Monday, 3 September 2012
Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan, by Tom Denner. (Border crossing)
For a minute I pause in disbelief as we approach the crossing; the gates are shut and there seems to be no one crossing the border; it's closed. We approach the gate regardless to make sure, and a wave of relief sweeps over me as a guard appears. He opens the gate, and waves us through the radiation scanner to the customs and immigration building.
All in all emigration was a fairly painless process. For a moment it seemed like we may have some problems as we'd overstayed our visas, but thankfully news of the new “visa free regime” had reached this crossing, and after a few moments of deliberation, the official stamped us out of Kyrgyzstan. (As of about a month ago the forty four most developed country – Australia being one – don’t need visas to go to Kyrgyzstan.)
After Tom's rendition of the arduous exit procedures in Kazakhstan, I was expecting at the very least a sizeable amount of paperwork. The guard though seemed to have little to no interest in the car. Tom was issued a temporary import document on arrival in the country, which I showed to the guard expecting to have to undergo some sort of formality. After briefly glancing over the volunteered document though, we were simply waved through. Thanks Kyrgyzstan for the easiest exit we've had in quite a while.
Across no-man’s land things were somewhat more complex. After a decent wait at the initial entry gate, we were ushered through into the vehicle inspection bays. After initially all being sent to the customs/immigration office to fill in the most comprehensive customs declaration I have ever had the displeasure of encountering, I was hurriedly pulled aside as “the driver” to deal with the importation of the car. Lacking the necessary Russian linguistic skills to fill out the customs forms, I was directed to a small office with an English speaking customs officer who would assist me in filling out the forms.
“You are Australia?”
“Yes I'm Australian.”
“Ah, kangaroo, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide”
“Yes yes,” (thinks). Usually don't get Adelaide, wonder where that came from...
“No no no! Car document! You owner document!”
“Ah registration certificate?” (I hand him a copy, hoping it's what he wants.)
“Where do you go?”
“We are going to Tashkent.”
“No no! Where do you go...ah...leave?”
“Oh! We will go through Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan.”
Our exchange briefly abates as he enters various details into his computer, pausing every so often to ask about details on the rego certificate. We seem to be making good progress, when I'm asked another question.
“In Australia you play football yes?
“Ah yes, yes we do.”
“Adelaide united...ah...here play football in Tashkent...ah...few days ago.”
“Oh wow, that's great!” (thinks). So that's where Adelaide came from.
“Yes yes. Australia...ah...Asian league.”
I smile and nod enthusiastically. I barely follow AFL when I'm at home, let alone when I'm halfway across the world. Soccer however I actually just don't follow in any sort of capacity. My customs official however seems to be a pretty keen fan, and I'm keen to keep him happy. I rack my brain and think of the only Australian soccer player I can name -Mark Schwartzer-. This receives a very warm response, and he begins to recite the names of several other Australian soccer players. I smile and nod enthusiastically.
Our back and forth continues in a similar fashion; questions about my person, the car and our direction of travel, being periodically interrupted with non-specific banter. Turns out my customs official is 26, and has been working for customs/the army(?) for ten years, and in another 14 he will receive something similar to a pension for his service. At this point he plans to leave and pursue employment in an area he is more interested in. Hopefully something to do with Oriental history, which he is currently studying in Tashkent. He explains though that there are not so many jobs in this area, and he does have a wife and two daughters to support.
Everything has gotten quite casual by this point, he even tells me not to bother filling in some of the more ridiculous sections of my personal customs declaration: specifics and value of any medicines carried, type and value of any electronic or wireless communication devices, specifics of any books or documents carried etc. As I'm filling out the duplicate copy of the declaration however, (because one copy of course is never enough) he stops in mid flight from telling me how much grief his wife is giving him about buying a new Chevorlet Lacetti, and leans in very close to me.
“Do you have machens make you relax?”
It comes out almost as a whisper. I immediately know this is a serious question, but I have no idea what he's asking.
“Sorry I don't understand.”
“You have mercins...pill pill make you relax?”
He touches his temple and gently rocks his head. His eyes roll back, and suddenly it makes sense: he wants to know if I have any “relaxing” pills.
“No no, nothing like that.”
“Good, because if you do, I will arrest you.”
He reaches over, wrapping his index finger and thumb around each of my wrists like hand-cuffs, and pauses for a moment looking directly into my eyes. A slight sly smile crosses his face, as if recalling previous triumphs over smugglers and unfortunate tourists. A moment passes, and he lets go, leans back out, and carries on like nothing's happened. I pause for a moment and go back to filling in my form.
“Ah, not quite.”
He takes the form from me, puts a line through an incompleted section, -“No worry.” He then indicates to sign the dotted line before enthusiastically stamping the form several times. Two officials are called across; he wishes me good luck and indicates for me to go with them.
When we first parked in the inspection bay there was another car ahead of us being searched. The two officials were going through every compartment, looking under every seat and carpet, through the engine bay, under the car etc. This is a level of scrutiny we just haven't encountered yet, and if they decide to give us the same treatment we could be here for days.
The first inspector asks me to open the boot, which I do. He is confronted by a wall of bags and equipment, but singles out one, and asks me to pull it out. It just happens to be Eils’ bag, and just happens to have the strap of a not so flattering bra sticking out of the zip.
“Ah... your friend?”
“Yes, my friend.”
“Ok, put back.”
A few other items were chosen at random and meagrely inspected before the pair moved on to the inside of the car. The assistant inspector pokes his head into the chaos that is the back seat of our car and begins searching for contraband, the other turns to me and asks if I have any maps or books. I indicate to where the maps usually are, and he turns to inspect them at exactly the same time as the assistant inspector is turning to show his colleague Pinchy, one of our mascots. The chief inspector turns round, only to be confronted with an eight inch red lobster and jumps two feet back before realising it's just a rubber toy. He mutters something under his breath, and shakes his head before turning to me.
“Ah no, lobster, very tasty.”
I mime eating and rub my stomach. The inspector nods and laughs.
“In Russian, scorpion.”
The pair look over a couple of maps, one of the books in the back seat, and have a brief glance over the roof box before the chief waves his assistant away.
“All good, yes.”
“Ok, so I can go now?”
“Yes yes, all good.”
I jump in the driver's seat and think to myself how much more difficult that could have been. The inspector looks at me through the open window of the car door. There's a strained and slightly puzzled look on his face. He's seen something, or remembered something he's missed, and is now going to pull me out of the car so we can spend another hour here going through whatever it is. I wait in painful anticipation for the longest of moments, before he suddenly seems to have an epiphany. He stands to attention, salutes, and says,
“Thank you very much.”