I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days, that all these memories come flooding back to me.
It was another really hot and sticky day and I was relieved to see the airport - especially the aeroplane with the British Airways logo on the tail. My time there in Turkey had been far from enjoyable, the work itself was not that bad; it was my living conditions and food that had been the problem.
Still that was all behind me now. I was that close to going home I could almost taste it. I gave the keys of my company car to Mark, one of the Phillipino engineers who was only too keen to drive the two and a half hours across the mountains, as he was to be given my car after I had left. I took my bags out of the boot, and waved him off as he drove away. The excitement of it all was building up inside me, I just couldn't believe that I was actually there, and so close to going home.
So it was with a beaming smile that I arrived at the BA check-in for the flight to London, Heathrow. All went well at that stage, I even had time for a last smoke before the flight was called. It was when I arrived at the boarding gate and the passports were being checked that I first knew that I was in trouble. This armed guard looked at my passport and began shouting at me - of course I had no idea of what he was saying. Then things got a bit more serious, and they pushed me out of the queue at gun point, and scurried me into a small side room. They were starting to get angry at my lack of answers, and started prodding me with their machine guns. Now if this was supposed to frighten me, it had the opposite effect, and I became really angry towards them and shouted back at them! This seemd to surprise them and they stood back from me, but still kept pointing their guns in my direction.
There was a short spell of total silence, then the guard who had my passport lifted up a large log book and placed my passport beneath it, giving me a smug smile as he did so. Then the door flew open and in came an older guard who must have been their officer, as they all stood to attention as he came in. They all began to speak to him at the same time, while he eyed me up and down with a look of disgust. I shouted aloud so as to drown them out, and demanded to know why I was being held! It was at this point that they started threatening me with the guns again waving them in my face. I was starting to get really worried now in case I missed my flight, and I was so annoyed by what was happening that I pushed the one closest to me away and he fell against the wall. That turned out to be a good move on my behalf as, just as the guard came rushing back towards me, the officer stopped him, and shouted something that seemed to frighten the guard.
It was then that my arms were grabbed from behind and I was hand cuffed. This senior officer informs me that he can, indeed, understand English and that he was not at all impressed with the names I had called his men earlier. He also told me that the reason for my arrest was that although my 'work permit' was in order, my permit to enter Turkey had expired and that there would be an on-the-spot fine for this offence and that I was being marched through the terminal to 'The Bureau De Change' to change my money to American dollars. There was no point in my denying that I had the money as he told me that he saw me earlier changing my Turkish money to German Marks1.
Just as I was being led away, the guards came in with an elderly American couple, and I heard the officer telling them in broken English why they were also arrested. I saw the elderly man take out his wallet, to show them his credit cards, and I could see he had more than enough cash to pay his fine. I pleaded with him just to pay, it was not worth any trouble just for £45 sterling, but then I was taken out and marched through the terminal at gunpoint to the 'The Bureau De Change'. Everyone was staring at me like I was a criminal, it was so embarrassing, yet I knew within myself that, if I just payed this fine quickly, I would have time to catch my flight. It dawned on me then that I had nowhere to go in Ankara, I never knew anyone, and had no contact with the refinery where I was working, not even a phone number, I was alone!
They uncuffed my hands in order for me to sign for the exchange money and allowed me to put my wallet back in my pocket, before recuffing me and marching me back to the office. When we got back into the office, I saw the elderly American woman kneeling on the floor crying! I asked where her husband was and she pointed to another door leading to another office. I shouted aloud so that he could hear me and again pleaded with him to pay the fine, but there was no reply. The senior officer then unlocked my cuffs and put his hand out for the money in a demanding manner. I was more attentive to the woman on the floor. Upon seeing this he signalled one of the guards to lift her up and take her into that other room where I believed her husband was. As she entered the room I heard her husband greeting her, so again I shouted 'Pay the fine', then the door was slammed shut. I never saw them again.
After I had payed this so-called fine, and the officer was writing out my receipt, I made a sudden move to retrieve my passport which I knew was hidden under the big log book on the desk. One of the guards grabbed me from behind and I struggled with him, the officer wanted to know why, so I told him about one of his guards hiding my passport before the officer arrived. He glared straight into the guards eyes and asked him in Turkish if this was true, the guard nodded no! At this point all I wanted to do was get out of that office and onto the plane parked a few hundred yards away on the runway. This was obviously a scam that the guard had to extort more money from his captures. I had nothing to lose, so I made a break away from the guard holding me and kicked the table over. As everything on the table hit the floor my passport slid out and landed in front of the very surprised lookig officer.
He bent down slowly and picked it up, at the same time making a gesture to the other guards not to make a move towards me. He looked inside it, tapped it on his wrist, and slowly looked around at all his men in the room. The silence was uncanny compared to all the shouting and confusion earlier. Then he shouted out some orders in Turkish that had the effect of putting fear into his men. I could see the fear in their faces as he grabbed me and took me out of the office and slammed the door behind him. He led me through the barricade and shouted ahead to stop the guard from closing the outside door. Then, after giving me time to collect my hand luggage, he took me outside to his waiting jeep and driver. It was so good just to feel the cool evening breeze as it was hot and stuffy in that office and I had been sweating a nervous sweat. Once on board his jeep he signalled his driver to move on and pointed towards the plane.
I was relieved when he did this as I had no idea as to where he was taking me and he seemed to be so angry as we left. We arrived at the plane just as the steps were being taken away but, fortunately, he ordered them back, then handed me my passport with a smile, which I must admit confused me somewhat at the time. I was so pleased to be leaving that I felt as if I floated up the steps and then I was greeted with a welcoming smile from the stewardess as I entered the plane. As she was showing me to my seat I drew a few angry looks from my fellow passengers. She informed me that the flight had been delayed a few moments while they waited for my arrival. I must admit that compared to what I had just been through, those dirty looks had no effect on me at all. So it was with great pleasure when the stewardess came round with the drinks trolly that I asked her to leave me a couple of vodkas and a can of coke and that would do me for the rest of the flight. After drinking them, I felt a warm content feeling coming over me, and I fell into a deep, well-earned sleep; I was going home.