Yesterday, I attempted to leave Russia out of St. Petersburg and into Munich. The airlines wouldn't issue me my boarding ticket. I couldn't understand why. They kept repeating, "Problem with Visa. Problem with Visa."
My visa said that I was to enter on Sept. 9 and leave Oct. 1. But, I entered on Sept. 14th and was leaving on Oct. 6th. It said I could stay for 22 days. When I entered Russia, I checked with Moscow Passport Control and explained how there was problem with my visa. It was five days too early and that I needed to stay 22 days.
The man at passport control said no problem. No problem. I thought it'd be ok too because a tourist visa is usually good for 30 days, and I didn't go over this period. Further, usually when you enter a country (except for Russia), they mark your entrance as the furst day and start counting to let you stay until your tourist period runs out. In my case, this would be 22 days. I was wrong.
At the airport, they didn't issue my boarding pass. I said, "I need to talk to someone. I need to talk to someone in charge." A hardened border patrol woman, in a light blue police-looking uniform comes up to me. She has black hair and black eyes and has a hardened look. As I described to my friend later, a third of her face looked like a dog, a third of it looked like woman, and the rest of a man. She looked at my visa and said, "You cannot leave today!" She spoke Russian with a Rossiya Airlines translator with me. The translator explained I was stuck.
I had the translator explain what I was told in Moscow. The hardened woman pointed to the visa expiration date and said what I even understood in Russian: No! I explained again what happened, and she repeated herself like a song on rewind.
I said, "Let me speak to her boss. Or let me speak to her alone."
She told the translator her response. The translator then said, "She says, 'She's too busy! To get out!'" She walked away and back to her little box with a window, in which people walked in front of her to her aisle
My problem was looking more and more hopeless. What could I do? I wasn't going to give up. My will was made up; I was going to leave Russia. I wanted to go Germany, which was a route on my way home.
I walked up to her aisle and stood there. I looked at her with silence and said to her in in Russian, "Please!"
In response she said, "Get out!"
I said, "No."
She took my passport and babbled Russian. I could make out though what she was saying. Get out. You're not leaving Russia!
I just stood there in silence looking at her with my dark, henna brown eyes. I wasn't leaving. She said, "Get out, or I'll call the police."
I don't know what came over me, but I shrugged, gesturing, I don't care if you call the police. She found my defiance disgusting, and she made a phone call.
Immediately, two Russian airport police officers showed up. They were thin and wore blue uniforms. Remember these colors becase I'll be referring to these people by their colors.
I can't remember how one of the officers looked, except he had those ice blue eyes. I clearly remember the other one. He was hansome and either in his late 20's or early 30's. He had ice blue eyes and looked like a rookie. But in his face, I saw kindness.
The dog-woman barked commands at the officer. They told me in broken English, "Leave. Please."
Again I said, "Net (No)."
They asked the dog-woman where I was from. She said, "America." The two stiffened at hearing I was a Roman Citizen. This was the first time abroad I was exploiting my citizenship for all that it was worth.
The two just stared into my eyes and were confused. They just stood there. Again they said, "Leave. Please."
At this point, I made the gesture to be arrested and said, "No!!" The dog-woman became angrier and hence, uglier. She began dialing the phone again and screaming commands into the phone. The handsome blue officer kept making my eye contact with me. I've seen that look before and instantly knew he was attracted to me. It could have been a physical one or maybe an emotional one, where he couldn't understand how a small guy like me could have such absolute resolve and courage to stand up against this lady. It could have been a combination of the two, but in either case, I've seen the look many times before; so, I needed any kinds of friends in this pickle.
I stared back with my ebony eyes into his icy cool ones and with them I sent him a message: Look: I just want to leave. I'm innocent. This is all just a misunderstanding.
As I've been told over and over again, communication is only 10-20% words, and it was certainly working. I connected with him in some mysterious human way, and he was like a snake to the snake charmer. I could feel my will seed it itself in him. This would be important later.
After the second phone call - two federal officials showed up. One was a beautiful, blonde Russian woman, the kind you see in movies. The other was a lanky, wiry, thin, ugly, and blonde man. He had crooked and bad teeth. There were two airport officials, a woman and a man in a suit (the airport officals we'll call them.) The blonde Russian woman explained to me the same thing dog-woman said. I responded about what I was told in Moscow. This was going no where.
The ugly man with bad teeth was more cunning. Ugly man said that he would help me get my ticket if I would leave the dog-woman's aisle. I studied his face and wasn't sure. I wanted to trust him because I wanted to go home but a deep instict told me this was a lie. At this point, the dog-woman, the blue uniforms (the airport police), the federal police, and the officials looked hopeful.
