The day I was detained in the Bekaa Valley.

*I’ve had this post in my drafts since May. Considering the problems I was having with my passport at the time, I was too afraid to post it while I was in Lebanon ..but now that I’m home safely in Miami, I thought it was a good time to finally share this experience.

Not even 24 hours after coming back from my Euro Trip, @fadyroumieh and I decided to spend the day at a winery in the Bekaa Valley. I wasn’t quite ready to end my vacation, and a visit to a boutique winery in the heart of the Bekaa Valley sounded really enticing.

We felt transported to another world as we took a tour of the vineyard, feasted on organically grown food, sipped on delightful wine, and chatted to French tourists about their impression of Lebanon.  As we headed back to Beirut, still tipsy from the day’s festivities, the taxi that @fadyroumieh and I took to get home was randomly selected to be searched at a check point in Dahr al Baydar.  (I later found out that Dahr al Baydar is known to be one of the worst checkpoints in Lebanon.  Thank GOD I didn’t know that at the time.  The taxi driver later told us that the officers search 1 in every 1,000 cars.  It was our lucky day it seems.). Perhaps the two passengers looking a bit too happy aroused some sort of suspicion? I’ll never know.

At first, I tried my best not to think anything of it. “This is routine! Nothing could possibly happen.”  But my calm quickly turned into fear when I realized I didn’t have my passport, nor a copy of my passport on me..only my Florida driver’s license.  “Shit! For sure they’re going to have a problem with this..” I thought to myself as I handed my license to one of the police officers in military fatigues (which are way more intimidating might I add, than the police uniforms I’m accustomed to).

Typical police attire and props in Lebanon

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Typical police officers in the US. Now you tell me, which is more intimidating?

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To my right, Fady followed suit, handing his ID to the officer.

So much was going through my head that I failed to realize that Fady’s iPad was sitting on my lap, and my laptop was to my right..immediately drawing way too much attention to themselves.  By the time I realized what was happening, Fady was being pulled out of the taxi and dragged into the police station.

My throat tightened, my heart pumped, and my pulse quickened as a group of policemen asked me to get out of the car so that they could look through my belongings and the taxi we were in.  That’s when another alarming thought occurred to me…(aside from what they were about to do to Fady).  What if the taxi we were in was transporting drugs/weapons?  Fady and I had been dropped off by someone from the winery to this random taxi driver (who was his relative or something)..in retrospect we probably should’ve ordered our own taxi considering the region we were in.  I could almost hear my Mother on the other end of the phone..”What do you MEAN you’re in jail in Lebanon?!?!?!?” (Ironically, those were the last words she spoke to me when we parted ways not even a day ago at the airport in Barcelona).

But thankfully, the taxi and driver were both clean. (wheeeeewwwww! what a relief!)  As was I.  (But we all knew that, right?)

I was then handed back my license and given the clearance to sit back in the taxi and wait to see what was going to happen next. Not even 5 seconds later, Fady came out of the police station.. escorted by a police officer who wouldn’t let him go.

I almost didn’t recognize him.  His face had lost all of its color and he was swirming from the discomfort of the policeman’s grasp..visibly in pain.  I thought he was either going to faint, throw up, scream, cry..or all four at once. “Shit. Shit. Shit.” I thought to myself.

Fady came to my window, frantic..trying his best to explain to me what was going on.. All I could understand was that they were detaining him for 2 unpaid tickets..but would refuse to tell him when and where the citations occurred. I wasn’t really paying attention to the words that were coming out of his mouth. All I could focus on was how uncomfortable he looked.. He pleading with the officers to let him go (literally) and let me go back to Beirut..but to no avail. I urged him to keep his cool,…but he persisted.  Which immediately aroused even more suspicion.  The officers told me to get out of the car (again) as they went back into the taxi, trying their best to find SOMETHING..ANYTHING to pin on us. Digging up into the crevices of the seats, looking under the mats, searching the pockets, and the trunk. They were convinced we were hiding something.

One of the officers took a liking to my purse,.paying special attention to the bills in my wallet.  And since Fady had no money on him, they were probably trying to see how much they could get out of this little incident.  Seeing that I had a whopping 150,000 on me, they refused to let me go back to Beirut (not that I would’ve left Fady by himself anyway) and escorted me and Fady to the police station for further questioning.

According to the officers, the tickets had been issued 6 years ago and Fady hadn’t paid them…OR (and the more likely case being) the people that Fady had settled the ticket with, forgot (or neglected) to update the record..resulting in a misdemeanor on Fady’s record for longstanding unpaid tickets!!

