Saturday, 16 October 2010

Sign the Confession Mr. Newall - 22/09/10 – 24/09/10

Location: Shymkent to Taraz.
Date: 22/09/10 – 24/09/10
Distance covered: 154.76 Miles
Overall distance: 4, 283.9 miles

“$100 Mr. Philip Sean” announced the head officer at the border. The stars on his shoulder distinguished his position of importance. He wrongly read my name from my passport that he had firmly in his possession. “You must pay us $100,” he repeated. I sheepishly corrected him about my name and looked around the large office helplessly trying not to make eye contact with the four other border guards that were deemed necessary to handle my case.

My eyes fell upon the large map of Kazakhstan that covered the wall to my left. Without thinking I scanned along the route from Uralsk to Taraz that I had finally completed. Compared to my relatively quick journeys through the other 8 countries that I had crossed, this had felt long. All I had wanted to do was leave Kazakhstan as well. Ever since being ill in the desert I wanted nothing more than to be out of this country. Each day it seemed it would give me a new problem. Be it, riding in the desert or on terrible roads, worrying about crossing Russia again or about wolves at night and of course problems with food and being ill.

The buoyant feeling I had from arriving at Taraz, the final town in Kazakhstan was fading fast. It had taking me a day and a half to cover the distance from Shymkent to there. I was still not fit either. I was maybe at 65 percent fitness. My legs felt heavy and body was still weak. I would have stayed in Shymkent if the deadline for China wasn’t so close. I had enjoyed my time in Shymkent. Well the time not spent on the toilet anyway. I had my first proper wash since Moscow. Trust me this was much needed after the desert illness episode. I was even fit enough to wander around the near vicinity of the hotel I was staying at for food and the search for an internet connection.

It was during one of these walks, that a Kazak woman started chatting to me. I was wearing my UNICEF T-shirt as it was the only clean item of clothing left. She recognized the logo and assumed that I worked for them. She went on to explain the situation of her son getting beat by his teacher at school. It really was a shocking tale and should not be happening to the boy. She was looking for help from me, in her eyes a representative of UNICEF, with this situation.

I went on to explain that I was only fundraising for UNICEF and did not directly work for them. But pointed her in the direction of the UNCIEF website where I thought she might be able to get some help. This conversation really did highlight the importance of the work that UNICEF does. But mostly it highlighted why it is such a valid cause to fundraise for. As a random woman, on the street can see the logo and identify it as being a possible source of help.

After we parted I was accosted by a man that also noticed the UNICEF logo. He however made the connection with Barcelona a proud supporter of UNICEF. He was clearly drunk and kept trying to grab hold of me. His repeated neck flicking, the Russian sign for drinking, more than hinted that he wanted me to join him. This is a major downside of this part of the world. There is a serious alcohol problem. Anyway all I wanted to do was to get back to the toilet. So I made my excuses and left.

Back in the office the head guard said, “Do you understand? You must pay $100.” To which I replied “No, I don’t understand.” So yet another guard arrived and it became quite apparent that this woman was to be my translator. Not a very good one I might add! Guards came and left the room. The head guard left with my passport. So the other guards took this opportunity to ask me about my trip. Considering the situation I thought it was wise not to get angry and answer them politely.

The head guard then returned with my passport and showed me the arrival slip I had received from entering the country. He pointed out a section of English on the back. It stated that I had to register in the country after five days. I hadn’t done this so maybe I was rightly at fault. With registration came a second stamp on the arrival slip. I only had one. However the UK is part of the EU stable group of countries that does not need to register I explained. My translator ignored my argument. This annoyed my a lot as it was true I did not need to register. But they were right I did not have the second stamp.

I was unaware that when entering the country the border guard was supposed to stamp this slip twice. So they were at fault. I could see they were a bit flustered when I retrieved a document from Kirsty clearly stating this. The translator read it to the other guards. Only for them to reply “No this is wrong, you pay us $100.” They then started moving me upstairs and downstairs. More questions were asked. Particularly along the lines of why I had committed this “crime”. But since I knew that I did not need to register they seemed to be unsure as to what they were going to do with me.

I thought I would get my passport back and be allowed to leave. This wasn’t to be. Not till they got the $100. I felt vulnerable and helpless. Even though they were in the wrong I was still the one being punished. They had my passport and I couldn’t leave without it. I had no choice but to pay the $100.

Even this was complicated. It meant going the 15km journey back to Taraz. I was chauffeured by two young guards in an army jeep to the bank. This seemed more than a little suspicious to me that I had to pay the money into a bank account. But what choice did I have. To add further misery to the situation, I caught my cycling shorts getting out of the jeep. This ripped a large hole down the side. What next I thought? After the money was paid into the bank my escorts boasted how they had got three more like me to pay last month. All I could think was they are going to have a cracking works night out this year with all this scam money. My escort asked me a question, “I don’t think you will come back Kazakhstan?” I gave a wry smile which more than answered this question.

Then the final insult came. As if the last four hours of questions and the $100 “fine” had not been enough. They made me write a confession. I was even shown an example by the translator on how I should confess. My first attempt was not to my guard’s satisfaction. I clearly did not confess to the appropriate crime. So I had to rewrite the confession until they were happy with it. Only after signing this and a good few other forms that I couldn’t read; could I leave. They gave me my passport back, stamped it and told me to leave. I could finally continue the journey. Dazed, disappointed and very angry I pushed Kirsty towards the Kyrgyzstan border. It was back to getting to the China border for the 27th of September.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear about your troubles at the border Sean. I hope they gave you a copy of the confession to frame when you get home.

    Fingers crossed Krygyzstan will be as kind to you as it was me.

    Keep at it.


    (P.S. That's the first blog post I've seen tagged "Scammed"!)