04 February 2010
Safety - I Mean Kalishnakovs - First
The driver drops me at the Egypt Israel border. and points toward a winding fence that is climbing up and over a mountain in the distance. “There Israel,” he says, making a u-turn and heading back for the Sinai. I tromp toward the fence, bags on my back and front, souvenirs in my hands and passport in my pocket.
The border crossing is somewhat of a maze. There are absolutely no signs or people to direct you and pathways dart in every direction, yet everyone seems to know what they’re doing accept for me. An old man wearing a jacket that says “safety first officer” across the chest flips quickly through my passport then grunts. “Sir, which way do I go,” I ask. “Grrrrr,” he roars, pointing to a door with a sign over it that says “Egypt Leaving Office.” Of course.
I nip in to find three women standing side by side, all actively texting on their cell phones. Wow, security seems really tight here. One looks up and rolls her eyes, clearly irritated that I am now standing in her presence. “I’m sorry, but...” she cuts me off by grabbing my passport out of my hand. Exit slip window three, change money window 5, pay window seven, to Israel door nine. My first thought is, where do doors one through eight go? I feel like I’m on the Price is Right. I get my slip, change my money at a ghastly rate, pay my exit fee and head for door nine (there are no doors one through eight, naturally).
Door nine obviously leads into a Duty Free Shop. I say obviously because people everywhere in the world except the USA are obsessed with Duty Free. Some countries even have rules that allow you to shop Duty Free up to five days after arrival. I am eternally befuddled by this concept because no matter what the item may be inside Duty Free, it is ALWAYS - and I mean ALWAYS - cheaper at BevMo! or Target. Alas, the rest of the world is simply unable to enjoy the joys of nationwide big-box retailers selling everything under the sun at “unbeatable” prices.
The Duty Free “lets out” in no man’s land, which I have to hike across in the blistering Middle Eastern heat. On the other side is a loudspeaker that tells me to “stop there.” I stop. Now it’s Israel time and lets just say I’ve heard stories. The loudspeakers squawks again, “go.” I feel like I’m seven years old playing red light green light in my front lawn. “Red light! Green light! Red light! You didn’t stop! Back to start you go!”
We meet the first line of defense. Another elderly gentleman sitting in a plastic lawn chair holding a kalishnakov. This will soon emerge as a theme. There are soldiers carrying kalishnakovs everywhere in Israel and I mean everywhere. At the bus station, in the Burger King and in the supermarket it’s semi-automatic rifle season like whoa. He checks my face. I smile wide since I’m smiling in my photo. He is not impressed.
Next I’m greeted by a woman wearing a white polo shirt tucked into blue cargo pants. She is most definitely wearing a bulletproof vest under her shirt. “Where are you going?” I list the cities. “Who are you staying with?” I give her names. “Do you harbor any hatred toward Israel or Jews?” I say no. She affixes a number to the back of my passport and waves me on. My travel companion is slightly stressed by the whole situation and struggles through some of the questions. She shakes her head and affixes a different number to his passport.
My bags go through the metal detector and are handed back to me. “Right that way to Israel,” I am told. I continue to the immigration officer who only has one question: “Have you ever participated in an organization aimed at the destruction of the State of Israel?” They really get to the point here fast, I think to myself. “No,” I tell her. “Okay then, welcome to Israel.” I slide through the glass doors and am welcomed to the country by the sound of Britney Spears singing “3” on MTV.
My travel companion isn’t so lucky. Apparently he seems fishy, and two officers open his bags, proceeding to completely empty them of every single article of clothing, toiletry item, DVD movie, electronics component and souvenir. Twenty minutes later once they’re through, they plop what is left of his pride on the table next to everything he owns in the world and tell him he can “repack his stuff now and go.” Another twenty minutes later he actually manages to get everything back into his bag and proceed on to immigration.
We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.