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing. “Are these people serious?” I said to Fady.

Fady turned to me and said, “This is Lebanon.”

Before I knew it, there I was..sitting on a bed that looked like it had seen too many bodies..eyes peeled and ears perked as I made a mental note of everything that was happening around me.  I sketched the features of the officer that was questioning Fady, the movie that was playing on the 6-inch TV, the phone on the desk that was being held together by scotch tape, the papers on the wall stained with age, the fax machine that was being held together with a rock.  I had to.  I would have to be the one to somehow recount the details if anything happened to Fady.  I tried my best to remain calm, but my heart beat clouded my thoughts.

Surprisingly (and thankfully!), the officers let Fady use his phone, which he used to immediately call his parents.  I couldn’t help but think what I would’ve done if I were in Fady’s place.  I didn’t have my passport (the authorities had confiscated it upon my return to Lebanon..that’s a whole ‘nother story!), my phone was dead, I have no connections, and I’m not exactly packing the dough if you know what I mean.  So in a nutshell, I would’ve been f*$%ed!  Majorly.

Fortunately..Fady is a bit better connected than I am.  He was able to get through to his Dad, who then made some calls to some very important people on our behalf.

After about a half an hour of back and forth explanations, half translations, phone calls, scribbles on a piece of paper, and faxes.. our luck had changed for the better!  Fady was now being addressed to as “Master” and one of the police officers who had previously roughed him up even made us COFFEE!

Seriously? WTF.

My head was spinning.

What the hell is going on?” I asked Fady.

Well it seems like they’ll release us soon..I have to go to court in Tripoli to settle the charges..but for now everything seems to be ok.

And sure enough, we were escorted back outside where our taxi driver had patiently waited for our release. We hopped in and shut the doors,,stunned by what had just happened. How could such a beautiful day have turned so terribly wrong?

We drove back into Beirut in silence. Too drained to talk about anything. Well, that’s not entirely true. Fady did say he won’t be visiting the Bekaa Valley ever again. I wonder if he still feels that way.

And to think that just before I got on the plane to head back to Lebanon my Mom looked me square in the eyes and said, “Just don’t call me and tell me your in a jail somewhere in Lebanon, ok?” And for that reason, I never told her about this experience..until now that is. Sorry for keeping this from you Mom! I just wanted to spare you the worry!

37 Comments

Filed under life in Lebanon

37 responses to “The day I was detained in the Bekaa Valley.

  1. Sarine

    I’m glad you’re okay Danielle! That story sounds terrible:/

  2. Fadi

    Come on Danielle, nothing happened! They stopped you for like 5 minutes because Fadi had “innocently” forgotten to settle his tickets!
    Also This is not a jail!
    Come on! U shouldn’t have waited to be in Miami to tell the story!
    U too over dramatized the story!

    • Maybe we’re used to this Fadi but she’s not.. plus being inside the situation is so much harder than looking at it from the outside! well we hope that won’t keep u from coming to lebanon!!

      • Thanks Nadine! And no,,it wouldn’t keep me from coming back! But that’s because I’ve spent enough time in Lebanon to know what it is truly like. But if I were only there for a week (like the French tourists we were speaking to) and that happened to me?? Well..let’s just say I probably wouldn’t recommend Lebanon to my friends!

    • Umm.. They stopped us for around 2 hours Fadi. And if anything, I ‘under-dramatized’ the story. You have to understand that getting stopped in the Bekaa Valley is not something that happens to me every day!😉 Thanks for reading and for commenting tho!

    • Asquared_2

      if anything, I think she didn’t write all the details.. She told me the story in person and it’s much worse than what she made it sound in this post.. so no she didn’t over dramatize the story.

      • Thanks for having my back Ahmad! From what I understood, what happened to us that day wasn’t routine for anyone – not Americans and not Lebanese! It definitely wasn’t a 5 minute affair and I think we could’ve been in a very serious situation if Fady’s dad hadn’t saved the day! How weird was it that you had a feeling that we shouldn’t go that day!??! We really should listen to you more often!

