I’d like to say, first, why I am back in the UK and then I will go back in my memory almost a month to say what I couldn’t when I was in the hands of the Saudi Arabians.
I arrived early morning of March 29 in the east of Jordan at the Al Omari border crossing. I was welcomed by the border police after showing them my letter in Arabic, which explained what I was doing and why I was there, and they kindly sent someone with me to see the manager of the border who I hoped would help me to cross.
After about an hour or so I managed to convince the authorities and they kindly helped me, even paying for my exit tax. They knew I didn’t have a Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) visa and in Arabic they were saying “the Saudis will deport him back,” but they let me go through and there I was, going into my 14th country, towards the 80th town, city or village of my journey. I had a nice breakfast in the no man’s land between the borders with some truck drivers, who had already seen me on my way from Al Aqaba, then I headed straight towards the border town of Al Hadithah in the KSA.
Near to the border building I was stopped and asked “where are you going and what are you doing?” so, as I have done before, I showed them my message in Arabic but the border police kept saying “Visa, visa, no visa, no Saudi Arabia!” They said I have to go back to Amman, the capital of Jordan, to get a visa for KSA, then come back. I was saying “I have not gone to any embassy to get a visa and I don’t go now as well,” and I asked if I can see the manager of the border. They let me go another 300 yards to another set of buildings where passport issues are dealt with. After about an hour they were still just saying “visa, visa” over and over, as though they were thinking I didn’t understand, so again I asked for the manager. They told me it was Friday and the manager was not available and even the governor of Al Hadithah town was not available. They asked me to stay in a room and wait to see what we can do, see if they could get in touch with the main people by phone and hopefully get a response from them.
I waited until late afternoon and the border guards kindly invited me to have a late lunch with them, which was a mixture of rice, chicken and some kind of vegetable in a big round tray. All of them were eating with their right hands, and I realised I was eating with my left hand and they were sort of offended and told me to eat with my right hand, as this is their tradition and I should do as they do. I found out later that the reason for this is to do with using your left hand in the bathroom and it is not good to use the same hand for eating, you must always use the right hand and never mind how much dirt you might have under your right hand finger nails! There was no sign of any spoon or fork, so I got on with it and ate as much as I could and thanked them for the food.
The authorities made a copy of all the pages of my passport and of my Arabic letter and my letter of support from Occupy. The news quickly went around that the Israelis had refused to let me into Palestine. After another hour or so (by this time it was about 5:30 pm) they asked me to get into a car and they were going to take me back to Jordan. I refused and walked to the first checkpoint of the KSA border and told them “I don’t go anywhere unless I hear a refusal from the manager of the border or the governor of the town” and I told them I wanted to see the manager and the governor before doing anything more, so they asked the guard at the border to make sure I didn’t go anywhere until Saturday or Sunday, by which time they thought they could get some official letters ordering me to go back to Jordan.
So it was over this weekend that I managed to get friendly with the border police and one of them kindly lent me his ipad so I could briefly go online and tell people what was happening. It was around this time that I found out my weblog was not accessible.
I stayed in the border building until Sunday and in the morning some police officers in civilian clothes arrived and they were telling me “we are like the FBI in America” and “we are just here to find out that you are ok and you are eating well and being looked after.” I told them I was ok and again I reiterated that I would like to see the border manager or the town governor and I showed them my Arabic letter again. Surprisingly they all said it was a great letter but soon after they left, at about 2pm, the same officer who had tried to take me back to Jordan on Friday came along with a letter written in Arabic to say both the governor and the manager of the border wanted me to be deported.
I went to look at the time on my phone and realised my phone was missing, so I said “I am not going anywhere without my phone.” I decided to leave the border buildings and walk about 150 yards towards Jordan and set up my peace camp. I told the officials that I wasn’t going to leave without first seeing the manager or governor. In the area I moved to people were coming and going and seeing me and seeing the board that explained about my peace mission. I was talking to people about why I was there and I found a good person who passed some messages to friends in England who were worried about me and he also took the photo that is now on my weblog. My camp survived only a day due to heavy sandstorms that came every day, so I move my camp into an abandoned car beside the main dual carriageway.
