It had always amused me that the French word for an ink stamp is a ‘tampon’.
Alas I no longer find it so funny – and here’s why:
Landing in Tel Aviv, Israel Sunday I’d heard a lot about the officious Israeli border police.
On the one hand I was dreading possibly having to spend hours in interrogation explaining the booty call behind every stamp in my two passports.
But on the other, it was only 4.30am, and there was a lot of time I’d have to otherwise kill before the 2pm check in at the Jerusalem hotel.
My first inkling that things would not go smoothly came almost immediately as I crossed the threshold from airline cabin to elevated walkway.
A young female customs officer singled me out from 50 metres for special questioning, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t to ask where I’d bought by crappy fake Panama hat (it’s an authentic Ecuador hat however).
If she thought my hat looked crappy, that was because she hadn’t yet seen my Australian passport. You can tell my passport is Australian because although only being seven-years-old it has the skin of a 50-year-old and possibly cancer too.
“Do you have any other ID?” She asked upon seeing it. Not a great start – what with passports usually being the standard bearers of identification and all. I fished around and retrieved my UK passport.
“Had I been to Malaysia,” she then asked, followed with “Did I have any friends there?” I didn’t think she wanted to hear “toilet paper and a glue-bag” so I replied in the negative, at which point she let me continue into the airport itself.
Ben Gurion airport is a modern building with a food court that’s abuzz even at 5am. But even so you still want to spend as little time as possible there.
Which is why recommend anyone to not tell the border police you’ve been to Lebanon. It was only a 5-day trip two years ago, but even that was enough to score me a 15-minute initial interrogation. I was then led away and told to sit on my own in a room – I’m sure it said “Principal’s Office” in Hebrew –while my details were further examined.
Another 10 minutes passed before the officer cheerfully poked her head around the door and asked me which passport I wanted the stamp in.
Critically, I asked for her to stamp the visa on a slip of paper instead of a passport – thereby saving me from needing a new passport should I wish to travel to Syria, Iraq or other tinpot democracy that will possibly expire well before the three years left until my passport does. She obliged, handing me a stamped pink slip of paper.
Passing through the customs control, there was another woman positioned to the side who was collecting everyone’s pink slips, and – again critically – I duly handed her mine.
After two days sans probleme in Jerusalem, my friend and I are about to head to Bethlehem. Informed journalist that I am, I have just realised that this Mecca of Christian cities lies in the Palestinian Territories, and therefore I will most likely need to show a passport with valid visa to enter. Well, surprise, I don’t have proof of either.
What I was sure to have proof of though was landing in the country – if only I could find my boarding pass.
With a growing sense of dread, I realised I’d thrown it out on arriving at the hotel – but luckily I was pretty sure I’d thrown it in the bathroom bin, which hadn’t yet been emptied.
After this moment of relief, my sense of dread grew even deeper as I realised that my friend has had rather a heavy period over the last few days, and –the state of 15th century-era Jerusalem plumbing systems being what it is – had been duly disposing of all sanitary items into said bathroom bin.
On top of my boarding pass. Donning a plastic bag as a glove, I ruefully thought that it only I’d thrown away my passport instead, at least it would have been ‘tamponed’.