Friday, June 18, 2010

Rubber Stamp: My "Run-in" at the Airport Part 2

Thanks for coming back…here is the 2nd half of the story. If you missed part 1, you can read it here.

These posts are contributing to another blog carnival by Lonely Planet Blogsherpa’s.  The carnival is being hosted by GingerBeruit and her theme is Rubber Stamp – travelers’ stories of border crossings, passport nightmares, run-ins with the police, etc.  The carnival goes live June 21.


When I left off in Part 1, I had “run-in” to the airport in Gabon and then I was being hassled by some punks in the parking lot.
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 I was nervous and I was concentrating on avoiding further hassle.  There is no one around and now I’m going to have to stop and deal with the toll gate.

Part 2
 I stepped on the gas as I made a quick left hand turn towards the gate…the next thing I know, I am not in control.  It is like a slow motion dream.  I can hear the rev of the engine and the squeal of tires.  There is a metal scrunching sound and I must have hit the brakes.  When I come out of the dream, the front of the car is now up on top of those metal poles that stick out of the ground, several feet in the air.  Pointing into the night sky.  I thought I was screwed before, now I am totally f*&$’d.

I am in shock.  What the hell did I just do? If I go forward, I will impale the car on the poles.  If I reverse, I will rip the front of the car off.  I want to leave my body and scream at myself…and it’s not my car.  I also have a flight to catch.

Moments ago I felt completely alone, now that I’ve done something completely stupid, there is a crowd.  Included in the crowd are several security guards from the airport…where the heck were you guys a few minutes ago?  As far as the few punks who started this nightmare, they are mixed in the crowd and I can’t tell who is who.

Since I am part of the embassy community, I call our Regional Security Officer, Tom and attempt to explain what happened.  He is on his way.  I know the drill. Stay in the car, don’t go with the police if they come.  How am I going to deal with this?  I also call the general services officer to se if we have connections to someone with a towtruck. We don’t, but he’ll see what he can do.

Tom arrives and of course he can’t believe what he sees.  The Gendarme also arrived and neither could they.  After some discussion, they decide they need to take me in. Once you get taken in, you run the chance of never getting out. Court only convenes three or four times a year.  Judges hear cases for a few weeks and then they go on hiatus again until the next time.  I have heard stories from locals of cases never ever coming to trial.  A life sentence for petty larceny.

Tom is cool, confident and adamant, “absolutely not, he is not going anywhere.  He is a diplomat, it’s against the Geneva convention, that is not happening”. Music to my ears.

During this discussion, more people are gathering and one guy is organizing everyone to lift the front of the SUV off of the poles.  Ten or fifteen people surround the front of the vehicle.  I get in and put it in neutral.  They literally lift the front of the car off of the poles and place it down on the ground.  I am relieved and ecstatic and passing out $10,000 CFA notes to all who participated. It feels like a 4000lb SUV was just lifted off of my shoulders.  Merci, merci.

The Gendarmes could care less.  They wave everybody off, they just want to take me in.  One of our locally employed expeditors, Saibo, is now on the scene.  Saibo spends much of his time at the airport expediting US staff and packages.  He definitely knows the inns and outs of the airport.  Tom gives the Gendarmes the bit again about the Geneva convention, its against the convention to contain a diplomat and since we’ve been with them so long he considers it containment.  Now they want my paperwork.  Tom takes my license and registration.  He tells them that “he” will hold my paperwork.  I will go back to the compound and then he and Saibo will go with them to the office.  Saibo knows better, the airport office, not the police office.  He will bring in airport officials and they can all deal with any insurance paperwork.  Tom knows that I have to catch a flight and he waves me off, “have a safe flight.”  Thank you Tom!

I made my flight.  I dropped the car off back home.  A quick change, an apple for dinner and a friend gave me a ride back to the airport.  I was nervous that their would be cops waiting for me at the airport, but there weren't.  The car was damaged and the AC was leaking.  Unfortunately Candace had to deal with it in country.  My bill so far is $1500, but I’m sitting in Central Park writing this post and not sitting on the floor in the Libreville jailhouse.

Please click through to read more rubber stamp stories by other Lonely Planet bloggers.


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