Monday, February 25

Transjordan, Day Eleven: Coming Home

Since our transfer to the airport wasn't till 11:30, a couple of us decided to mop up the remaining sights in The Old City. The main highlight was the room of the Last Supper (which had since been turned into and out of a mosque), but we checked out King David's tomb directly underneath the room too. Unfortunately the Islamic Museum situated in the Al-Aqsa complex was closed.

But, at last, it was finally time to go home. Although on paper we didn't expect any hassles getting out of the country we played it safe and arrived at the airport over three hours before our scheduled departure. And assuming that the security we went through wasn't merely designed to soak up all the spare time we had provided, we were lucky to have come to the airport early.

The first check was expected and on entry to the airport itself. We were used to being stopped in our taxi by now and took it in our stride. What happened next was a surprise though; even before checking in we had to have all our luggage scanned, opened and searched, as well as ourselves manually body searched.

The most interesting part of this phase were the people. It's totally unfortunate to say this, but 90% of the Israelis we had met on this trip either had their guns or their suspicions pointed at us. This check was the first time we had met any Israelis who appeared to be normal, off-the-street types. They were friendly, conversant, open and made jokes both between themselves and with us (although unlike a certain male travelling companion of mine I resisted flirting back with some of the more prettier baggage guards). It made me regret that I hadn't put in more of an effort to meet more of the same during my stay here.

After we had checked in we were VIP'd straight to passport control, which was handy (we were used to being publicly singled out by then so there wasn't much embarrassment). It wasn't over yet though - once again passport control had our passports taken away and we were asked to sit and wait, this time for around 30 minutes.

We were told that our hand luggage required checking. This was a much more through check - they unpacked and went through everything, this time without a scan to guide their meticulous search. Amusingly my hand luggage purely consisted of dirty underwear and socks accumulated over the last ten days and it gave me great pleasure to see them wade through it all. Still, in retrospect I should have had everything checked in when I had the chance - there certainly wasn't any need for me to have my camera on me at least.

The second body search was also more thorough than before. For the first time this visit I had to remove my outer clothing too, presumably due to the metal zipper I had (the previous searches had seen me with plastic button ups). Ironically I even got an apology from the guy doing the pat down - and that after he brought up the fact that I had already been searched with his supervisor. He probably didn't realise how much I had appreciated the gesture.

Meanwhile my companions were getting increasingly frustrated by our treatment. I secretly hoped no one would blow a gasket.

It was obvious that the objective of our treatment had changed. We weren't asked at all about what we had done or who we had met or what kind of Muslims we were. They just wanted to make sure we had nothing that would cause a problem on the flight, and once I had become assured of this I knew it would have just been a matter of time before we were let go. We made it to our departure gate 30 minutes before it was due to open.

Nevertheless, I was still fully on guard till we reached Zurich, and only really totally relaxed once we had landed at London City. Now usually I'm glad to be home from any kind of time abroad, but this time I was especially so. There was just a noticeable sense of relief, pride and freedom - it was liberating to not be asked about our movements or intentions. That really is something we all might take a bit too much for granted; and yet its only now I realise exactly how important it is for the UK not to head in that direction too.