  3. HAHAHA Priceless! And it was dramatic and traumatizing to Danni… easy on her people!

  4. Sean

    hehehehhe Lebanese people got wayyy to many stories like that. It sounds weird for non-Lebanese but you handled urself well shawty😉

  5. annie

    Sounds terrible but glad ur ok ,but I advise you twice to be cautious when you go back this time in Lebanon, because this time around it’ll be different especially with the current political situation , and with all the corruption what did u like about Lebanon,I don’t want to sound bitter here , but I’m doing everything to get out of here ,so don’t waste your life and carreer years here ,they just waste your time, it’s only a touristic country,nothing more ,there’s much more on the other side of the planet other than Lebanon ,much more interesting things that we’ve been missing out here

    • Thanks for your comment Annie. It’s a real shame that such a beautiful country is subject to such ugliness at the hands of a certain very powerful few. As much as I love Lebanon, I would be lying if I told you that the last two years didn’t take a toll on me!!!!

  6. annie

    Ba3deeen Fadi Roumieh hahahaha, the name itself says it all loool,sounds u wanted to be caught Fadi hehe

    • Asquared_2

      what’s wrong with the name pumpkin ? it’s pronounced Roumiye not roumieh anyway… and it’s not that funny, annie.

      • annie

        Hehehe pumpkiiin?????Chillll 2awalll shi, oooooh right I’m used 2 the negative sense of humor el lebnene ,one of the reasons I want to leave Lebanon in the 1st place , ba3deeen the name sounded soo funny with the blog post that it fits its place ,nothing more ,I didn’t mean anything else , sooo don’t take it personally unless you’ve been to Roumieh, don’t reply , there’s no point because I’m sick of pple like you in this country ,pple bala savoir vivre

      • annie

        Ba3deeen ,it’s written Roumieh above so don’t start your Lebanese crap ,it seems you’ve had your share there to correct me , anyhow I don’t wanna argue with you, ma eli jalad your Lebanese replies like everyone does just to have the last word

      • Lee

        a BIG LOOOL!!!

  7. Rob

    I had a similar experience, they detained me because i didn’t have any form of ID.

    • How did you end up getting out of it?

      • Rob

        yeh, I don’t like to use “connections” because it just adds up to the corruption in Lebanon, but my friend called his dad, who in turn called someone and soon enough everybody was addressing me by “sir” and i was out after about 30 min. On my way out, the guy in charge came out of his office and shook my hand.

  8. Youssef Chaker

    Ironically i was thinking today about the things parents or friends say to someone when they’re about to do something out of the box. You mom said “Just don’t call me and tell me your in a jail somewhere in Lebanon, ok?” just like my dad kept on telling me “what if you move in with these guys and don’t like them?” (talking about my co-founders). And I couldn’t help but think about all the moments friends asked me for advice and I brought up the negative things. All this time I thought I just being the devil’s advocate, or the voice of reason to make sure I don’t let anyone else go on whatever life journey and get hurt. But really, the only feeling I get from it right now is the sense that I was just looking out for my own self. I was covering my own behind. I could always say “I warned you!” and escape any blame.

    Psychologists say to use positive feedback with children or others. For example don’t tell someone “Do not forget your keys”, instead use “Remember your keys”. Apparently the brains drops most words and only focuses on a few key words. So the ‘not’ in the first example gets thrown away and the only part that gets remembered is the ‘forget’ and ‘keys’ which then results in the person actually forgetting her keys. In our case, both our parents set something in motion, not that I am blaming either one (definitely not) but I can’t help but think how the subconscious world plays a big part in our life.

    So if we bring the parenting post and this one together, a piece of advice to all parents, there are situations where it’s best to let your children go on their happy, naive and merry way.

    Anyway, back to the checkpoint thing… I once, about 3 or 4 years ago, was stopped with 6 other guys on our way to Tripoli and I was debating what to give them, but I’m an ass so I gave then the ‘2ikhraj el 2eid’ (the Lebanese paper ID) which had a picture of me when I was about 13 years old, it was folded like 5 times, so it was a pain to unfold and fold back in, most of the ink was warn off. All my friends looked me in the “are you seriously doing that?” kind of way. I don’t think they shared the same adventurous spirit as I. It was dark, so I think the soldier looked at it and said fuck this, whatever, they look legit and sent us off on our way. But to be honest I was sort of worried. I don’t have a ‘wasta’ nor anyone I could call to get me out of any trouble (yet I still get myself into it every chance I get :P), so there was an anxious moment when I wasn’t sure if the soldier was going to be an ass back and give me trouble. So all of you tough guys out there, myself included, don’t even pretend that you could go somewhere in the world, let’s say Columbia or Mexico (or Iran for you Shi’a haters), get stopped by armed men in army fatigues and pretend that you won’t sweat bullets!!!

