Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Escape From The Middle East

Palestine Mensa Group- application

Rich is currently in Jerusalem. He should be at the airport in Amman, Jordan, no later than 2 PM to check in for an international flight to Bangkok. It takes 40 minutes to get to the Israeli/Jordanian border from either city. At what time should Rich leave to insure he makes it there on time?

A)         Leaving at 11 AM gives you an hour forty minutes to cross the border, that should be plenty.

B)         7 AM??
C)         Haha! What a joke, this is the Middle East. You need to leave the previous afternoon.

D)         Sometime before the 1967 Israeli/Arab war
E)         Around the time of Christ

This is actually a test question on the membership form for Mensa of Palestine, and those answering A, B, or C are believed to have demonstrated sufficiently low levels of intelligence  to be referred directly to Islamic Jihad: Suicide Bomber Division (more popularly known as “72 Virgins in Paradise for Idiots.”) 
The correct answer is: What the hell are you doing trying to cross a border in the Middle East in the first place??
At Needle Point Church- picture of Jesus carrying his own cross. "So, what would happen if I didn't help carry my cross?" ...  "We're not carrying it for you."
"Well okay then."

Having already developed a bad taste for Middle East border crossings, I traveled back in time, to before I arrived in the region, and cancelled my trip entirely. Unfortunately, my Mom wouldn't let me, (“Richard, no, you’ll hurt yourself!”) leaving me a departure time from Jerusalem of 7 AM, correctly anticipating “delays,”  by which I mean- not being allowed to cross the border.
Let’s join Rich and on his misadventure out of the Middle East. Imagine the movie “typing sound’ of each time stamp as we get set for this blockbuster spy-thriller.
6:30 AM—Our hero wakes with a jolt. Realizing that while less than 2 hours away from the airport, and with 9 hours til his plane leaves, our hero still has to cross a Middle Eastern border!
6:31 AM- Using a meditative breathing technique he learned from Buddhist Monks in Tibet, our hero manages to re-center himself.
6:38 AM- Picks the locks on the hostel doors, barely leaping to avoid the three snarling pit-bulls chasing him. Greeted outside by a rising sun.  
7:00 AM- Walks through the gates of Old Town Jerusalem, glances nervously at his watch, then relaxes, after realizing he doesn’t own one.
7:18 AM- Stops for a juice. Nearly makes the mistake of ordering pomegranate, before remembering he’ll likely have to spend another month in this Hades for each seed he eats. 
7:19 AM- Downs his orange juice.
7:45 AM- Locates shared van ride to border. Bus is full. Driver tells him to take next one. Hero tells him he has less than 8 hours to cross the border. Driver immediately tells other tourists to make room, or he’s “kicking the fat one off. “
7:55 AM- Van leaves building, immediately gets stalled in traffic.

8:20 AM- Bus hit by roadside bomb. Hero performs mouth to mouth on all passengers, except for the obese Canadian, who dies just as the ambulance gets there. Other Canadians thank hero for saving their future health-care tax dollars.

9:20 AM- Hero hitches ride from the obligatory hot passing Israeli female commando, finally arrives at the to King Hussein border crossing.

9:30 AM- Piles of paperwork, including $40 exit fee.

9:35 AM- Exit interview by Israeli Commando. Hero does all he can not to give away that he is a top covert CIA agent who's assignment is to overthrow the Israeli regime, which exit officer suggests several times trying to trip-up Hero. 

9:55 AM- Hero breathes a sigh of relief. Believes he has enough time to make it to the Amman Airport, even if kidnapped by Al Qaeda on the other side. Takes a victory lap around the building to stretch his legs.

10:20 AM-- Approaches very surly, old woman, Israeli border agent. Hands her his passport. After looking through it she states, "You cannot cross." Then smiles her first smile in ... the last decade?

10:21 AM-- Argument continues. 
Hero: "What, first you don't want me in your country, now you won't let me leave?!!" 
Surly old Agent: "We don't care if you leave, (so long as pay us the $40 exit fee) it is the Jordanians who won't let you pass, as you do not have a Jordanian Visa."
Hero: "Yes I do, I got one entering Jordan from Syria."
Surly Old Agent: "You have been to Syria? Who let you into our country!"  (flops on floor, having a heart attack)
Hero: "Doctor! is there a doctor in the house, because i need a second opinion on this visa situation!"

