In the last year, we have passed through 15 countries. Some countries, like Chile and Argentina, we entered multiple times, amassing oodles of passport stamps. We´ve experienced a number of border entries ranging from sophisticated crossings designed to quickly process thousands of people to sleepy single-room stations in the middle of nowhere where ´efficiency´ and ´timeliness´ are not part of the immigration agents´ repertoire.
At some time between saying ´adiós´ to Argentina and ´dzien dobry´ to Poland (our current location), we found ourselves inside a US Immigration Control office at the Atlanta airport (a layover in the US resulted in us briefly reentering the country). Jeff lost his passport fifteen years ago, and despite this having happened ages ago on a long since expired passport, he always gets flagged for additional screening with every pass through US Immigrations. A quite obvious lesson here is: do not lose your passport, as this mistake will haunt you for years by the ghosts of Homeland Security past.
On this particular re-entry into the US, the immigration office we found ourselves waiting at was in actuality a dictatorial fiefdom of the Atlanta chapter of Homeland Security – its sole intent being to instill the fear of Uncle Sam into anyone with an irregularity on their visa or passport. During our twenty minute visit, we observed officers yelling and accusing visitors of all sorts of misconduct. A Nigerian man made the egregious mistake of first stating that his American holiday was to last ten days, and later, that it was to last for two weeks. The officer, relishing another opportunity to perfect his ¨bad cop¨ role, began to yell: ¨Well, which is it? Were you lying then, or are you lying now? Go sit in the corner!!! No, not there!!! Sit in the other corner, and don’t look at anyone!!! Did I tell you that you could speak??!¨
Nor did we leave unscathed. Apparently one is not allowed to quietly converse with one´s spouse while waiting for one´s passport issue to be cleared up lest another, equally tyrannical agent behind the counter screeches at both parties to shut up. I suppose that verbally assaulting visitors is one way of dealing with the immigration problem by ensuring that no visitor will ever want to return.
Now, contrast this with our border crossing from the United Arab Emirates into Oman just a few days ago. Ignoring the advice of our rental car agency (Jeff: “it may be technically required but surely they won´t ask to see it¨), we showed up at the border without the proper insurance requirements to take our car into Oman. (We think you can divine another obvious learning lesson here.) We were politely informed by Hasan, the soft spoken Emirati immigration officer, of the document´s absolute necessity. You don’t have the paperwork? No problem, just call the rental car agency and have hem fax the documents to our office. You don’t have a phone to call the rental car agency? No problem, you can use my personal cell phone. You need me to send a fax to them with an official request detailing the information needed? No problem. You need me to pick up the fax that the rental car agency will send to us in return? No problem, I´ll just run back upstairs and get it for you.¨ Hasan, in between processing other tourists, listened to our issue, resolved our problem, stamped our passports and kindly wished us on our way. And so, within thirty minutes, our issue was cleared up and we were happily driving through the dusty streets of Oman, counting stray roadside goats.
If the scenarios were reversed and we overlooked some critical piece of info necessary to get back into the US, do you think Mean Cop and Grumpy Cop would have lifted one fingers to help us? Another great learning lesson rests somewhere in this story, the kind that deals with stereotypes and tolerance.
In the course of our travels, we´ve met all sorts of border agents, from the courteous but apathetic (most of them), bored (all of them), power-obsessed (you know who you are), and of course – the canine (our favorites!).
For, what would a travel adventure be without the occasional ironic/strange/frustrating border crossing experience? To this end, we´d like to send a ¨Shukran!¨ (¨thanks¨ in Arabic) to Hasan Al Shehhi, border crossing agent extraordinaire, (should he ever come across our blog) for helping us add one more memorable travel experience to our passports.