Crossing the border there means a lot of checkpoints. I think Dean counted 10 separate checkpoints when we crossed the border the first time.
And you can't walk across the bridge. You have to drive (or be driven). So a lot of times, people (including us) are driven to the border. Then you hire 1 of the fleet of cars that are just waiting around to transport people across the border. Then 2 or 3 hours later, on the other side, you load your stuff into a third vehicle, and continue your trip.
So here's what happened…
I'm at the border. I change my watch by 1 hour. Also change my Palm Treo. "We're making good time," I think.
I see we've hired 2 cars to take us across the border. Just like last time. But our couriers have decided put me by myself in 1 car, and the rest of our team (the 4 others) in the other car. One of our guys tries to substitute himself for me. The drivers object strongly. "It's too late," they say. I think they're trying to say they've already submitted the paperwork to the officials. "No big deal," I think to myself.
My driver's buddy comes to me holding up a white plastic sack with 3
cartons of cigarettes. He tells me that, if I'm asked, I need to tell the border guards that I am bringing a white
plastic bag of 3 cartons of cigarettes.
I get in the car. Nice ride. Hmmm. They're putting others in the car with me now. Ooooh. They're real locals. There's a man with 2 ladies dressed in FULL hijabs. Just me & them in the car. I don't think they speak much English.
At one of the checkpoints where you sit & sit & sit, I think to myself, "I've got to take a picture. People aren't going to believe this." I snap a shot of the backseat. Then a shot of the car with our team in front of me. I put away my camera. I'm going to love these pictures.
Thirty seconds later, 3 guys descend on the car. I hear loud rapping on my window. One guy jerks open my door, gets in my face, & demands, "Where's your camera? What were you doing? What were you taking a picture of?"
My heart sinks. I think, "Oh no. They're are bent about me taking a shot of this guy & his ladies behind me."
They're demanding my camera now. "Where is it? Show us the pictures now!"
I finally pull out the camera. I flip to the the first picture I took this morning. I can't remember what it will be. ("Hope it's good.") Turns out to be a ridiculous picture of my roommate Dean standing in our hotel room in his boxers. This isn't helping.
They're trying to rip the camera out of my hands now. They began demanding, "Were you taking a picture of me? Of him?"
Ooooooh. I realize they aren't cranked about the backseat shot. They were mad that I might be taking pictures of their border security. Duh!!!
"I can delete that picture!" I say. ("Show us the picture!") "Really I can delete it…it'll be gone & ok." ("Where's the picture!") I delete it. My fingers were quick enough even though both of us have 2 hands on it. "See? It's gone. It's ok!"
Now a guy is trying to pull the camera out of my hands. I am being nice but NOT letting go. They step away. They're back again, asking me to work the camera.
I say for the umpteenth time, "What are you saying? I'm sorry I don't understand you." Finally, 1 guy figures out how to operate the "review picture" function on my camera. He takes the camera away from me, and walks away with it.
I'm sick. Praying like crazy. I look up. WHO KNOWS where the rest of the team went? Their car is LOOOOONG gone.
After several minutes, 1 of them returns to the car. He's smiling now. (Do I detect a laugh?) He says, "It's ok." Either he was laughing at the shot of my friends in the backseat, or at Dean in his skivvies.
"Whew! Glad that's over."
The driver starts to pull out of this checkpoint station. ("Alright, here we go!") But we just pull 20 meters ahead and he stops. ("Huh???") Are the guards having second thoughts about letting me go? Our driver gets out of the car & just LEAVES us. The car's still running though. That's good.
Minutes pass by. I try to look nonchalant, but my heart is pounding. "Are more guys going to show up again & demand my camera…or search me?" Praying like mad. They let car after car go through this checkpoint, passing us by. 5 minutes goes by. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. 20 minutes.
Finally, our driver shows up again. The car started moving ahead again. ("Woo hoo!!!") But then HE TURNS THE CAR AROUND. ("Are you KIDDING me???")
I asked our driver, "Is it OK?" He says, "OK!" (But he doesn't convince me. He looks nervous. He's making ME nervous.)
We drive the 20 meters back to the last checkpoint. He jumps out of the car, but leaves the car idling. He UNLOADS the family from the backseat. Then he unloads all their luggage onto the sidewalk too. I am alone. ("WHAT is happening???") He jumps back into the car. Just me & him now. He starts driving BACK through the checkpoints…BACK to where our team ORIGINALLY STARTED this journey an hour ago.
"Oh man…THIS is BAD. I am going the WRONG direction…back to the country I'm trying to leave…AWAY from the rest of our team in the other car…BY MYSELF!!!"
I fear someone is waiting to interrogate me at the start. I have visions of starting a prison ministry here. Goodbye world.
We make it back to the start. This time, the driver turns the car OFF. He looks stressed. He takes the keys and leaves me there. ("This can't be good.")
All the border shuttle drivers start gathering around the car. The driver's looking for someone…calling people's names & asking them questions.
Then the driver opens the trunk and starts messing with the bags. There's no way I can see what's happening back there. I try to glance back. ("Are my bags still there?")
A security official is approaching our car. He's shouting now. ("Uh oh.") He's gotten into the face of the driver, as the driver is pulling bags OUT of the trunk. ("Not my bag, I hope.")
Something dawns on me. I think to myself, "Is this return trip all about what's in HIS bags??? Maybe it has nothing to do with me."
The argument is over with the guard. The driver gets back in the car with me. ("Nice to see you," I think.) He starts the car. ("That's good.") He starts driving around in circles, calling men to his window. He's not getting a response he likes. He wants something.
Finally, we start to heading back the checkpoints that go across the border. "OK?" I asked the driver. "OK," he says. He still doesn't look great.
I think to myself, "Was I off base in thinking the driver was stressed about me? Was he ACTUALLY stressed about something HE was trying to take across the border?"
We pick up the family we dropped off at the guard house. We head forward again. I see the rest of my team in the distance. We pull up & get out. Our team tries to get to me, but the border guards get in between us & shoo them away.
I'm in another guard office now, for my exit interview. "Father's name? Mother's name? Job? Company?" (I mumble, "Grsfjd Chljdlfj.") He doesn't speak much English. He turns the paper around & motions for me to write the name.
Finally, I hear the 3 best words I've heard all day. "You can go." I'm spent.