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UN, US? More Than a Letter of Difference?

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Once upon a time, I arrived at the Dubai International Airport, and showed my UN passport.
The guy looked at the cover, and said “Bot whot contry?”
I said: “United Nations!”
He shrugged and asked again: “Bot whot contry, Unatod Notions?”
I said: “Well, it is not a country, it is an organisation. It is really ‘All Nations’!”
He shook his head: “No, Unatod Notions, Unatod Notions. Unatod Steets, no?”
I was quit to reply: “No, no! Not United States, United Nations. Big difference!”
He laughed: “But wheer ees big office Unatod Notions?”
I said: “The big office? Well the main office is in New York”
He replied: “Ahhhh? New York. Unatod Steets.. You see?”

I guess he had a point. Sometimes I fail to see the difference too, to be honest.

Written by Peter

April 19th, 2007 at 2:52 pm

Posted in Ranting

Tagged with , , , , ,

The Day the Groom Got Deported From the US.

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This story is a true story, just like all of them in ‘The Road to the Horizon’. It is a story within a story.. It happened in the background from ‘The Day I Got Deported from the US’, which I published before. In many ways, this one is much more painful than mine.
To protect the privacy of the people involved, I changed their names.

I met Omar and Iman at London Heathrow. Well, I did not exactly “meet” them. I saw them on the same flight as I was, from Cairo to London. They showed up at the departure gate in London for the flight to Washington too, and were sitting in a row of seats, their backs to mine.
They were a lovely couple. Both were tall, slim, well groomed. Two young attractive, ordinary people. And clearly very much in love, as they sat with hands stranded one in another, her head on his shoulder as they were talking. I felt a bit embarrassed overhearing their conversation, but I could not help it, as we were sitting back to back. They spoke mostly in English, with a slight American accent. I could gather they were both Egyptian, and lived close to Cairo. Omar and Iman got married a few days before, and were on honeymoon to the US, where some of their relatives and many of their friends lived. I understood both had studied in the US for a couple of years. As they were talking, it was clear they were really eager to go back, and planned to fly ‘all over’ to catch up with their loved ones.

Once we landed in Washington, I saw them back in the queue at the immigration counter. His arm around her waste. Faces close together.. I did not really follow what went on, but I did see that they went to the counter separately, Iman first. While I was having ‘my share of discussions’ with the screening officer, I could see that Omar had the same, three booths further down the aisle. A few minutes later, he showed up in the immigration waiting room, and took a seat amongst ‘me and all other problem cases’. Iman was not with him anymore.
After I got back from being finger printed, Omar was standing at the counter talking to the immigration officer. There was clearly something wrong. I overheard part of the conversation:

him#6 (shaking his head, looking at this computer screen): Sorry, I can not let you enter.
Omar: But as I told you, I am here with my wife. We just got married. We are on our honey moon. I have a valid passport, and a valid visa !
him#6: As I said before, sir: your name is on the watch list.
Omar: But I told you, my name is very common in Egypt. Whoever you have on that list, is not me. I have nothing against the US, I came here on honeymoon.
him#6: I am sorry, I can not admit you to the US. It would take days, maybe weeks to investigate if it is you on this list or not. Where is your wife now?
Omar: She went through immigration, and is probably waiting at the luggage belt now.
him#6: What is the name of your wife?
Omar: Iman
him#6: OK, let me call the airline supervisor

A bit later, the British Airways airline supervisor, the same dealing with ‘my case’, walked in.
She: I just spoke to your wife. She has collected your luggage, and is now in the arrivals hall.
him#6: Who was supposed to pick you up from the airport?
Omar: My aunt
him#6: Who is your aunt?
Omar: , here is her cell phone number, you can call her. Or better, can I call her? I would like to inform my wife what is happening, and that she should wait for me.
him#6: I am sorry, you can only make one local call. Can you call someone in Washington?
Omar: Only my aunt but probably nobody will be home. I guess her whole family is here in the arrival hall waiting for us.
He tried to call his aunt’s home number, but got no answer.