I have managed to stay on the dual carriageway for a little more than a week (from 31.03.13 to 07.04.13). It was on 31.03.13 – the day the Saudi authorities wanted to deport me back to Jordan – that I lost (or, I believe, had taken away by border police) my dual sim card mobile phone, which had all my contacts on it and other data. The border guards were telling me that truck drivers might have taken my phone to sell, so “we can’t do much about it,” and I told them “you can’t hold me in a place like you did, with all my stuff there, and just let truck drivers come and look at all my stuff and anyway, why would they just take my phone and nothing else, when I have other stuff with me which is more expensive than the phone?” After this I didn’t want to talk with them anymore so that was why I decided to go and camp about 150 yards away from their building. They were not allowed to come out to me but I wasn’t far from them, so I could have called upon them if I ever got into any trouble on the dual carriageway.
So, this stretch of road was about a mile long and I was camped at the far end of it near the Saudi side and not near the Jordanian side. On one side of the road, the side going towards Jordan, it was mostly trucks with Lebanese number plates waiting for the war in the part of Syria close to Lebanon to stop, so that these trucks could set off to go back to Lebanon. Some of the drivers were there on the road and some had flown back from Jordan to see their families and then were coming and going, waiting hopefully until they could all go back through Jordan and Syria and back to Lebanon (and some to Turkey as well). My message of peace and saying the war in Syria has to stopped immediately was well received and the truckers were telling me “you are welcome to come and have your food and drink with us for as long as you are here.”
On the other side of the dual carriageway it was mainly vehicles coming from Jordan and going back to KSA and it was on this side where I put all my stuff into an abandoned, broken windowed car to shelter there after my tent was blown away by strong winds on 01.04.13. I was based in the car until 06.04.13 and it was on 05.04.13 that all my belongings were stolen while I was away having some food at the other end (Jordanian end) of the road. I was away between 8pm and 11pm, mostly talking with the different truck drivers, and when I came back, I found myself in my shelter place with nothing left, almost everything had been taken away from me. It was too late for me to go out and enquire about what had happened so I waited until the next day and then I started to look for my stuff. I found some of my clothes, papers and food, they had been taken and then abandoned, but there wasn’t any sign of my passport, driving licence, Samsung Galaxy note 2 and -16 degree sleeping bag, nor my rucksacks and many more items (later on I did list them and discovered that more than 25 major items were missing). I spoke to the British Embassy in Riyadh about the theft and they told me they would make an official enquiry with the Saudis and get back to me, but before I heard anything about my stolen stuff, the Saudis decided to deport me back over the Al Omari border into Jordan.
The day before I lost everything in my shelter place, a Saudi policeman and a civilian came in the early morning to my place and said “so you are sheltering here overnight, are you ok here?” and I told them “it is better than your place, where my phone went missing.” The next day the incident of my stuff going missing happened, so I had a feeling that I better had move out before they did any harm to me. That’s why this time I didn’t resist going back to Jordan, because I just told myself “they can easily get rid of me, as they did to my stuff.” I really didn’t feel at all safe in that place any more.
I have to say, there was so much going on at this mile stretch of land between Saudi and Jordan; I heard from Saudi people that this was the busiest route in their country, linking India, Pakistan and all the other Gulf states to Jordan Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Europe as a whole. People in this border land were consuming alcohol and drugs and doing business with petrol. In Saudi petrol apparently is cheaper and in Jordan more expensive, so there were many locals trying to go to Jordan to sell petrol every day, and some of these people were helping me with food and water.
