I am a red-tape refugee, a limbo-dweller in the politically murky space at foreign airports between a 747 and immigration. A place without a country.
A funny thing happened on the way to Israel, and I can now say something I never thought I'd say: I've been deported. Denied admittance and turned away at the velvet rope like a Hollywood nightclub I'm not Hollywood enough for.
What'd I do yesterday? Got kicked out of a country. NBD.
We received the deluxe deportee package as they showed us the door -- multiple rounds of interrogation, a rotating staff of security personnel prepared to escort us all the way to the urinal, should nature call, and a thorough examination of everything we intended on walking into Israel with, including ourselves. Yes, this involved some time with rubber gloves in a little white room. (Thankfully, the guard's metal detecting wand sufficed, and I remain pure.)
I'm surprised the flight crew didn't announce us, the outlaws in the back row, the ones in need of a shave and a good night's sleep, after the pre-flight safety video. "Attention passengers of Turkish flight 183, we have a couple of unexpected guests at the rear of the aircraft. Be sure to stare at them as they pass. They're not from here. Right now, as we retain possession of their passports, they're not from anywhere. Also, please enjoy the complimentary peanuts."
An explanation, in brief: we didn't have the right visa.
Although a typical visitor stamp is good for three months, they were suspicious of our intentions due to the length of our stay. Which, funny enough, was less than three months. If you've ever watched the news in your lifetime, you know this region deals with a certain amount of instability. As recently as a few days ago, explosives were exchanged between Gaza and southern Israel, which has the good people of passport control on edge. And we won the 'hold for further questioning' lottery.
The good cop, a tight-lipped immigration officer with a look that said "nothing about this, or anything, is funny," wanted to know everything about me. Even the funny parts, which never managed to break his bored and empty, bureaucratic gaze. He wondered if I had plans to holiday in the Gaza Strip, perhaps backpack through the explodey towns of Syria, thrill-seek for a good tear gas facial, rock-throwing manicure, or settle into a relaxing rubber bullet massage.
But no matter how I phrased my desire to avoid such mortal inconveniences, he was unconvinced, and we had the wrong kind of visa.
Whenever we seek to control the outcome of our lives, and the world we live in, we are, at any moment, susceptible to f*#kery. To err is human, and our world is built by humans. We trust the bridges we drive on to remain elevated, our boats to have enough life vests, and the airtight itineraries of our well-crafted plans to prevail.
But nothing is impervious to f*#kery.
So here we are, a little bewildered, exiled to Istanbul (which is admittedly not the worst place to be exiled to), trying to come to terms with an uncertain future. As my fellow refugee, Dave T. put it at the hotel breakfast this morning: "One day you find yourself in Istanbul, listening to Enrique Iglesias, kicked out of Israel, and you wonder: how the hell did I get here?"
Sitting at a cafe in the showdown shadows of the palatial Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, I'm reminded of the tale of the Kaşıkçı diamond. This large, pear-shaped stone encrusted in many other valuable stones, currently resides in Istanbul's Topkapi Palace. I stumbled upon it my first day here, and read of its unconventional journey on the plaque beside its protective glass. The story tells of a 17th century fisherman, who discovered the precious gem of unknown foreign origins amongst a pile of rubbish. A local jeweler gave the man three spoons for the diamond before it ended up in the Sultan's hands soon after. Three spoons for this priceless national treasure, the fourth largest diamond of its kind in the world. Three spoons.
Nothing, not even an 84 carat diamond, priceless upon glance, is impervious to f*#kery.
Like the Kaşıkçı diamond, we have, through human error, confusion, and the universal laws of f*#kery, found ourselves in a new home away from home away from home. And I'm looking for a man with three spoons that can get us back to Israel.
I should note that the tense has changed in the telling of this story since the piece was written for my blog a couple months ago. But it felt right to leave it as it was in the moment. And at that moment I was in the region working with The Tiziano Project, a non-profit journalism organization who will be releasing the work completed during this project on July 7th as part of a new storytelling platform called StoriesFrom. If you liked this video, and have a minute, check out Jerusalem in 60 Seconds. Try not to blink.