing at this point of time and finally she said “ok, i don’t want to fight. wait here.” little miss partner-in-sarcasm actually stopped trying to bully us and dragged her supervisor out.
he – was a lot friendlier than anybody else we had encountered on the Israeli govt’s payroll. he explained the situation to us once more i.e. repeated what we already knew. and we repeated everything back to him.
“i don’t know how the Christian Malaysians got in, i think they came in organised groups.”
oh, so now we are prejudiced against the travelling individual?
i understand it’s a grey area, a very, very grey area – but we were in the best place to find out more. at the checkpoint itself. we wanna get in, so tell us, how do we get in?
but he didn’t know, he didn’t even know where the Israeli embassy in Amman is. he apologised that he wasn’t able to issue Ravi a visa and suggested we try with the Israeli embassy in Amman although it’s only for Jordanians.
“we have an unofficial representative in Dubai,” he said. to which i replied, there is no way we re able to find out where and how, all we found was press releases by UAE which rubbished such statements.
politics. nobody said it wasn’t prickly.
little missy asked if i was going to continue on to Jerusalem without Ravi. perhaps now’s the time to send her to a real English dictionary to find out what “honeymoon” means. and while she’s at it – what “holiday” means in original English i.e. Brit English, ya know, us who spell humour with the “u” and do not misspell “they’re” as “their” or “there”?
and who’s going to explain the way these customs officials treated us?
like when little missy demanded for my tourist visa and i replied politely, “i don’t have one, i don’t need a visa”, to which she snapped mockingly “oh, why? do you have an American passport?” as she held my Singapore passport.
this is how she, and i imagine, half or more of the other customs officials at the Israeli Allenby Bridge checkpoint treats its tourists. me, a tourist. Ravi, a tourist.
the tourist who has come to visit beautiful Israel and all of its wonders? the tourist who makes the conscious decision to contribute to the Israeli economy? the tourist who, more than anything, would like to understand a little more about Israel and its people? the tourist who thinks there might be more to Israel than the iron-wielding fist it holds over Palestinians? or, like Ravi, the tourist who decides to take a risk in visiting Israel although his own country clearly states on page 2 of the passport that travel to Israel is absolutely prohibited?
we had to turn back. we waited for a bus, any bus, to take us back to the Jordanian side. we were guarded. i had to go through the security check again just to take a piss – even though i came from the security check.
we waited and we watched Palestinians doing their thing, handing over their passports and bags to “bag” guy, unsure if they’d be allowed in. and even if they were, if they’d be allowed past immigration – some of them don’t.
we thought to ourselves, “oh my, aren’t we the lucky ones.”
don’t try telling me that these immigration officials are tired and frustrated from processing Palestinians who constantly shuffle between Jordan/Israel, that they are tired from being on their toes all the time.
they were chatting happily amongst each other, but it was completely different towards the rest of us. there is a very, very large difference between being authoritative and a bully.
is being rude and sarcastic absolutely necessary? is being mocking part of being professional? especially towards tourists?
the Brit lady assured us that Tel Aviv immigration officials are nothing, nowhere anything like the ones we encountered, and that we shouldn’t be put off although she herself was beside herself with anger and frustration. even more so than us and the Palestinians.
she got through, and is probably on her way to Tel Aviv.
while we are back in Amman, in PC Corner on 3rd Circle in Jebel Amman, blogging away.
the Brit lady advised, “get hooked up with the Jewish tour agencies, only go with the Jewish tours and everything will be smooth.”
i hope this “Israel is ours, so is Jerusalem, God gave it to us, so we behave however we want while you are grovelling to win your way in” behaviour is not representative of anything else in Israel. in fact, i am almost sure it isn’t.
and i really hope it isn’t. because i really want to love Jerusalem. and Bethlehem. and Tel Aviv. and Haifa. because i’d like to go back to Singapore, Dubai, Malaysia and tell them “you’re wrong, Jews aren’t like ‘that’ at all. they really aren’t. not all of ’em want war, not all of ’em hate Muslims and they are not, as Hitler had thought, the source of the world’s problems.”
we turned back towards Jordan, feeling a little dejected, but extremely determined to go back as soon as possible. and to the same little missy if possible.
and let me tell you this, we love Jordan.
when we got back to the Jordanian checkpoint, they were all smiles and friendly just as they were 4 hours before. they even made me feel happy to be back in Jordan. even if the cabbie ripped us off for the trip back to Amman atJD25 – just cos it was so late and there was no way to get back to town.
we love Jordan and its people. we can’t wait for the rest of our trip.
and to throw our passports back at little missy. *crossing my fingers for Ravi*