The same shit – another day

Athens  May 15,1997  Forget the housework and come to Greece. I spent 9 awesome days here soaking in  the atmosphere in a lazy /hazy kind of way Be it weather, food,wine,culture. Or people most of all.  It was delightful in a hedonistic kind of way. And the  Mediterranean It was ………the bluest of things blue.  

In the midst of it was one onerous task to perform, which was to reconfirm our onward tickets  to Tel Aviv  – with El Al of course . And going by past experience the sooner this was done the better. The tourist  information booth gave us a listing of all the airline offices and  all except    El Al had addresses on a prominent street in the heart of town. Theirs was in some dark secluded corner in a remote part of town. We located the building & laughed our way up on the lift for there was neither a sign nor a clue and when the lift halted which was in the middle of a nowhere kind of landing the doors remained locked & barred for quite a while before opening mysteriously. Facing us was a door  that was electronically secured. After pressing the buzzer & a little bit of an exchange with somebody on the other side of the wall we were  allowed to enter. Our tickets reconfirmed. Check in instructions reiterated. Everything is cold, courteous & efficient. There are cctv cameras around. Gawd ! our every move was watched. Wonder what they made of the laughter. This is paranoia  at its worst ( especially if you remember it is pre 9/11)

May 19,1997  Athens   We had a morning flight at 09.35 but knowing how hardnosed our favorite airline was decided not to take a chance but to arrive early for the Gestapo style of questioning & be over & done with so as to relax & enjoy a  steaming hot mug of coffee. But it was not to be. El Als’ brochure should read : “ How to make enemies & lose friends”. The  persons tasked for the questioning are complete ignoramuses. Persistence and courtesy – yes, but they lack both education & skill &  act  as if the whole world is out to get them.

So this time round my session  lasts  precisely 40 mins / no exaggeration .And it went like this:

What do you do ?  I am a housewife

What does your husband do ?  He is a colonel in the Indian army

What is the proof ?  I show my defense I card – A lot of other cards spill out in the bargain.

He turned the ID card around. Misread it deliberately or perhaps by mistake and actually psyched me into believing it was long past the expiry date mentioned in the document. “ See  See” he said showing the date of issue. (thank you Mr. Leon Uris ) This required some sorting out. And sorting out we did with frayed nerves & rising tempers. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out an Indian woman backpacking alone. He asked to see my other cards.  This I pointed is my club card. ‘Club’, he repeated in consternation. Never mind I said.  You won’t understand. Clubs are a hangover of our British past.

And whats  that?  This is my IYH card & this last is my Israeli embassy card I said hoping it would soften or impress him. I studied Hebrew for a year at the Israel embassy in New Delhi. It was to be part of the Israel experience. But  the plot had gone so horribly wrong that it had completely the opposite effect.  Mr. Smart looked foxed & got into a sudden panic. What other languages do you speak ? Hindi. English, Italian…I rattled off. He quickly broke into Italian leading to some banter  Italian.  He wanted to know why I was studying Hebrew. Why not Greek for instance. It’s just a language, for heaven’s sake. I will someday but for the present it is Hebrew. Totally exasperated  by now I told him that I had had enough. The joke was over. It had carried on too long. Never again El Al

May 22,1997   Ex Tel Aviv. Flight to Heathrow London. Surprise  Surprise. The  airport encounter is friendly & nice. Must never be too judgmental The devil doth change. Or was it because this was a ‘departure’ ?

May 31,1997  Ex Heathrow to Tel Aviv for the final lap of the trip visiting Jerusalem once again. Also Ein Geidi & Massada. Reached the airport very early as usual around 1830 hrs. My bag got ripped open and by the time it was done with it was already 9pm & time to board the flight. My mistake was that I had allowed a  young Israeli student who was the daughter of some high official to use half of my baggage trolley. I had a single rucksack & she several packages big & small. I did mention to her that I hoped there would not be a problem with the interrogators. She said not to worry. That she would manage. Which she did’nt. Landing me in a soup.

Is this entire luggage yours ? No (truthfully)

Whose is it then ?  I tell them pointing at the girl

How long have you known each other ? We just met

Are you carrying any electronic items ? No ( with anger rising inside me )

Anything for anyone? No again ( more anger /some disgust)

Sorry but we have to check your bag.  I am made to wait in a separate enclosure while they rip it apart inspecting each and every object. Mr  efficient comes running back holding a tiny clock that I had bought in London. You lied he accuses. You said  you had no electronic  goods  Which is the time I came to realize that there  must be  some difference between electronic & electrical that I was unaware of and told him so. He eyed me suspiciously asked where the battery was. What did I care. How was I to know. One uses stuff & changes battery when it is time to do so. I don’t know I said.. You don’t know. You don’t know he repeated in disbelief. How  is it ?  I don’t know. Now do what you can. And that was final. He came back holding a  wrapping paper  that had a design in the Hebrew script. Once again . You lied. You carried something for someone. What is this. I know nothing. And I don’t care. Now go to hell & do as you must. It’s sick. Sick  Sick. And the dinner on the flight is  lousy


June 3,1997  If I should forget thee O Jerusalem   The stones of the buildings acquire a soft pinkish hue as the rays of the sun ascend & fall. And Ein Gedi. And Massada. Such beauty, grit & courage. But it’s time now to head home. Back to New Delhi India. It’s going to be hot this time of the year. But wait, wait, wait. I’m at the Ben Gurion airport & my rucksack is turned inside out and all my belongings put back together again. My crime ?

Which places did you visit ?

Jaffa.Jerusalem,Tiberias,Tel Aviv, Ein  Gedi, Massada and…..Bethlehem

You visited   Bethlehem  also ?  

Yes ( very very calmly)

On the flight back a  pleasant Israeli official is seated next to me. He has visited  my country several times and has kind words to say about it. He is eager to share my experience in his country. Well, the country is great I say, politely. And the people are lovely but I did not like travelling El Al. When I had finished narrating my experiences  he had this to say :

“ As you know we are surrounded by enemies who will do anything to drive us into the sea. All this security is for your safety. You don’t know our enemies. Some years ago there was this incident of a British girl travelling to Israel on holiday. She was pregnant & like you she was travelling alone.  She was questioned & cross examined just like you. She said her husband & she had panned this holiday together but she was travelling alone because of last minute changes. Her husband had business commitments and would be joining her later. Where did he work ? In Jordan. What nationality was he ? Jordanian. The officer requested the lady to wait  while her luggage was checked. “ sorry but it will only take a while “ What did they discover in her bag ? A bomb – believe it or not – . The lady herself was not aware of it. She had been married 2 years & was pregnant.  Her husband did this to her. So like I said  the checking is for your own safety.  Our enemies will stop at nothing “



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