10:25 AM-- Surly Old Agent dies. Ten Uzis are pointed at our hero. "Can someone call me a cab?"

11:00 AM-- The helpful, and ever friendly Israelis, refuse to let Hero use their computer so he can check his flight status. Hero childishly slams hat he is wearing to the ground. Special cab arrives. Hero tells border guard that next time he is in Israel he will set-up a stand outside a Jewish Synagogue where he will give away, “Free Pork,” the dichotomy of which will likely make Jewish heads explode.

11:01 AM-- Dodges Uzi bullets, leaps into cab and yells, “GO!!”

1,000 + year old olive trees
11:05 AM-- There are three border crossings between Israel and Jordan. It turns out that the only one you from which you cannot cross into Jordan without a super duper official visa (not the one hero has) is the Jerusalem crossing, which makes a lot of sense, considering it is the one most used. Welcome to the Middle East. The Northern border is 2 hours away, and from there another 2 and a half hours back to Amman. Hero asks nice cab driver who is only charging him $175 for the first part of the trip if he thinks he has a chance at making his plane. Hero cannot help but be encouraged by response which is, 'Not a chance." 

11:06 AM-- "Step on the gas please." 

12:10 PM-- A little more than half way there, in an effort to help him along, the Israeli Army stops hero's cab to search it. Hero points out to them that he is an American, and is on his way OUT of Israel. This logic only delays the process. Cab driver can't help but laugh. 

12:25 PM-- Hero passes search. Israeli commandos exchange warm waves with bandana clad, AK-47 waving Arabs driving a pick-up truck some with wires coming out of their clothing. Hero is pretty sure this was a set-up, and the Israelis were mocking him. Hero momentarily considers stating, "I'm with them," then thinks better of it. 

1:03 PM-- Due to the advent of flight for cars, hero makes it to the border. Fills out paperwork, pays exit fee, sprints to Jordanian side where he has to wait, for a bus; to come back; which has just left. It would be much faster to walk, but if he does, he'll be shot.

1:08 PM-- Pays $5 bus fee. 

1:09 PM-- 70 meters later the bus comes to a halt and dumps everybody off. Hero slips on slick floor, trying to get to counter first. 

1:15 PM-- Jordanians stamp his passport. Hero gives a "saluti a tutti" to the Israeli side, otherwise known as "the bird."
Don't believe the sign

1:19 PM-- Hero pays another $80 to be driven to the Amman Airport. Has cabbie stop at world famous Jordanian Money Tree.

1:22 PM-- Promises cabbie big tip if he can halve a two hour + ride. 

1:25 PM-- Cabbie starts driving like Mario Andretti. The ride from the Northern border to Amman is largely mountainous, and throwing caution to the wind might be very scary if you could hear the bald tires screeching around hair pin turns, but you can't since we're traveling faster than speed of sound.

1:45 PM-- Hero notes Andretti is a fantastic driver. Car nearly veers off a cliff. Hero indifferent, as he plans to kill himself if he has to spend another night in the Middle East anyways. 

2:12 PM-- Mario Andretti expertly passes car after car, roadblock after roadblock. Hero tries not to get hopes up. 

2:38 PM-- Cabbie arrives at airport!! Hero gives him every single last Jordanian Dinar he has (about $16 worth) Cabbie very much deserves tip, hero promises him he will get him a NASCAR deal back in the US.

2:39 PM-- Hero realizes he has been dropped off at the wrong terminal. Sprints to other side of airport. 

2:45 PM-- Helpful Jordanian staff do all they can to get him on his airplane, even opening up a new line specifically for him! If you are friendly with Arabs and treat them with respect, they really try to do more for you than any other culture hero has seen. 

2:55 PM-- Hero races to gate, boards his planes moments before they are to close the gate, collapses in heap on floor, grateful to have Escaped from the Middle East!! 

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  1. Congratulations on an escape well done! :-)

  2. Entertaining stuff! (I also enjoyed the Iceland entries, so thanks for sharing.) But did you REALLY just show up at Allenby without a Jordanian visa? As I'm sure you knew, or at least know now, that you must have a visa to enter Jordan irrespective of which of the 3 crossings you take and that King Hussein Bridge is the only crossing where visas are not issued. I had heard lots of horror stories about this particular crossing before I went, but I literally breezed through it in the end. I have to say, though, I have met more than 1 Americans who had problems at this crossing only because they neglected to do their homework. :)


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