I’m writing this post twelve days after all of this has happened. But I want to keep the memory of that day as it was probably one of the most (if not the most) difficult days of my recent Middle East travel. And no, there were still no bike travel updates at that point.
I spent the morning on packing my stuff, chatting on messanger, writing down some bullet points lists and some memories from Jordan, becasue, as always – I knew that if I didn’t write down something “right now” and I’ll keep moving and be exposed to new circumstances, I will somehow forget.
But I eventually decided that the moment came to move in the direction of the Jordan-Israeli border (to be specific – the King Hussein/Allenby border crossing). So I took a cab, asked the driver to take me to the northern bus station in Amman, where I was supposed to catch a bus to the border. He didn’t actually know where it was, so I called a friend, who explained, but then the taxi driver offered to take me to the border for 7 JD more than the bus. I decided “ok, it’s maybe a better option, I won’t have to look for the bus and carry my stuff”. I agreed and 1,5 hour later I found myself already at the border crossing.
The first part was quite chaotic. No signs, I didn’t really know which direction to go to, it turned out that the “departures” to Israel are in a place signed as “arrivals” which didn’t seem so much logical to me, but it actually didn’t matter – what mattered was to be in a right place. It was also very visible that I was there for the very first time and most of the people have crossed the border many times already – the agents kept coming with piles of passports which (passports, not agents) were disappearing somewhere and after a little while they were returned to the agents. And my single, red, Polish passport was still laying down in this one place, not moved for a milimeter. “Excuse me” – I’ve heard myself saying that with a polite tone of voice, which wasn’t probably heard by anyone but me only. “This is not going to work” – I thought and looked at the guy next to me to catch his attention (succeded!), then smiled and said “Hi!”. It worked – he explained me the process, talked to the officer in Arabic and I immeditely saw my passport being processed, the guy wished me “Goodluck!” and I felt I made another step. An hour later with the passport returned I was eventually moving in a bus to the Israeli border. “Half of a way done”, I thought.
Once we arrived to the other side of the crossing, the horror part started. We had to get off in front of the building, the queque was so long that we had to stand in the sun, people were getting crazy with all the heat, all the folks around, all the bags and suitcases surrounding us and no order at all. It seemed unreal, really. I kind of felt like in a movie but with a full consciousness that this is exactly the reason why the system has been constructed this way – to make people behave like this. We moved on. First counter – checked, second counter – checked, third counter – “Please, wait on a chair, you will be called soon”. I checked what time it was – it’s been almost four hours already since I arrived to the airport. But I patiently waited – there was nothing else I could have been doing.
An hour later a female officer called my name. I followed her, she introduced herself and asked me how I was. “I’m good” – I answered – “but very tired”. She asked me all types of questions, having this doubtful face expression all the time, questioning all of my answers. So I kept talking but it was getting more and more stressful with every next question, I even started to forget words in English. And she kept asking me and asking and asking.
“I will give you a four days visa becasue your flight to Poland is in four days” – she eventually said. I felt a relief. “Can I leave already” – I asked and the moment she nodded, I quickly took all my stuff and disappeared – in case she decided to change her mind.
I felt awful. But it was not the end of the story yet. There was still another counter ahead of me. And then another one. And another luggage check. And the last counter. Yes! It was eventually over. After six or seven checkpoints and six hours at the border I was eventually back in Israel.
I took a first minibus departing to East Jerusalem, the sunset happened just a few minutes earlier, so the driver came into the bus and offered dates to all the passenger. It was a Ramadan time, so the night fiesta was just about to start. That moment I realized that I haven’t eaten anything since the morning and that I was really starving. But I still didn’t have a place to stay for night in Jerusalem, which started to be a priority at that moment.
I dialled the first friend I thought about that seemed to be the one not asking me any more questions. I really didn’t feel like answering any more questions.
– Noam, I just crossed the border – I said
– Welcome back! – he answered.
– Can I stay at your place tonight, please? – I asked and I knew that he immediately realized that something was wrong
– I’m not there right now but I will figure something out. When are you going to be here? Are you ok?
– Yes, I am – I answered with a tone of voice meaning “Don’t ask me any more questions, please” – I will be in Jerusalem in a couple of hours, I guess. I still have no departured from the border.
– Just call me once you will be in Jersualem. And don’t worry.
And that moment I cried for the first time. It was dark in the bus and everybody was busy with their own stuff. So I closed my eyes and let myself quietly cry. I knew it will bring a relief.
This story has a happy ending. I safely arrived back to Jerusalem, picked up my stuff from the hostel where I have spent a few weeks before departing to Jordan. I met a lot of folks and we exchanged a lot of hugs. Noam came later in the night, picked me up and brought me to his home. “Good to see you safely back” – he only said and left me quietly there.I fell asleep in a few minutes.
He probably still doesn’t realize how much he meant for me that evening. I tried to be nice but wasn’t able. Me, the most enthusiastic and energetic person in the world. I was exhausted, phisically and mentally. That experience at the border made me also think a lot. I felt somehow as if the curtain has eventually fell and the show was on for me. And although I didn’t like the show, I was already a part of it – and there was nowhere to escape.
It’s difficult to talk about it. I found the most understanding of how I felt that day and days after in the people who either had a similar experience or got an “entry denied” stamp in their passport. I’ve heard many times “what matters most is that you are back in”. It was probably true, but I just simply couldn’t really force myself to enjoy it anymore.
Jerusalem, Israel, 15 July 2015 (written in Warsaw, Poland on 26 July 2015)