She: Let me go back to your wife, and inform her what is going on.
She (to him#6): So, what is going to happen?
him#6: I can not admit him to the US. He will have to go back.
She: The return flight is pretty full already. We will try our best to find you a seat. Let me go and inform your wife, Mr Omar. Do you need any of your luggage checked in on the return flight? That is if I find you a seat…
Omar: If I fly back, I would want my wife to come back with me also.
She: I am afraid that won’t be possible, our flight is full. I will do my best to find YOU a seat.
Omar (to him#6): Can I see my wife, so we can discuss what we should do?
him#6: No, your wife already passed immigration and customs, she can not come back in. And of course, I can not allow you to go out.
Omar: But.. you are sending me back, we are on our honeymoon, and I can not even speak to her?
him#6: I am sorry. If you have any message, please pass it on to the airline supervisor.

Omar stepped aside, and talked to the BA lady. She walked off. He sat down in a seat, in a corner, his head resting on his hands, bent forward. After a while, the BA lady came back.

She: I have not found you a seat yet.
Omar: Can I wait until tomorrow?
She: We are pretty full also on tomorrow’s flight, but I am sure I can get you on that flight.
Omar: Where would I spend the night then.
She (lowers her voice): They will keep you in detention overnight.
Omar (cramps his fist): I can not believe this. We lived here for years. We both studied here, we have friends and families here. When would my wife fly?
She: Well, we have the obligation to get you back on the first available flight, as you were denied entrance to the US. But we have no responsibility towards your wife, as she was admitted to the US. She will have to change her ticket, and I will put her on the top of the waiting list. But you will get the first available seat on the first available flight. Maybe tonight. I will try.

By then I was taken back to the plane. I did not see him on the flight. I don’t know how this story ended.
I had never heard of ‘a black list’ before. I recalled this story, though when a few weeks later, we had US visa application rejected for one of our staff. He had a very common Pakistani name…

Continue reading The Road to the Horizon’s Ebook, jump to the Reader’s Digest of The Road.

Written by Peter

March 9th, 2007 at 12:58 am

Posted in Stories

Tagged with , , ,

What’s in a Gesture?

with 4 comments

Dubai, Terminal 2. Early in the Morning… Very early in the morning.
I present my passport at the immigration counter. The immigration officer does not speak much of English, and for a couple of minutes flips the pages of my passport over from the left to the right, and back again, and again, and again. He attentively reads all the different visas, and mumbles to himself. He looks up, as to check where his supervisor is, does not see him, and goes back to flipping the pages.

Me: “Excuse me, anything wrong?
Him: He answers with the (gesture): the fingers folded together, pointing upwards, and slowly moving his hand up and down.
I often go to Italy, and that (gesture) means as much as “what the ^^%%** are you talking about?” or “What the ^^%%** do you want?”. So I get upset, right? I mean, it is rather rude. I raise my voice a pitch.

Me: “Excuse me, I am asking you if there is anything wrong with my passport?”
Him: (Gesture) again. He mumbles something in Arabic, which I do not understand, and continues to flip through the pages.

Me: “Now hold on a second. Why are you doing this (i mimic him)? Hey? A bit of respect would do, ok?”
I raise not only the pitch but also the volume of my voice.
Him: yet (gesture) again, but now moving his arm up and down in a very articulate way. He says something in Arabic, which I do not understand. The immigration staff at the other counters look at us and laugh.
Me: “OK, this is enough, I want to speak to your supervisor. You can not do this (gesture)(gesture)(gesture) at me. You know damned well what I am talking about.”
I look around for a senior officer. One comes speeding at us from the office behind a one-way mirrored window.
Super: “What is the matter, sir?”
Me: “I am not sure, but your friend here clearly does not know what to do with my passport! And on top of that, he is rude. “
Super to the officer: “Rakakatakatak” (something fast in Arabic)
Officer to super: “Laaaaaaaa”. And he shakes his head.

Hey, I understand that, it means ‘No!’
Me to the super: “How can he say no? He is rude, he just stands there and goes (gesture) (gesture)(gesture) all the time.
The supervisor smiles, takes my passport, and asks me to follow him.

Super: “So he did like this (gesture), hey ?”
Me: “Yeah, but that is really rude. That guy insults me!”
Super (smiles): “Sir. Over here, this (gesture) means ‘Please Wait’ “

This was the first Arabic gesture I learned. The hard way.

Continue reading The Road to the Horizon’s Ebook, jump to the Reader’s Digest of The Road.

