Sunday, April 27, 2008

Way to take the shine off our welcome home

We just got back from a glorious 8-day safari through Kenya. It was, quite literally, the trip of a lifetime. We're still dusty and tired and downloading photos (I took 285 and yk took 273 -- and this is AFTER diligent editing. Kenya is just spectacular and there is no end to the breathtaking photos one can take) we'll both update soon with tales of charging elephants, cheetahs on the hunt and leopards in trees, eating gazelles.

We arrived on the red-eye this morning, an hour and a half late. The customs hall was empty and we were third in line at passport control. Thanks to my pre-trip visit to the Mogamma, my Canadian passport sailed through, ka-chunk, ka-chunk -- entry stamps, done. Pass to the guy in back. He looks at me deadpan. I smile. He gives me back the passport and I go through.

YK's passport -- ka-chunk, ka-chunk. Pass to the guy in back. He passes it back to the guy in front but today, they did something different. This surprised me because YK has a much more legit and influential visa than yours truly. And they had already stamped and machine read his passport, so what was the holdup?

One white uniformed officer took the passport to one booth. We waited. Me on one side of immigration, YK on the other. Another uniformed officer took his passport and went to the left. Gave it to a guy who took it to the right. Back and forth, looking serious, for no apparent reason.

Finally, the officer called YK to the exit lane where I was waiting. He looked at me and said: "India?"
I held up my passport (the one he had just seen and stamped) and said, "No. Canada. What seems to be the delay?"
Officer to me again: "Hindia?"
Me to officer: "No Hindia. Canada. See?" flash passport once again.

YK passed through the barrier and the officer smiled at him broadly.
YK: "Is there a problem?"
Officer: "No, no problem at all."
YK reaches out for passport: "Great. Thank you, I'll just take that then."
Officer still holding on to the passport and smiling: "What about baksheesh?"

The penny dropped: So THAT is what this had all been about. We are such square Canadians that we don't even see the signs. But the thing is, we're such square Canadians that we don't pay bribes to get through international airports either. So we said, thanks buddy, but we don't think so. (Actually, YK's exact words were: "No baksheesh, you are a civil servant.") We grabbed the passport and went to baggage claim.

I've been in plenty of situations where extra money was requested or I was over charged. And in fact (see previous post: Malesh) I feel in some cases that me getting "taken for a ride" and paying extra during these hard times in Egypt is fine.

But today was not on. Officials using their position to intimidate us for money rattled me. And it left a really bad taste in my mouth. After returning from a holiday in Kenya where poverty is rampant but people are friendly, gentle and humble -- this was a jarring and unpleasant re-entry to life in Cairo.

As we pulled out of the airport, Cairo looked like an ugly hungry, beast. It was the first time in the six months I've been here that I felt that way.

1 comment:

Tiffany said...

Ugh. How distasteful. I've never even gone through customs here, I just pay the AUC guy to take me through. Now I'm convinced it's worth the LE 40.