*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).
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!
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!