Written by Peter

March 1st, 2007 at 9:04 am

The Intelligence of a Human Being – Part #2

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I re-state:
A machine can never replace the intelligence of a human being.
(even though the picture might make you think otherwise)

Most of the Google advertisements on this page are generated automatically, based on the contents of the blog. I do have to monitor it though. Sometimes I have to block some ads which seem weird or inappropriate within the context of the story. Like the short story about the Taliban in Afghanistan (In Pace) was generating an ad about ‘Meeting Afghan Woman Online”…

The funniest is that my post about The Day I got Deported from the US generated an ad:

Visit the US visa-free for 90 days. Download application guide.

Do you think “They” are monitoring? You know, “Them” ? :-) Do you think “They” are trying to send me a message that “they” have forgiven me?

must be, as even within the time of writing this blog, the deportation story generated three more similar ads on one page claiming “they” can get me a US visa ‘trouble free’. Wow! Too clever for a machine. “They” must have been a human watching over my shoulder. Eh?! What was that noise? Who was that? Anyone there? Hellooooooo?!?!?! Anyone therrrreeeeeee?)
(And yes, the picture above was taken in the US. Can anyone guess where? Put it in the ‘Comments’ underneath this post. Just don’t have your computer generate the comment! ;-)

Written by Peter

February 16th, 2007 at 2:41 am

Posted in Funny

Tagged with

The Day I Got Deported From the US

with 64 comments

Spring 2003. Pretty soon after the Iraq war started.
Dulles International Airport, Washington.

Scene at immigration counter.

him: So where do you come from now, sir? (flips through my passport, filled with stamps in Arab writing)
me: Right now, from London Heathrow, but that was just a transit. I flew in from Cairo, Egypt.
him: How long did you stay in Cairo?
me: One day.
him: Where were you before that?
me: In Jordan
him: And how long did you stay there?
me: Also one day.
him: Where did you come before that?
me: Iraq
him: ?!?!
me: Baghdad, Iraq. I work for the UN, you see.
him: Do you have any tickets to prove that?
me: No, I flew on a UN plane.
him: I do not see Iraq immigration stamps in your passport.
me: No, there is no Iraq immigration anymore since the war. The US military checks inbound passengers, but they do not stamp passports.
him: OK, how long where you there for?
me: A week.
him: So where were you longer than a week? Where do you actually live?
me: Well, my legal residency is in Belgium, but I spend most of my time in the UAE. In Dubai.
him: What do you do there?
me: I head the office of one of the UN agencies there. I have the status of an ambassador.
him: Do you have proof of that?
me: Sure. {I show him my UAE diplomatic card)
him: How long have you been living in Dubai?
me: Two years.
him: And before that?
me: I shuttled between Pakistan and Afghanistan
him: (after two minutes of typing on his computer) Could you step aside for a moment, sir, and come with me?
me: ?!

Thirty minutes later, in a separate room with clearly a number of other ‘doubtful cases’:
him#2: Mr Keyscher (?) (it is difficult to pronounce my name in English)
me: Yes, sir, good evening.
him#2: Evening, what is the purpose of your visit to the US?
me: I was asked by the UN security office to chair a meeting at the World Bank’s office in Washington.
him#2: Are you on an official mission?
me: Yes I am. On UN official business.
him#2: Do you have proof of that?
me: Sure. (I start up my computer and show him the invitation Email)
him#2: What is the meeting about?
me: It is about the UN relief efforts in Iraq. Mostly about the coordination of technical issues between different humanitarian agencies.
him#2: How long do you intend to stay?
me: I fly back tomorrow.
him#2: Where to?
me: To Dubai
him#2: Do you have any other travel documentation than this passport, your Belgian national passport?
me: Yes, I have two UN passports
him#2: Blue or red ones? (the red one is a full diplomatic passport)
me: I have both. (I hand them over)
him#2: Why do you travel on your Belgian passport, if you have a UN passport?
me: It is easier, as I do not need a visa to enter the US with my Belgian one.
him#2: Have a seat sir, someone will be with you in a minute

Thirty minutes later:
him#3: Mr Keyscher?
me: That is me
him#3: I am sorry sir, but we can not allow you to enter the US.
me: ?!?! Why is that?
him#3: You tried to enter on your Belgian passport, but this one is not valid to enter the US.
me: Why not? I was in New York two weeks ago. I fly to the US three-four times a year. I always use my Belgian passport.
him#3: Sorry, but the rules changed. As of last week, Belgian passports have to be machine readable.
me: ?!?!
him#3: They need a strip on the ID-page which is machine readable. Yours does not have that.
me: But two weeks ago, nobody said anything about that at the New York’s immigration office.
him#3: Sorry, but I do not make the rules. And they changed since last week. We can not let you enter the US.
me: But I am on a diplomatic mission. I have a diplomatic status. You have my diplomatic passports.
him#3: Sorry, but that does not matter. Just last week, we stopped a foreign minister from a Middle Eastern country entering the US also. Not the right paperwork neither.
me: Is it possible to speak to your supervisor please?
him#3: I am the supervisor, sir.
me: Can I still speak to your superior, please?
him#3: I will call him on the phone. One moment please.