On the 07.04.13, my last day on this border, I did finally meet the manager of the border and I spoke to him about my ordeal and he told me “we will sort things out before end of the day.” I really thought he was going to help me go through, but by 3pm three officers turned up to take me back to the Jordanian side of the border – that as what the manager meant by “sort things out” – and my 10 days in hell finished without me get hurt, at least the not getting hurt was a good thing.
I call it ten days in hell because I really didn’t enjoy my time there on the Saudi border. After me losing everything, the authorities were still just saying “where is your passport?” and not taking into account my losses; they were talking to me as if they didn’t know anything about what had happened or about peace or my pilgrimage, all they cared about was a passport and a visa. When I had the conversation with the manager of the border he was telling me, “you know this is Saudi Arabia and everyone needs a visa if they want to come here and it really doesn’t matter whether you do a peace pilgrimage or anything else.” I even told the three guards, when they were taking me back, “wherever you are taking me to is better than this hell,” and they were laughing and saying “we are taking you back to Jordan.”
So, that was how I lost everything, and had to come back with nothing. After going back into the hands of the Jordanians I was questioned by their intelligence agency, as happened before at the Jordanian-Israeli border when I was deported back from Israel. I told them what I had lost and gave them a copy of my list of lost items and they kindly arranged for me to get to Amman, the capital of Jordan.
I got into Amman about midnight and went to the British Embassy with a copy of my stolen passport and the security people at the embassy told me go back the next day because they were closed for the night, so I stayed around a busy area near the embassy until morning. It was busy all night until about 4am, so I went into a 24 hour shop and I told them my story and said that if I had a razor I could have shave, so if the embassy needed a photo I wouldn’t look like I had come back from hell. As soon as the person working there saw my Arabic letter he provided me with a razor and so I went to another place to ask if I could use their bathroom to shave and they were happy and even brought me a cup of coffee as well. That was the last time I was doing my peace mission without money.
The next day, 08.04.13, I went back to the British Embassy and explained to them what had happened. I was given 20JD which is about £20 and I went out and I started to eat by buying food, rather than by talking to people, for the first time in very nearly six months (five months, 16 days and 10 hours to be exact).
This peace mission without money was the greatest challenge of my life so far. I am sure it has prepared me to do more and next time with different ways of looking at things and with more experience in hand.
One thing I realised on my journey was that a lot of problematic things to do with money can be escaped from and it is good to be away from these things but I missed many things too and had cravings for things that I couldn’t often get with my talking! I learned I have to just be more patient and wait until those things come later. That last day in Amman I realised that I wanted to have a lot of icecreams and mixed juices which throughout my journey I didn’t have. In Amman with the embassy money I had plenty of it and now I don’t crave it any more.
I have to say I was a bit demoralised after that ten days in the Saudi border land but I managed to get in touch with some good people back in the UK and they kindly helped me to get an emergency travel passport and a plane ticket from Amman back to the UK and now am I back in England, reflecting on the journey.
Before I finish up this chapter of my journey, I would like to go back to Al Arish in Egypt and say some more about my travel from there all the way to the Jordanian-Saudi border.
In Al Arish, as I mentioned before, I met Mr Mohamed Abu Eta, a journalist from AA Egypt-Sinai and he interviewed me and told me the interview would be published in the local newspaper (their Turkish branch already had an interview with me back in November).
I travelled down from the north east of Egypt to the south east and in the town of Nuweiba Mr Ramdan Mohamed, director of Canal shipping agencies, kindly helped me and managed to safely secure my passage to Al Aqaba.
