Written on 21 October 2013 right after the events you are about to read occurred. The names haven't been changed to protect the stupid and the guilty.
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I’ve had a pretty shit day.
Remember that movie from the late 1970s-early 1980s about an American who tries to smuggle hash out of Turkey and gets caught, then locked up, tortured, the bottoms of his feet beaten? It’s called Midnight Express and I can still see the main character wearing his aviator sunglasses, sweating high-caliber bullets, as he stands in the bathroom with enough hash strapped around him to make half of Los Angeles high, and then the policeman walks into the bathroom. The stress was just ramped up to Eleven.
That’s what happened to me today.
When the nice security men who’d served me tea and water and made me wait for three hours turned me over the Airport Police, I felt second cousin to the man in the movie. My Oh Shit meter went to a hundred and for the first time I thought that I might not be coming home.
But I get ahead of myself.
I haven’t even told you what happened.
|Inside Dubai International|
Backup three and a half hours. I finally get my luggage, then I head through customs. I’m waived from the Nothing to Declare lane to the I’ve Got Something And You Have To Find It lane. A Dubai ninja (woman of unknown age in head to toe clothing with even her eyes shielded) shouted AHA! When my bag went through.
Then they had me take the bags over to a different area and I began racking my brain. What could it have been? Was it the body armor? I was just told by a friend that I wasn’t supposed to bring it through Dubai. Nice. Now you tell me. It’s not even mine. This belongs to a special mission unit. The one issued to me is sitting in a closet in Virginia somewhere. Shit. Shit. Shit. How was I going to explain it to my buddy that I had his armor confiscated by the Dubai Airport Sheriff or whatever they call themselves.
I just want to point out that you are helping me de-stress. I’m sitting here in a Dubai Starbucks drinking the hell out of an effing Coffee Americano and wearing my toe shoes because they hug my feet so nicely and frankly I need a hug right now. Talk of ninjas and things are my stress bleeding. I mean no disrespect. I’m just stressed from almost being locked up in a Dubai monkey cage for an indeterminate time for doing something stupid. Now, back to me being stupid.
So the Dubai equivalent of a Sumo Wrestler begins to pull stuff right out of the bag I have the body armor in. Damn. This sucks. When he found the body armor, he smiled. But then he did something weird. He didn’t seem to be interested IN the body armor, but instead what was INSIDE the body armor. He re-xrayed the body armor. And I swear to you, just like the Dubai ninja, this Dubai Security Sheriff said, AHA!
What is it with these Dubainese and their love of the AHA!?
He pulls the body armor and begins going through the pockets. Pockets, the only things I’ve ever had in the pockets were…
He somehow wedged a bratwurst-sized finger into a magazine pouch and levered out a 5.56 mm round usually meant to fuel an HK 416 or an M4 for human destruction…NOT my passport through an airport.
I actually gasped.
I knew at once that I was in a world of shit. I was about to become the target for everyone’s hatred of America, all reduced-216 pounds of me with only my passport and tattoos of Elvis and Bruce Lee to keep me company.
The first thing they did was take my passport. They might have taken my tattoos if they hadn’t been inscribed into my skin.
Funny thing about my tattoos. Everyone and I mean every Tom, Dick and Abdul Said, recognized Bruce Lee. They must have grown up watching the same old movies I did, because they all smile when they see it. But Elvis? (and I’m wiping away a tear here) Elvis is an unknown entity in the faraway Lands of Islam. Not a single resident of the Middle East has ever heard of him. In fact, they all look at me strangely and ask why I have the portrait of a famous Pakistani singer on my arm. I have no idea who it is. Part of me suspects it’s a Pakistani Elvis impersonator. But enough of that. Back to me getting rolled up.
----END OF SECOND INTERMISSION----
Then they said come with me, where I met the only Airport Security Captain who was a professional bodybuilder was waiting for me crunching his fists together like he was turning bowling balls into marbles. Jesus but this guy’s shoulders could have held a love seat Absolutely V-shaped, he had what looked like a 12 inch waist. But more importantly to my current condition, whatever smile he had was lost when his mommy took away his pacifier and he’d spent his next thirty years perfecting the demeanor of a brick.
I explained that I’d just come from a war zone I explained that it was an absolute accident. I also explained that I was astonishingly sorry and it would never happen again. He stared at me like he’d rather see me dead, bade me sit, then ignored me for an hour.
Realizing I was under surveillance, I tried to wonder how to sit and compose myself. I fear I looked like a jonesing crack addict, because I think I was changing my posture all too often.
Then I was offered tea.
Then later, water.
A friend of mine came over and asked if he should call the U.S Ambassador. Shit was getting serious. He had them on speed dial. Did I really want to escalate this? What would go from a good story of a shit time later on my blog would turn into a front page spread of a US military member doing something stupid in a foreign country… not like we need that again. So I strategically demurred. Still, he sat with me for awhile. Then a new security man came and said everything was going to be alright. I breathed a sigh of relief because for a moment I thought everything would be okay.
Then a man came to whom everyone deferred. He looked sharp. They’d called in the big guns. He waggled a finger towards me and led me to the interrogation room.
----END OF THIRD INTERMISSION----
Some of you might know about my experience in this. I could tell the guy was nervous. He was unskilled. He really wasn’t sure what questions to ask. This was really the only part of the situation I felt in complete control. But I had to be careful. If I appeared to be too smug, they might think I’m an authentically bad guy. So I pretended extreme nervousness. I fidgeted. I worried my hands together. I stuttered a little and apologized profusely. But really, all I gave them was my story, my name, and someone else’s phone number. By the time we left the poor man was satisfied and left beaming.
