Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Rejected at Belarus Border & 'Babar'

So it turns out that the visa issued to me for Belarus in fact wasn't. For those who didn't catch the final blog from Canada, I had a lot of problems with my passport & trying to get a Belarus Visa. When I finally did get my passport back (having already missed my flight to Russia) I had the Russian visa in my passport but the Belarus visa wasn't there. What I did have was 4pages of official documents written in Belarussian & a receipt for the Belrus visa. I assumed it must be the visa but was a little suspicious. While travelling on the trans-siberian railway with Justin we met a lady who worked on the Russian/Chinese border at passport control. I handed the documents to her & asked if she knew what they were. She shook her head at first but then said, "Oh, it's a visa for Belarus." I was glad to hear that but thought that the big test would come when I crossed the border into Belarus. On that particular day the guard asked for my documents, not caring to even view my passport. He read through the 4pages & wished me the best in my walk. I then of course had the run in with the intelligence agent (KGB) in the midle of the country & he too went thruogh all my papers & passed me to continue. All of this strongly indicated that I was indeed holding official visa documentation, but that wasn't the case. When I went to cross the border from Belarus to Poland the guard passed the documents back to me sighting that it wasn't a visa & he gave me an address in the city of Brest (10km away) where I had to go. That address turned out to be the police headquarters, not the public office but the no sign, no front offie, big dark building with massive padded doors headquarters. After a few helpful dircections from passing officers I found myself sitting at the desk of a passport officer on the 2nd floor. He asked what the problem was, I explained everything, showing him all the documentation (including receipts) & the problem that had now arisen. He flicked through everything & then peered up at me & uttered those oh-so-heart-warming words, "You are in very big trouble." I wasn't sure at that point if that meant I was going to prison or being flown home at my own expense but I figured I'd get a bed either way so I'd just sit tight for the time being. Apparently the 4 pages of documentation where nothing more than a request from a Belarus Hotel for a visa. Why did I get through all the security checks then? I think it was a combination of Holy Spirit & the fact that there are so few tourists in Belarus that they weren't sure what they were actually looking for. The officer led me down the hallway to the Chief of Police & we talked for a short time. I wasn't sure of what the outcome was but I was led back to the first office & asked to hand over my passport. I was asked if I had money, which I did, so he offered me my ticket out. For $200 he would issue me an on the spot visa so that I could leave the country. I am very thankful that that particular officer was friendly & actually had a sense of humour (He thought it was brilliant that my dad has a Belarus tractor on the farm in Tasmania). A second offier escorted me to the bank & all the papr work was completed. I had to sign off on a few documents & then my hand written visa was stuck into my passport. They then drove me to the train station because I wasn't permitted to cross the border on foot. Getting through customs was an adventure as well. I still don't know what the problem was but my line had to be shut down while they processed me. There were officers coming from everywhere, checking my passport, my visa & looking me up & down. I just stood there & smiled for half an hour while they debated something back & forth. The clock was ticking for my train departure. It almost appeared as thy they got so frustrated with what ever the problem was that they just stamped my passport & told me to get out there. I was happy to oblige. I made the train with a few minutes to spare. The short 7km train ride across the border finally landed me in Poland & I am continuing on my way. As I walk I sometimes entertain myself by coming up with a 'Top Ten List' on any particular topic. The other day I had a go at the top ten things to do while overseas. Number one... "Walk across an anti-western dictatorship without a valid visa!" Try doing that on your day off. Poland has been a pleasure so far. Winter has set back in for a few days so it's very white once again but I'm told this is the last expected snow fall for the year. The people here have been very hospitable & have fed me well. I'm struggling with the language a little though. I saw a road sign 3days ago & the 7 letter word on it contained only one vowel. That's just mean. Father Bogumil & his youth group in Biala Podlaska tried to teach me some helpful Polish phrases (& they have been) but they asked me at one point if I knew what "Babar" was. Babar is a cartoon in Australia & so I said, "Yes! of course, Babar is the elephant." They roared with laughter, some of them even blushing tad. Ok, so "Baba" (no 'r') actually means, "An old Woman" in Polish, not an elephant. I've tried not to stick my foot in it since then but there's a lot ore time to pass yet. In the next town of Radzyn Podlaska I was invited to speak at one of the numerous Sunday masses & to share about the mission & the invittion to pray for unity. The problem though was that none of the four prists spoke English & I don't speak Polish. One priest, however, spoke Italian so we ended up wih this bizzare situation where I spoke to a congregation of Poles in Spanish, which was translated by the priest into Italian & then again back into Polish. I think we got the message across. The faith is strong here & people have been very welcoming of the call to pray for unity. I was completly unaware that therre were people waiting for me in the city of Lublin until I was only 20km away. Good timing. I'm now having a rest day with new friends here in this busstling little city & heading off to their prayer meeting this evening, which I am really hanging out for. My body is still faulting & my knee has seized up solid a few times. I'm heading out this afternoon to try & find replacemet walking poles to ease the stress & hoopefully allow it to heal. I was offered to be taken to a doctor today to have it checked out but I declined. I'll only be told to rest it :-) For anyone following the walk in Poland, please be aware that I am trying to make up for lost days so my schedule will most likely change between Lublin & Krakow. That's about it for now. Thankyou to everyone for the blog comments & emails of late. It has been very uplifting. Please pray on & I hope you have a blessed week. From Lublin in eastern Poland, it's goodbye for now. God bless! Sam.
"You will see it with your own eyes & say, 'Great is the Lord - even beyond the borders of Israel!'" Malachi 1:5


Agata BP said...

Fr Bogumil & Youth Group ;D Na tym zdjęciu jesteśmy my;) z Białej Podlaskiej. Pozdrawiam Samuela i życzę siły, wytrrwałości oraz opieki Dobrego Boga w kroczeniu do celu. Z pamięcią w modlitwie o jedność Chrześcijan. Agata

Dina said...

Shmuel, you are one brave Christian! From within the borders of Israel I pray for your safety and success on your journey.