    On another note, I’m impressed with the darak’s self control… The post doesn’t mention any of them eyeballing you or harassing you, which is surprising😛

    • Heyyy! You commented, even though you said you wouldn’t! (yay!) Again you manage to flip whatever I say on its head and then add even more perspective to it. You’re absolutely right about our parents setting things in motion. But did you do like me and wait months to tell your Dad what happened and that he was right!? I really do believe in the power of releasing actions, thoughts, feelings call it what you want, into the world. But as I told you earlier today.. This experience, not even 24 hours after I came back from my vacation, was really the beginning of the end for me. Such a shame that these experiences are really what can brung a country to its knees. Thanks again for the comment dude. You know how much I appreciate it!!!”🙂 And yeah, surprisingly I didn’t feel harassed in “that” way at all! Surprisingly!

  9. Heba

    If you go back to Lebanon, it’s good idea to have the U.S embassy emergency services phone number with you. You don’t have lebanese connections, but you have that. http://lebanon.usembassy.gov/citizenservices.html

  10. OMG DANI! what the hell??? I go to the Bekaa valley almost every weekend when I’m in Lebanon and I know how icky the Dahr el baydar checkpoint is, but I’ve only seen them stop vans and cars with “suspicious looking men” :s
    So glad to read nothing bad happened to you, although it was a scary ordeal!

    • Yeah I still don’t understand why, of all people, they stopped us? Maybe they thought that they could get away with something? Who knows! Maybe they were hoping that we had more money than we actually had…? Whatever the case is, that check point is not good for business. I mean, especially not for the wineries located in that region. As a tourist, that one experience could potentially turn me off of the entire country! Anyway, I’m gad that we got out of it ok! Thanks for your concern Aline! Hope nothing similar happens to you on your trips to the Bekaa.

  11. Lebcan

    The same happens in the US. Just ask any canadian that has forgotten to pay a US ticket for more than 6years. He has to either pay it on the spot or sleep in jail until a judge see his case.

  12. I remember the first time i read your blog; you were so excited about your journey in Lebanon and kept warning you about the place you’re living in! It’s not that I like to blow your mood it’s because I felt complete disconnect! Holding someone for unpaid tickets! That’s absurd! This could never happen in a normal country! What they were looking for was some extra money they can rip of inexperienced tourists.
    Lebanon is still a deeply fragmented country. It’s a free style country with minimal order where other micro states have equal or more power. It was so disturbing to read your post, But to be honest it could have happened anywhere in this country too. There is no rule of law here. Some people are still waiting for trial since one – two years in the dirtiest slums of all in Romieh for the silliest offences.
    I would recommend not coming back. It’s a beautiful place to visit from time to time but on personal level it’s a complete waste of time. Annie is right most of the Lebanese don’t get it why foreigners fall in love with this country and decide to stay longer. Probably because it’s the opposite of what the western world is, and mostly because they get pampered by the locals who have this inferiority complex toward the West.
    Stay safe !

    • annie

      Very true ,instead of arresting pple fr nothing ,they should arrest the biggest criminals ,money launderers ,thieves and that mainly among the politicians and the most important step they should take is to deport all these nawar domestic workers in Leb , u name it Kurdis, Sirilankis, Philippinos , they’re stealing other people’s opportunities to live ,predominantely of the Lebanese ,second naza3o el balad,if they should arrest pple is the number of spies who are getting into the country

  13. Pingback: Lebanon: Checkpoint Detention

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  15. Noura

    Gass Farrah, you wrote on August 14th: “Holding someone for unpaid tickets! That’s absurd! This could never happen in a normal country!,” and I must completely disagree with you. I was born in Lebanon and have lived in the US since I was two years old. I live in the New York area and lived in NYC for many years. In the United States, if you have unpaid tickets (especially speeding tickets) going back 6 years, and you are stopped for something, you most certainly will be detained by the police and held in jail until the matter is resolved (either thru bail, paying the tix, etc.). I don’t mean to excuse or mininize what must have been a very traumatic experience, but I wanted to set the record straight. And in the US, your connections and money won’t get you far in terms of not being arrested. Again, no country is perfect, but this story would have been equally traumatic had it happened in almost any developing country in Asia or Latin America, where the level of corruption blows Lebanon out of the water.

  16. Tony El Mir

    you should learn something that is no secret to any Lebanese. a couple of Chicken sandwiches would have resolve the whole god dam issue, i promise :-))

  17. Hahaha! It does not seem like that big of a deal, I have had them worse in Serbia. You are so over dramatizing the story. BTW, we were stopped on a checkpoint on Saturday going to Sour and they had no problem with my NY driver’s license.

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