After fifteen minutes with his supervisor on the phone:
him#3: I am sorry. But we can not let you enter the US. I will call the British Airways representative, and see if you can get a seat back on the same plane you came in with.
me: You do understand that I flew for three days for this meeting, straight out of Iraq? Is there any way anyone could vouch for me? I can call the UN head office in New York?
him#3: No, sir, I am sorry, that decision is final.
me: Can I call someone to let them know I can not make it to my meeting? After all, twenty people will attend, and I was to chair that meeting.
him#3: Sure, here is a phone. But you can are only allowed one local phone call.
me: Can I use my mobile phone to call? The person I need to talk to is from our HQ in Rome. He has an Italian mobile number.
him#3: Sorry, you are not allowed to use your mobile phone here.

I try to call Gianluca in his hotel downtown Washington, but there is no response.
me: (sigh) So, what will happen now?
him#3: We will need to take your photograph and finger prints, sir.
me: ?!?!

Four mug shots, ten finger prints and thirty minutes later:
me: Can I use the bathroom, please?
him#2 (again): Sure.

An armed guard escorts me to a bathroom. Stays outside of the door. I take out my mobile phone, call Gianluca, and explain what happened. I whisper I will not make it to the meeting. I give him a 60 seconds briefing on what my message was going to be in that meeting. The guard bangs on the toilet door saying “It is time, let’s go”.

Back in the immigration screening office, the British Airways representative is talking to him#2.
she: I picked up his luggage, but we have a pretty full plane
me: What would happen if I can not get on this return flight?
him#2: We will have to detain you until you can get a return flight. You have a ticket for tomorrow, so I guess that would mean detention until tomorrow.
me: ?! Detention?
him#2: Yes.

she: I will do my best.
him#2: Can I have your tickets please?
him#2 puts my three passports and all travel papers in a sealed envelop.

Thirty minutes later, the BA representative comes back.
she: I have a seat for you.
me: Thank you
him#2: We will escort you to the plane now
me: Can I have my passports and tickets, please?
him#2: No. You will get them back at Heathrow. Do know that the next time you want to enter the US, you will not be able to enter on the visa waiver program for Belgian nationals. You will need a visa. Each time you enter the US, you will be taken for questioning. Front desk immigration officers will not be allowed to let you enter. I need you to sign a paper stating you understood that, and agree to it.
me: Do I have a choice?
him: No sir, there is no appeal for this.
me: For how long do I need to get a visa. When will I be able to use the visa waiver program again? (I sign the papers)
him#2: This is valid for ever. Once refused entry into the US, you can not enter with the visa waiver program anymore. This gentlemen will escort you to the plane.

Two armed men take me outside the building, onto the tarmac. It is night already. It rains. A blinded truck is waiting for me. More armed men. I see cigarette butts on the ground, just outside of the door as we step outside.
me: I am sorry, but can I ask you one favour? I flew in from Cairo, non-smoking. Four hours. Had no time in Heathrow for a cigarette. Then flew trans-Atlantic for six hours, spent two hours here, and now will fly again. Can I have at least one cigarette please?
him#4: (looks at him#5) OK.. A quick one then.
me: That is the only good news I had since I landed here. Thank you.

They escort me back onto the plain. There are no passengers yet. Him#4 and him#5 whisper to the captain and the flight attendant. They look at me. I feel like a criminal.

Six hours later, I step out of the plane in Heathrow and get my papers back. My flight to Dubai leaves in two hours. I need to find a place to smoke a cigarette and call Gianluca again.

Well, I guess I was more lucky than
this 9 year old who was detained
after their flight to Toronto made an unscheduled stop
on American soil nearly four weeks ago.

Continue reading The Road to the Horizon’s Ebook, jump to the Reader’s Digest of The Road.

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Written by Peter

February 10th, 2007 at 1:51 am