I decided to spend a night in Bahrain on my way from Abu Dhabi to Cairo, as it did not cost me any extra money for the layover; and I thought I would add another country under my belt — despite not there being much to do there, according to my research.
Little did I know that I would have what seemed to be trouble at customs in Bahrain.
Fortunately, there were not all that many passengers aboard the airplane; so I did not expect to wait in line very long at customs — if at all. Still, I had no idea if passengers from other flights would converge into the customs area; so after a walk of approximately five minutes or so, I arrived at the customs area and picked up a blank declaration form to complete while I stood in line. The memory of completing the form at the customs area at Abu Dhabi International Airport in the United Arab Emirates and then waiting in line for a long time — even though the line itself was not all that long — was still fresh in my mind; so I was simply attempting to be more efficient.
Of course, there was a short line which was quick enough that by the time it was my turn, I had not yet finished completing my declaration form.
“I apologize,” I said as I was waved on to be processed next. “I had not finished completing my form yet.”
“Come on,” said the customs agent in a friendly manner as he waved me in — as though it was not a problem. There was nobody in line behind me anyway, so I proceeded as per his direction.
The customs agent checked my passport and incomplete declaration form before saying “Wait right here…” and left his booth.
He returned a few minutes later with a colleague who was larger in size. My passport was nowhere to be seen.
He paused for a moment before gesturing to me to pull me aside.
“Come this way.”
I followed him past his booth and towards an enclosed office with a window overlooking the customs area, which was not all that large when compared to the customs areas of other international airports.
This was highly unusual in that this has never happened to me before. Did I say or do something wrong?
Five minutes had elapsed in what I thought would be a momentary wait. The last passenger had passed through and exited the customs area. I sat on the bench in front of the window of the enclosed office.
Ten minutes passed by. Some of the lights which illuminated the customs area were turned off after the remaining customs agents left the area. I looked in the window and saw no one in the enclosed office.
The large customs agent then appeared.
“What kind of writer are you?” the colleague asked.
“I write a blog”, I replied. Concerned about what was happening, I asked, “Is there a problem?”
“No”, he casually replied before he disappeared again.
Fifteen minutes have now gone since I was asked to step aside and wait. There was no sign of the customs agent who took my passport; and there was still no one in the office. The airplane had landed at the airport in Bahrain at approximately 12:15 in the afternoon; so I wondered: perhaps it was lunch time for the customs agents? Could that be why there was such a delay processing my immigration into Bahrain and the lights turned off?
Twenty minutes passed. A couple of customs agents enter and exit the enclosed office. A bearded man with long hair suddenly appears and waits outside the enclosed office near its doorway. I could tell he was not American by his accent — which was thick, as I could not ascertain what was his native language.
Twenty-five minutes elapsed. The bearded man was handed his passport — which was not the royal blue color of an American passport — by a customs agent, allowing him to leave.
It was thirty minutes since I last saw my passport. There was finally someone in the enclosed office. Without me asking a question, the person informs me that they are still checking and reviewing my passport and to continue to wait.
A mixture of rational and irrational thoughts filled my mind as I longingly stared at the illuminated green exit sign. Will I ever get the chance to go through that exit? Was there something in the passport which was suspicious to them? I had three blank pages left; so it could not be that. Was it the stamps of the countries in the passport? I would have thought Kenya might have posed a problem; but I had my yellow fever certificate with me — and no one had asked for it. Is this similar to the dreaded secondary security screening selection process implemented randomly upon travelers by the Transportation Security Administration in the United States? Will I ever be reunited with my passport again?
There must be something wrong. It certainly felt like I was in trouble. Why else would there be such an extensive delay upon my entering Bahrain?
A few minutes later, the large customs agent finally emerged and handed my passport back to me as if nothing ever happened. He instructed me to follow him.
“Was there a problem with me or my passport?” I asked again, wondering why I had to wait so long.
Once again, he casually replied: “No.”
He went into the booth where I originally waited in line to collect the visa fee. I had a choice of paying 25 Bahraini dinars or 250 United Arab Emirates dirhams. As I had not yet exchanged currency, I had no Bahraini dinars; but I thankfully did have 250 United Arab Emirates dirhams in my pocket, which actually turned out to be a slightly better deal for me at the time. Regardless, the visa cost me approximately $67.00 — a little rich, I thought; but I paid it.
Once that visa fee was paid and my passport was stamped, I then exited into the airport to pick up the rental car which I reserved.
I still do not know to this day exactly why the processing of my immigration into Bahrain was significantly delayed…