Arrest in West Africa
After my trip in Guinea I thought to travel to Serra Leone, the next country on my way down south West Africa, but I didn’t really know if I can go there with an Israeli passport, so I went to their embassy in Conakry (Guinea’s capital) to clarify the issue. To my surprise, the embassy did not really care where I am from or what I’m plans to do there, $100 and within five days I have a visa. I was pleased that the ease of it I did not think deeply about the fact that I left my passport at the embassy that has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and in addition to all that I plans to travel the country (Guinea), which also has no diplomatic relations with Israel for five days and without documents.
We probably wonder way I just didn’t stay in Conakry for these 5 days, the answer is simple. Believe it or not, Conakry is dirty and expensive version of the Gaza Strip, Plastic bags everywhere, trash in the streets, buildings, broken, rotten skeletons of cars and hundreds of thousands of hungry people , and if that’s not enough there is not even good humus here! I must say the food in West Africa is terrible in general.
So I preferred to pass my time and spend my money at least on a beautiful places. The problems began 100 km from Conakry with the first military checkpoint. We arrived “checkpoint” – a tightrope on the road with colored plastic bags on it. A soldier stands next to the checkpoint with a tight blue top , a huge gold watch, a gold chain and big aviator glasses. I tried to explain to him that I had a passport that I left it at the Embassy of Serra Leone . After two other soldiers, came and then the Commander of the “checkpoint”, looks like a scary and colorful mix of a pimp and a boxer. He did not really speak English and after a few attempts to explain the situation to him I realized he was not really going to let me go. After the arguments of almost ten minutes the Commander got angry and demanded that I pay him $ 15 fine so if I want to go through!
Long story short the commander all must lost it, and I need to pay him $3 to go though the “checkpoint”” after all he was armed and I’m also pretty sure dangerous.
I didn’t not know it then but to get out of town was the easy part of the story, getting back in is the real problem! I don’t know the reason from preventing people from entering Conakry but I do know that a man with a Middle Eastern appearance, with a black beard, no documents trying to go into the capital city coming from the border with Mali- a country that taking over by Al-Kaida
Now you can understand the big problem i was at.
I started with my usual story, the soldier sends me to the commander, who sent me to his commander. Strong little guy, I was slightly worried that nobody asked money form me. After a second I worried even more when he told me to take my bag out of the taxi and enter to his car!
We drove an hour to the Police / Army station.I wanted to say to him that it’s just me, just a traveler, but I knew it did not really help so I leaned against the window and enjoyed the view and the free ride.
When we arrived at the station he toke me though a long hallway, three steps then a room. He told me to sit down on the chair and left. Apart from the chair in the room, and a large wooden table was there three men, two in uniform and one in civilian clothe. I said: “Salam Alaikum” and they replied: ”Alaikum Salam”. silence. Then they asked me Israel? I said yes. Jew? I said yes.
A soldier? – I said no, no soldier , but then i was asked again! Not a soldier, I replied. Tourist? Yes, I tourist. Just a tourist? yes. Then the guy in civilian clothes started asking me questions in fluent English. How did you get here ?, where did you enter the country? Where is your passport? You’re a Jew? You’re a soldier? You were a soldier? You’re a tourist? You’re an arms dealer? You’ve never been a soldier? But you Jewish? Do not have a weapon?
After he asked and I said he translated to the others. Again I repeat my story, and for the first time something finally understand me, I asked him to call the Ambassador of Sierra Leone, but he said it was impossible ! we need to wait for the commander of the area, he wanted to investigate me personally. Then they told me to get up, took me to a small room with two old mattresses on the floor and told me to wait until the commander arrives.
Now I know it, I was arrest in West Africa!
Later on this night the commander arrived, they all salute him, I stood up. Again the same questions. Where are you from? passport? A soldier? Weapons … ..
I ask the commander to call the ambassador of Sierra Leone , but he refused.
Again same questions all over again -you are a soldier, an arms dealer? no no no!! I am an Israeli tourist. He told me to open my big bag and take it all out, it was a dark room with a flashlight, I felt a little bit like in a movie, and not a good one.
But then the situation get even more complicated, the commander found my old passport that I keep because I have in it a visa to South Africa that I could still use. Besides it is completely useless, and when I got a new passport at my lest visit in Israel, the Foreign Ministry cat my passport sides, mark it as unusable and gave it back to me.
Once the commander found my old passport he said “ if your passport is cut its probably has a good reason for it, then he looked inside and saw that he was still valid until 2018. Old is Not !.
My passport was full of stamps from different places in the world- Mozambique, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Serbia, India, China, Russia, Ukraine, Ethiopia …. And without any visa or entry stamp to Guinea or any other country in west Africa. I knew I had to do something because if it goes on like that I probably spend a few months in prison in Guinea, before anything even checking my story.
I ask the guy that could spike English for his phone to call Sierra Leone ambassador, but he said i can’t!! i begged him! pls’ I must have your phone!! Sorry hie said, I can’t! I looked at him an offered to pay him 5$- He said o.k.
I think I woke him up, told him the difficult situation briefly and handed the phone to the commander. The Ambassador talk to the commander for a few minutes, and as time passed, the commander looked like a kid who someone stole his birthday present. At the end of the conversation, he told me to sit down.Then he got up and left the room. One of the officers came in and told me I could go….
Free man! again