On board the ship I met my third round-the-world cyclist, Mr Somen Debnath, who has spent almost 10 years of his life doing a bicycle tour for an HIV/AIDS awareness programme and also seminars on Indian culture (www.somen2020world.com, www.somen2020world.org and somen_debnath.livejournal.com). He was very impressed by what I had managed to do in just less than six months and surprised that I am speaking on so many different topics. He suggested I should be sending an email to many different organisations, companies and government bodies which might be agreeing on my peace mission and any of my main points, to ask them for support and to raise awareness about what I am doing; he said just letting people know about my mission in every place that I was heading towards could have helped greatly, but he was also saying “it is amazing that you have done all this yourself without any sponsor!” He said people will help you greatly so long as money is not involved. And he was so happy about what I was doing that he was almost talking more to people about my journey than about his own, which has been going on for a decade. I think our meeting had a good impact and I believe Somen will probably advocate more than just one cause now that he has seen me doing that!
After finding a tour manager at the Al Aqaba border who was willing to pay for my exit tax out of Jordan, and after convincing the Jordanians to let me pass, I crossed the border and was heading towards Eilat. As soon as I got near to the entrance for Eilat I was asked for my passport by an Israeli woman while being studied and monitored by a policeman in civilian dress but with an automatic weapon. Before I could go anywhere I was asked to take off everything apart from my shirt and trousers. Another two women joined us and questioned me. After a bit more than half an hour, I and all my stuff went through a scanning machine and I was taken about 100 yards further for more elaborate investigation and scanning. This time six more officers joined in and got busy with my stuff and I was undressed almost totally and checked with electronic devices to see whether I am carrying anything harmful. I realised the word peace has lost its meaning here a long time ago. They were not at all convinced I am on a peace pilgrimage.
After more than an hour of investigation of my physical body and my stuff and then waiting some more, maybe 2-3 hours, I was told I had passed all the security checks but they still wanted to know what was my intention of taking peace into Eilat? They also wanted to know how many other places was I going to visit on my peace journey, how many places had I visited so far, how long had I stayed there, and what have I been doing for the more than 40 years of my life? Also, where are my family members and what are they doing, what are their contact numbers? What organisations and governments are supporting me on this peace mission and who has given me the Samsung Galaxy note 2, and what are their contact details? It was like more than 16 years ago when I landed in the UK and asked for asylum, except this time it was just a visit and a peace visit at that, to a land that has had so many troubles since the Roman times.
When I approached the border and saw the man in civilian clothes with the automatic weapon I had a bad feeling but I said to myself “just hope to get through and meet some of the people of this land.” Despite the bad feeling I patiently waited for all these procedures to go through and let them check every single item that I had and then I was deported back to Jordan. After more than 7 hours of questioning and searching, I was told “we will take you back to Jordan” and they put two big red stamps on a page of my passport, saying in big letters “entry denied.” It was sad that, just like this, the Israeli border guards could get everything out of you and then not let you go anywhere.
Later, I realised that as soon as I had entered the border area near Eilat, security guards were checking the address for my weblog on my information board. I think they looked at the blog and read all about my journey and possibly they found something that they didn’t like and possibly they thought I might see something to write about in their country that they wouldn’t like me to write about. When I heard from the Saudi police “here is going to be your last place of peace, it is a good time now for you to go back to UK”, and then all my stuff went missing, I wondered whether they got advice from the Israelis to take everything I own and so force me to go back that way.
As soon as I got my first refusal of entering a land, I was expecting more refusals to come. The Saudi refusal was an expected one. I could have continued but once everything was taken, I didn’t have any room to manoeuvre and finding an alternative route to India and then the rest of the world was just too hard to plan and cope with. The Jordanians were kind to me, but I think that was because of my status as a British national, not as a stateless Earthian. And so, I decided to call off my mission, after visiting more than 15 countries and over 80 towns, cities and villages during the first (to Iraq) and second (to Saudi) legs of my peace journey. The mission is definitely not finished yet and with the help of many good people all over the world, I aim to complete it one day – sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, I was thinking to prepare something for seminars and suchlike, so I can go to places and talk about what we can achieve as human beings, if we don’t look at each other as tools within a broken capitalist system in which life is good for a few and the rest are their slaves, but try to truly see each other, as human beings with hearts full of joy and no limiting fear or hatred.