It likely didn’t help that I looked radically different from my passport photo.
Or that I was coming in on a Canadian passport but called Poland home.
But it must have been my nonchalant answer of how long I’ve actually known him that really threw them off.
A Stormy Start
It’s eleven o-clock at night at Warsaw airport. All I can make out through the darkness is the sleeting rain beating on the windows at my gate. Hurricane winds are rumoured, but the only confirmation the bright blue monitors provide is that my flight to Tel Aviv is already over an hour late.
On the plane, it is all dark curls and kippahs. Even in their absence, it’s as if the Israelis can sense each other, pick each other out. I feel out of place. The young man beside me asks if I speak Hebrew and I shake my head ‘no.’ He smirks. It feels as if there is a bond between them, a bond that rolls its eyes at the ignorance of the rest of the world. If I knew anything at all about their culture, I might agree.
The First Interview
We land, and after a series of turns through the airport, I am in a line up. The line-up. The one where it is more likely than not that I would be questioned, held back, detained. The wait is agonizing. My line seems to be the only one not moving, and when it does, it’s only because someone gets pulled aside.
The white wooden booth is cold, intimidating. Inside, the customs controller is pretty, professional, and uniformed, with features that I remember as being sharper than they probably were. She can’t be more than thirty.
“Do you have another piece of identification?” Her eyes flicker from me to my passport.
I hand her my driver’s license.
“What is the purpose of your visit?”
“To see a friend of mine.”
“How do you know him? For how long?”
I quickly realize that “met him in Italy three months ago” is not the right answer. But she continues asking, so I continue remembering to breathe.
No, I don’t know anyone else.
Yes, I have his address.
Yes, I have a ticket back.
Yes, you can see it.
After five or six minutes, I get a stamp and a green Gate Pass that is exactly not the colour of everyone else’s.
The Second Attempt
“Passport?” The man I hand it to is tall with a medium build, but doesn’t look like he has the authority to tell me to do anything.
“Why are you here?” he asks.
“To visit Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.” I say this time.
“Where are you staying?”
“With a friend of mine.”
Wrong answer again.
“Please take a seat over there.” Keeping an eye on my passport in his hand, I politely make my way over to a bench.
Third Time’s the Charm…Kind of
A lady in heels, blazer, and skirt walks up, taking my passport from him. She oozes importance. Round three.
“How do you pronounce your name? Where is that from? So are you traveling? Or living in Poland?”
She doesn’t seem to like my answers, but continues to question me anyway.
“And who are you staying with? When did you meet him?”
“This April?…When did you know you were coming to Israel?”
“What do you mean your other trip was cancelled?”
When she finally hands me my passport and tells me to “enjoy” without so much as a blink, I am simultaneously surprised and exhausted. I tread cautiously up the ramp, weary of any remaining gate keepers I might find.
Itai is patiently waiting for me. It is now 5 in the morning but my hunger for learning about this country is strong. We head home on the empty five-lane highway, and as the sun rises, I finally realize the significance of where I am.