Translated by: Marwa Farid
The unplanned business trip to the Gulf city was indescribably interesting. A root canal inflammation and an allergy to some unknown trigger causing me a scalp inflammation, which led to postponing my long-awaited holiday trip to Europe.
On my last day in the city, it was time to finally leave. I began signing “Start spreading the news, I am leaving today… I want to be part of it… Europe.. Europe”.
This lyrical segment of Frank Sinatra’s New York accompanied me and my friends – forcibly – for an entire day. I was happy and very excited to visit new European cities… to meet old friends who drifted away… having our hopes scattered across the capitals of the worlds. More importantly, I was excited for change.. to break my daily routine that developed over the past few months… to run away from the Gulf’s heat and humidity to a place that is a bit less “warm”.
I was yearning to roam the streets. I was missing the sense of freedom outside the air-conditioned cubical at work. I was longing to breath non-humid fresh air that is does not come out of an AC tube.
I cannot live in a prison, regardless of what it is called and the type of its walls, be it concrete or steel bars, whether it is called a home or a prison, irrespective of what it is walls emitting… love or fear; whether its warden is a soldier, a lover or a friend. If dreams become a prison, I will escape even from the most important of them if I felt they keep me a prisoner.
Friday night, I packed my bags and left to the airport. My plan was a short one-hour transit on Saturday morning in Frankfurt to change flights to head to the homeland of my favorite author, Milan Kundera, Prague, the beautiful capital City of the Czech Republic.
Once I walked the gateway connecting the aircraft and Frankfurt airport terminal, a police officer requested to see my passport. I knew from my previous travel experience that it is a routine check. I smiled and gave him my passport and waited for him to return it back so I can complete the rest of my journey. But the waiting was long.
Suddenly, the happiness on my face was replaced by shock and suspicion when the officer signaled to his colleagues and asked me to go with them calmly. I asked why. They said a routine procedure that will take few minutes in order to check my travel documents. Overwhelmed with shock, I walked silently with them.
The wind of Frankfurt carried me lightly upon my arrival. Now I am a firm believer that winds don’t blow as the vessels wish.
I remembered everything I experienced and knew over the years when I worked as a war correspondent. All of the arrest stories I learnt about in the past years were visible before my eyes. I tried to silence my fears but the more you know the more you fear.
I believe that a journalist is a sponge that absorbs stories, feelings, and pains of human beings. Then he turns them into words or photos that tell the story to hundreds of other people. I kept them as if they were the conclusion of my life experience; as if I lived every one of them. I left no stone unturned to be an honest messenger carrying the message to different platforms so the stories survive. But I got to the point where I was not able to absorb anything anymore. I escaped with that burden weighing over me. I was terrified that my journey would come to an end and no one would know my fate. And if they do, it would be too late. I took out my cellphone and posted on Facebook that I got arrested in Frankfurt Airport. And since my Twitter is linked to Facebook, my status update was tweeted simultaneously.
The Officer stopped me in a sharp tone and asked me not to use WhatsApp. I answered him quickly and told him that I used Facebook not WhatsApp. This weird request reminded me of the stories about the Syrian Refugees using WhatsApp for communication or the European volunteers using it to help the refugees.
I returned the phone to my pocket and asked the Officer while walking: “Was your question about WhatsApp related to the refugee issue?”. He did not honor my question with an answer. So I asked again “why am I being detained”? A female officer responded “a routine procedure. You’ll know everything soon”.
Time froze for me. I don’t remember exactly the time it us to arrive at the detention room. I only remember how I felt. I felt that a lifetime has passed while I was being escorted by the officers, who frowned at me and smiled at each other. They were chatting in German. I did not understand what they said but it pretty much provoked me.
I arrived at the detention room. It had two doors, each had a small glass window. One connected to the airport and the other opens to the security center. A glass wall separated the detention room and the officers’ office.
Few minutes later, the officer opened the door again and asked for my phone to keep it. The thread that gave me a waning sense of safety was torn. A wave of premonitions came over me and the room grew colder.