They’d interrogated the bad guy American and were happy for it. They chuckled in their glass-fronted office. They’d bagged their bad guy and mad him squirm. All but the body builder. He didn’t smile. Instead, he listened to the information and took it in like a slab of marble would water.
They gave me more tea.
Now I have to admit, about this point I was thinking about what would have happened if an Arab-speaking person arrived in Newark with a bullet in his baggage. No joke, I bet they’d be halfway to GTMO before they were able to get their story out. Certainly no tea. All joking and de-stressing aside, I was absolutely appreciating their behavior and professionalism… even if they were all wearing man dresses.
Then came the man they were waiting for. He wore the uniform of a policeman. He said come with me and bring your bags. We went outside into the hot Dubai air. I was thinking about that phone call to the ambassador about now. We went down to another terminal, then back inside, then to an elevator. We stood there and he didn’t say a word. I thought of asking him what was coming up next for me, but I was too afraid of the answer. We took the elevator to upstairs, around several turns, and I found myself in front of a sign that read Airport Police HQ where I saw real interrogation rooms and real bad-looking men who looked like they pulled out blond-haired, blue-eyed American fingernails as an afternoon pre-prayer time activity. Having been in a police station once or twice (ahem) in the past, I immediately recognized their cold indifference, their professional disdain, and their barely concealed contempt. The Constitution might say that you are innocent until guilty, but I’ve found that most hard-working men of law find it safer to feel the other way. That way they aren’t so often disappointed. The Dubai Airport Police were no different.
At this point the tea stopped. So did the water. Everyone who looked at me was probably remembering someone they knew who’d been stomped on by the patriotic boots of America. I stopped fidgeting. I put on a hopeful/wistful look, one I’d used throughout my childhood when my mother had me wait for her, or when seventeen principals did the same. It was a combination of a What me worry-you must have the wrong man-I’m far too innocent to be guilty look that had got me out of more self-generated shit than I deserved. When they did look at me, their laughter stopped, their smiles fell, and they got real serious… like calling the Ambassador serious.
|Nervous - from Midnight Express|
But there was one thing that did draw their attention. They couldn’t help but ask about my tattoo. Is that Bruce Lee? Just as the men downstairs had done (sans Marble Head), each and every one of them, upon seeing my tattoos, asked me if that was Bruce Lee. I responded sagely, smiled, and complimented them on their recognition. We were starting to bond. We talked about different martial arts, using pidgin English and mock moves. I was doing my best to go from being a suspect to one of them. Soon, I was no longer that stupid American who brought the bullet back from the war, but had been transformed into that stupid American with the cool tattoo of Bruce Lee and that whatever his name is Pakistani singer who brought the bullet back from the war.
By now, three and a half hours had passed.
Our tattoo-based friendship notwithstanding, I was beginning to wonder if I was getting out of there.
They left to pray.
They came back for tea.
They talked about me and laughed, probably the same way a roomful of American policemen would about an Arab-speaker stupid enough to put himself in this situation.
Then the commander arrived. They all snapped to. Joking ceased. Salutes snapped. They explained to him the situation. He rattled off a few commands, then turned to leave. As he passed me, he gave me the look – Stupid American Trying To Bring A Bullet Into My Airport What Were You Thinking.
I lowered my eyes to acknowledge my mistake. I felt a sinking feeling.
He said something else. Then left.
I was called up. They filled out another form. I was asked to sign it stating that I would never accidentally bring a bullet into Dubai again—at least I hope that’s what it said because I signed it.
Then they handed me back my passport.
I was released.
Just under four hours.
I wonder how much different this could have turned out.
I wonder if I had been a foreigner in America if I would have gotten off so easily-- with an apology accepted with a handshake and a don’t do this again.
Now as I type the rest of this it’s 3:36 AM and I’m somewhere over Nova Scotia, obviously I realize that this could have gone very badly. We’ve all seen the movies. We’ve all heard the horror stories.
You know, I’ve joked about the police and security at Dubai International, but I do appreciate being set free with barely a slap on the hand. They were doing their job and I did something stupid. How that round got in there is another question. After all, I hadn’t fired one of those rounds since April back in Virginia at The Crucible.
But it happened.
I say this to all of you coming back from the war. Check your gear. Even if you never used something, even if you’re sure something couldn’t be there, check it. Had someone given me this advice, the events that I recounted on this blog never would have happened.
But then again, neither would this blog entry.
In the end I thank Mike Towles and Bruce Lee. Mike is my tattoo artist. He’s the one who put Bruce on my arm. It’s become a crazy and unexpected business card. Just as the tattoo of Elvis he put there has become. Only in this case, no one cared about the image of the mysterious Pakistani singer. All they cared about was the King of King Fu, who was as much martial art royalty in the Land of Islam as he was in Hollywood.
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Weston Ochse has spent 29 years in the military in one shape or fashion. He's a world traveler and an internationally best-selling author of high action fiction. Please Note: This article is copyrighted by Weston Ochse. Any reproduction in whole or in part without the author’s permission is prosecutable by public law. If you'd like to borrow part of this or see it reprinted, contact me here. I'll probably say yes. I'm that kind of guy. You can link to this article. Thank you. © 2013