Enemy at the Gate
Few of the most stressful moments that I have faced are at passport control/ immigration desks at international airports. Sometimes the stress gives way to relief, as in Singapore, where the person at the desk smiled and said "Aaww!! Sentosa for work?... No way!!"
Sometimes, on the other hand, stress gives way to a deep sense of hurt and outrage. In my latest trip abroad (South Africa), all was well, when we made our way in a bus towards the airport terminal at Jo'burg.
There were four counters for foreign nationals and two were being manned at the moment. By rather matronly African women. Everything was going fine and I was looking to follow Senior Leadership out of the immigration booths.
Suddenly, one more counter opened up and a dark man, medium height, walked in. If this was a Noir movie, I would have been struck with the sullen expression on his face. My heart skipped a tiny beat and decided to catch up fast with the miss.
I went to the man and handed him my passport. He looks at me says, "Hand me your vhnreve"... or some such nonsense.
"Hand me your what?", I asked.
Now, since he was murmuring below his breath, I could not understand properly. In most civilisations, my question would have been answered with a polite clarification. But not in Jo'burg. And not by the dark man.
He looked at me with slit eyes and said.
"Not your visa. I know that passport has the visa inside it. Your ticket's what I said."
Obviously, there's no scope for witty repartee at passport control. I handed over my ticket. The only thing that rose in protest were my goose bumps. I can stand sharp tongues. I can stand rudeness when accompanied by cold logic. However, rudeness within a service industry at the entry point to a country?
A minute later, I was free.
I will remember the bad vibes though. In Jo'burg.
P.S. Some of my friends told me that this was an Indian experience in South Africa. I don't know about that though.