So, I walked a few steps out of the aisle, followed ugly man, and a metal shield was starting to slide down. Like Indian Jones, I flew back into her aisle. Dog-woman was infuriated and as a result, looked even uglier. Ugly man was pissed off (and I can't describe it another way). I can only say that to me, he looked even more pathetic angry than he did calm.
So - dog-woman made more calls. And in all this time, handsome airport police - kept making eye contact with me. He felt sorry for me. He wished he could do something. I could feel it.
My will had hardened like drying concrete slurry. I was mad too that I was lied to. Then, two more officers in grey and red came out. (Thus, this brings the count to two blue airport police, two federal police two grey police, two officials, and dog lady; that's 9 by my count.)
One of officers was a tall bear of a man and he pushed me out of the aisle because his body was large enough to stand between it. Dog-lady explained the situation. Beer Belly asked, "Where's he from?" She answered, "America." He stiffened, and I saw him confused. Obvioulsy, it was work to think, and he didn't do much of either.
Eventually, he pushed me out with his big and beer belly stature. Really - he pushed me out with his fat beer belly and just did it by running me over. The handsome airport police officer was sympathetic.
Hurray for them - victory! I was out the aisle. But my will had been made up: I wanted to go home. I did not want to go back into Russia. Therefore, I sat down on the floor, outside of dog woman's aisle. Now - everybody in the airport - passengers, staff, the cleaning people were wondering what the hell was going on. I just sat there, unafraid and unmoved and at peace.
The dog-woman retreated but the 8 officers stared at me with anger and thought what now. Nobody knew. There I was - just sitting in the middle of the floor. So - they all talked in Russian and thought to themselves they hatched some brilliant plan.
The two blue officers took the baggage off my airport baggage cart. They grabbed my shoulder, one on each side, and picked lifted me and placed me on the baggage cart. Both were gentle and kind., especially the handsome one. They were only following orders. Then they set my baggage on my knees and were ready to drag me out. I used a judo, ground slide. The baggage tumbled. There I was again: sitting on the floor.
Remember: the crowd was watching; thus, they were looking stupider. Again, there were 8 officers against one boyish looking guy. I mean really - how much of a threat was I?
Another call was made and three more people came. This brings the total to 12 now. Two of them were wearing military fatigues - colored in blue and grey camouflage. They were two men that were chubby but had a build of a rook underneath - the same kind my brother has. They were scary because they looked hardened and cruel. This told me they probably had already done all kinds of terrible things that I have no desire of knowing about. On them - they wore huge black batons. Yes, I felt fear, but then I told myself - I want to go home; so, I don't care how many weapons they flash before me.
The dog-woman came back out. She explained everything. The two bears looked at me like I was a simple problem for them to take care of. But then, they asked where I was from and she said once again, "America." At this word - they looked annoyed.
Who was the third person? A small lady of about 50-60 came in a biege suit. Don't you like the melody of colors? She had silver hair and was more dignified than the rest of them, but nonetheless, I've seen her type. Her manners were the velet covering an iron heart. She studied me and instantly knew what the rest did not: I more of a problem than she had originally thought.
The irony of the situation was the two most powerful players in this game were also the smallest and carried no weapons, shouted no words, or made no threats. I was wearing blue jeans, an A&F T-shirt, and tennis shoes. I looked like a 20-something college student, but she knew that there was more to this picture than a foolhardy young, tourist that I portrayed. Besides the director, they didn't know that I had just finished law school, took the bar, and was well on my way to becoming a license attorney. While I did not have any guns, batons, and knives, I was armed with words.
She spoke good English. She began the useless chatter of bureacratic rules and added, "What would you like us to do? We don't make the rules. We just follow them."
"What do you do?"
"I'll be a lawyer soon."
"Then you should know the laws of the country you're in."
But this is impossible in Russia, because as I've experienced again and again, the administration makes the rules as it goes along. In short - they do what they want - when they want. There is only one rule here: The government is always right. So, in this case, perhaps I should have submitted that it was right. But I could not because it was not.
I said few words in response, "I just want to leave."
"That's not possible. What do you want us to do?"
"Let me leave."
She started repeating the situation, and I interrupted trying to explain my side. She said, "Don't interrupt. Won't you let me talk. I'm here now."
I wanted to roll my eyes. I've used that line before. But I let her talk. She ended by saying, "You need to leave the airport."
I responded, "Why don't you arrest me then? Just arrest me. I'm happy for that to happen." I wanted to be arrested now. I knew then it would trigger a diplomatic chain reaction. This way, I'd also have a call and visit from my consulate. And most importantly of all - I wanted to share this story before a decision maker. I knew all these people would be in trouble if I could get arrested because it wouldn't be a good diplomatic move - when the person in charge found out I was arrested because I wanted to go home.
She paused and once again realized I was up to something - no good in her opinion. She responded in a predictable way, "Are you insane? You sound insane to me. Only crazy people want to be arrested. We'll send you to an insane asylum. Do you really want that?"