I lived a life running from APCs and bullets, trying to survive while free to fulfill my mission as a journalist. I outrun aircrafts that I couldn’t see striking homes that crumbled to the ground in front of me. I saw the victims without seeing the perpetrators. I lived a life scared of prison and I prayed to God that if He wants, I’d rather get killed than stripped off my freedom while alive. I fear prison more than death itself. If I die, I would suffer for few moments. If I go to prison, I would live the life of a dead man.
Every once and while, more waves of sorrow and fear hit me. I was constantly reliving every single detail of all the events I had witnessed over the years. I could clearly visualize see scenes from the past while I rapidly forget the current events as if they never occurred; as if they were phrases taken out of context and hence rendered meaningless.
My life has, for years, been full of fear and sense of guilt. Tension has always been present and the desire to commit to or approach human or objects has always been lacking. A perpetual escape. I escape from the commitment to the loved once. I did not even bid them goodbye when I left to work in another country. I insisted no one from my family should see me off. I tried to escape from the feelings goodbyes entail. The only thing I could not escape was my sense of guilt.
After years and years of agony, this sense of guilt has been the driver of many decisions I made along the way. The sense of guilt about something I had not commit fearing another guilt that might result of actions for which I am not responsible. I became a captive shackled by imaginary sins, only my fear of making mistakes had created.
Hours passed and I wonder what could I have done? I did nothing. In my last visit to Germany, the only thing I did was sightseeing. Maybe I am detained against the background of my former journalistic life? I don’t think so. This is the democratic Germany. Maybe someone put drugs in my suitcase? Certainly there are surveillance cameras somewhere! I did not commit any offense. I did not make any mistakes. I am peaceful by nature. I have not attacked or assaulted anyone! Why am I being detained? I want to know why I am being held a prisoner? What wrong have I done? Why no one is answering me. If my fate is a prison, I will kill myself.
A glass wall separated me from the officers’ office. I stared at the glass for a very long time yearning for any glimpse of hope that might come through it. I waited and waited and no one came to tell me why I am being detained. I went to the glass wall and I tried with my quiet voice to penetrate it. I asked that one of the officers come close to speak to him/her.
I collected the pieces of myself and tried to suppress my fears again. An officer opened the door and went by me to go outside from the other, as if I was invisible. I was happy nonetheless. The door leading to the terminal is now open and I felt my soul is fleeing the room.
Six or more officers had escorted me earlier to the detention room, of which two I only remembered. One totally ignored my existence while the second was friendlier, nicer and more willing to listen.
I went again to the glass wall in an attempt to find her. I was happy to see her. I asked the policewoman to speak to her, she was very nice and immediately obliged. I asked why I was being detained, she tried to comfort me and said it was a routine measure to check my passport and entry visa. Afterwards, I was to be released. I tried to believe her and then asked for a glass of water so she could leave the door a half open. I always felt relieved every time a door opens. I have always held on one hope; this or that door would open and I could go out.
Another 30 minutes lapsed and again I went to the glass wall. I found an officer and I asked to speak with him. The door opened again and he came in. I asked about the reason for my detention, he said that the police was suspecting that I committed a federal crime. I frowned and fell silent. I was screaming inside of me of terror, imagining all the tragedies that could occur to me if I go to prison.
I tried to respond calmly and told him it was not true. I had not omitted any crime. I could not find any other useful words so I bit my tongue. Then I asked him “what will happen to me now?”. He said that I would be interrogated shortly as they were waiting for an interpreter to attend the interrogation with me.
Nearly a year ago I decided to have a tattoo that would live with me for the rest of my life. It was the word “Freedom”. I wanted it to be my mate on my journey. I wanted to see it every day to remember what I love and I want. I wished that whatever was taken from me in Frankfurt was a mere materialistic object. Rather, it was my freedom they stripped me off.
I stood by the door leading to the airport with my eyes on a young man walking by. Walking aimlessly at that moment was the maximum I could dream of.