Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Passport (07/25/05)
TITLE: Nias Fiasco
By Karen Jimmy
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There were eight of us, and all eight of our passports were now in the hands of a sneering, rifle-bearing customs official in the sleazy, west-Sumatran port town of Sibolga.
I was the only Aussie among three Scandinavians and four others from the U.S. Somehow these port official guys had gotten wind of my nationality, and they’d seized our passports to verify the rumour. It was only a few months after 9/11 had rocked the planet and apparently Aussies were now none-too-popular in Indonesia because of our Prime Minister’s support of President Bush.
We knew something was “sus” about these guys taking our passports (after all, we weren’t leaving the country, just going to another island). But what can you do in a foreign country when a scary crazy guy in uniform- carrying a gun, no less- demands something of you? Nothing, except exactly what he wants!
While we nervously waited, we heard rumours that freaked us out. Someone said that just one month previous, an Aussie trying to board a boat at this port had been doused with fuel and set alight.
Out for an eight-week mission trip that was set to encompass Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, our first stop was to be the island of Nias, off Sumatra’s west coast. By the time we would finally get there, we would have already been travelling almost a week. We hadn’t wanted to go through Sibolga, but were left with no other option when the only available airline (with the dubious name “SMAC”) wouldn’t take us. All the travel guide books referred to Sibolga as “the hell you have to pass through to get to heaven (Nias)”. Sitting at the port in the midst of our passport debacle, we were beginning to see why.
The gun-toting port thugs were standing outside our parked minivan in a sinister circle, perusing our passports and trying to decide what to do. Some of them started shouting for “the Australian” to get out of the vehicle, at which point I dropped whatever was left of my “brave leader” façade and burst into tears. Suddenly, I didn’t want to be a missionary anymore!
Eventually, after paying the right amount of bribe money (a big chunk of our team’s limited outreach funds), they gave our passports back and let us get on the boat. And I, “the Australian”, even got on the boat unscathed- at least physically! We were all more than a little emotionally overwrought, but upon finally reaching Nias, all our hassles back in Sibolga had faded into a dim dark memory upon discovery that this gem of an island truly was like a little slice of heaven…
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