"Yes. I want to be arrested." All the while, all 11 other people are watching. I feel safer. My handsome officer has somehow become a guardian to me. I know he won't let me get hurt.
She - somehow - was thwarted. She showed she was irritable. The director made a call - and beer belly came out with some kinds of papers. I think they were arrest papers, but they looked official. I thought to myself - what'll happen next. Will I spend a day in prison with the Russian Spike? Well, if I do, I guess I'll tell him that there's hope that he can change and that life is worth living.
Then - two more people come. We're now at 13. They wore green official military uniforms and looked like officers. One looked cold and Ariyan. The other was beginning to enter into obesity and had black, oily curly hair and wore glasses. No doubt - his father put him in this position. They all started chattering in Russian, and I heard the word American being thrown around once or twice.
The two bears in military fatigues hooked my arm pits and tried to carry me out. I resisted and walked back to the aisle. Ugly man pushed me with a hatred inside of him; this was really just a hatred of himself. I tried to make the push look harder than it was by swaying with his force, and everyone looked concerned. They told him, No! No! The guardian looked even more concerned.
I sat down again. I then closed my eyes. They asked, "What is he doing?" I was praying. I was asking God to give me wisdom, to give me peace, and to help my find my way out of this situation.
I mean, what options was I left with? I think even if you were an athiest or an agnostic, when you're left with so little options, what else could you do but pray. Is that so dangerous? I heard Russian chattering and hearing the word meditation.
Now of all my acts of defiance, this one they hated the most. I heard more tense chatter. What was so dangerous about a person meditating or prayer. Whatever the reason, the room became tighter with tension. I felt the bears grab my wrists. I closed my eyes and still kept praying, and they dragged me out with my buttocks dragged against the floor. I looked like a rag doll in the hands of cruel bears. The crowd watched and stared in shock.
I was thrown out of the airport. I just sat there and thought what next. I waited five minutes. I walked passed customs without caring what they were saying. I showed them all their effort was wasted, and we were once again at square one. I stood in front of the aisle. The Green Officials, especially the Airyan, grabbed me by the collar of my shirt and pulled me out the airport.
By this time, my flight had already left. So - I really didn't know what to do. I then asked myself: What came over you? What if they had kneed your jaw and knocked out your teeth? What if they punched your cheek? What if they slapped your ear so it rang and burned and stang? What if they punched your stomach and knocked the air out of you?
But they did none of these things. In fact, 13 people were called out for one small, American guy who wanted to go home. I did not want to go back to Russia. I asked myself another question - do you feel any shame? I said, why should I be ashamed? When you were dragged out - who was in the one in power? I glibbly smiled and realized the answer. I also heard my mentor's voice remind me, "Don't get into trouble in Russia." Too late.
I brushed off the dust on my clothes. I walked passed customs once again. The oily hair green official noticed me but neither of us seemed alarmed. I pointed at ticketing, indicating I needed to sort this mess out. He escorted me to the ticketing office. I guess to them - I raised the white flag of surrender. To them - they won the war.
I can't understand Russia. I've been stopped on numerous occasions because I'm Asian. They hate Central-Asians here, and I suppose I resemble them. They're the Russian version of Mexicans. So - they stop you for a passport check, hopefully attempting to catch you with some visa problem (which we can all obviously see is not that hard to have). I mention this - to show you that Putin's Administration does not want me in Russia and constantly reminded me of this point.
But if the Administration does not want me in Russia - why won't it let me out of Russia?
I went to my American embassy. They were useless. I had to talk to my consulate on the phone because he was busy, driving with his assistant Svetlana. The people I saw leave the embassy looked like they were having a jolly time, drinking cappuccino and riding in fancy cars. I imagined my consulate riding in his mercedes while talking to me on a cell phone and saying best of luck to you with the Russians. HELLO - ONE OF YOUR PEOPLE ARE IN TROUBLE. When you get finished enjoying your high life, can you remember what you're here for?
I asked if they can have someone help me deal with the Russian Administration. Matthew, the one I imagine riding around in a Mercedes, told me they could not. See: I was right - I should have been arrested.
I called my host Sasha and felt shameful that I had to waste his time, energy, and worry. I told him everything and how stressed I was now. I said I was in a prison called Russia. I could travel anywhere in this vast country, but I was still in a prison.
He said, "Not bad prison. Good prison. St. Petersburg good place! Not like Siberia. You stay with me - 10 days, 12 days. It's ok. Good."
Bless his heart because he has one of gold. That did make my bleak situation seem brighter.
I said, "Yes, yes. I think so too. But, I'm still in prison."
[If my sense of lost dignity brought you any sort of entertainment value, can you send my story please to at least ten of your friends? If I can't get out of here, might as well let the American people know how the Russian bullies - the government - treated an innocent American tourist. That's all I have left.]