The following account was written and narrated by the deportee in question and contains strong language.
I used to work for a complete shyster of a bloke at a joke of a consultancy many years ago, this one is about the time I got arrested in Algeria (that’s in north Africa, for any of our knuckle-dragging American friends).
Now, not sure how many of you are aware of this, but for Westerners to work in a lot of African and Middle Eastern countries is a major pain in the arse, and usually a combination of paying outrageous visa fees, sucking d***, and dealing with stupid bullshit policies like Saudification.
Correspondingly, for a Westerner to work in Algeria, you have two options:
- Pay for a proper work visa, which involves getting a letter of invitation from an Algerian company, months to process, and several thousand in
- Pay a hundred bucks for a tourist visa and pray they don’t catch you doing any work.
Given that my boss was a complete cheapskate, he of course went for the cheaper option.
I fly into Algiers, and get picked up by my local driver / interpreter. In a big fucking Toyota Landcruiser that’s been outfitted as a work vehicle, with the name of the company proudly emblazoned on the side. Oh, great – really fucking subtle considering I’m supposed to be a “tourist”. That’s like a paedophile driving a fucking ice cream truck and towing a bouncy castle past a boy scout jamboree. Jesus fucking Christ.
So, we drive to the base at Hassi Messaoud, get dinner, have a chit-chat with the Base Manager, and then we meet up with some other work vehicles to drive out to the camp in convoy. Settle in, go to bed, get up and go to work.
Which was fine for a couple of weeks. We’re doing a couple of lines simultaneously, I’m driving hither and thither checking things out, fixing my back-to-back’s fuckups, writing reports and drinking beer in a shipping container with some of the local crew at the end of the day – I despise drinking with ex-pat managers because they’re all wankers.
Now, periodically, the local cops would come out to “check” things. These aren’t really police, they’re basically the army. And by “check”, they mean “pay us to go away”. We had a local bloke in town who would ring the camp to warn us when they were doing it, and all the filthy foreigners working illegally would fuck off to one of the fly camps down the line.
Unfortunately, this time, we didn’t get the warning. They rock up, and we’re there, so they’re demanding we show our business visas. They all can, I cannot. I try my last desperate attempt – “well, shit, look – what if I just pay the fine, in cash, now?”, but they’re not having a bar of it. Into the Algerian version of a paddy wagon I go, and they throw me in jail.
Before you think “well, it must be some nice place out by the airport where they temporarily keep people until customs sorts them out”, no. This is the local jail. It looks and smells like a jail from a spaghetti western, except instead of a nice Sheriff chewing tobacco, it’s two local militia with machine guns, chain smoking Marlboro Reds and being c**ts.
By this point, I’m assuming that phone calls are frantically flying back and forth, and at some point, some minor functionary with a wallet full of cash will come get me and she’ll be right. It’s happened before, it’ll happen again, no big deal. I just have to wait it out and play nice with the locals.
Not so, this time.
This time, I’ve got another guy in uniform who drove down from Hassi to tell me in broken English that they’re sick and tired of people coming to their country to work illegally, and I’m to be made an example of to teach these companies a lesson. I beg them again to call the Base Manager who can sort out the
cash paperwork, but he’s nowhere to be found – turns out they were trying to arrest him as well for allowing all of this, except he got tipped off and fled the country. Can’t say I blame him.
Now I’m in Deep Shit. I’m asking for someone to contact the Australian or American embassies to at least let them know I’m in custody, and they just laugh, or pretend they have no idea what I’m saying. One of the locals from camp has to drop me off food. My balls are itching because I’ve been wearing the same jocks for a week. Doesn’t help that while pretending to play tourist, I was picked up in company high-vis coveralls with logos all over it, and steel cap boots. On the plus side, the two locals guarding me are delighted because my laptop and hard drive were seized with me, and I logged them onto it so they could watch porn. Our relationship improves and they have no problem giving me cigarettes, so at least that passes the time (and my terrible Arabic improved somewhat).
Finally, finally, Stupid Uniform Bureaucrat comes back and “releases” me by way of driving me to the police station for an interview. They want to know who sent me, am I aware of the penalties, how long has this been going on and such. Guy has a phone on his desk. I ask him if I can call my boss who can explain everything, he sort of shrugs and passes the phone over. After a few bodged attempts, I manage to call boss-man back in Australia.
“How’s it going?”, he asks, quite nonchalantly.
“Um yeah, not sure if you were aware but there’s been some issues with my visa”.
“Yeah, I heard about that – I was just about to call th-“
“THE FUCK DO YOU MEAN “ABOUT TO”?! I’ve been in jail for a fucking week!”
“Well, it’s a delicate thing. See under our contract with [Client], we’re supposed to…”.
I hang up on him. I bum a cigarette off of Bureaucrat Man. I’m fucking pissed. I’ve been rotting in jail for a fucking week, my fiancee has no idea where the fuck I am, the Base Manager who is supposed to cover my arse has gotten out of dodge, and I have no money, no passport, and nothing to barter with.
Except one thing. I go through it with Bureaucrat Man. He shrugs – he doesn’t really care as long he can go back to his boss with a story about chasing illegals out of the country. We ring in to Australia again, this time on speaker.
“Sorry about that, mate” says I. ” Call must’ve cut out”.
“Well, okay…anyway…” he starts up again.
“Listen, here’s the deal. I’m sitting here with a very nice man from Algerian immigration who has very nicely let me try to sort this all out”.
“Now, you’ve got copies of my travel docs in the office. Can you please read off my work visa number, and the person that issued the letter of invitation?”
“Um…I don’t…that is…um…sure, um, it’s somewhere around here…um, look, do you have a number I can call you back on? Might take some time to find.”
“Nope – should all be there in a file.”
Bureaucrat Man is smirking. Offers me another Marlboro Red. He’s enjoying watching the Stupid Westerners trying to figure this out.
“Look…are we talking privately?” he asks, nervously.
“Absolutely!” says I, taking a long drag off my smoke with the speakerphone on.
“Well, look”. He’s really anxious now. “Um, well,…how do I say this…uh…there’s been a bit of a mix-up…it seems, um, someone booked you on a tourist visa instead of a business visa”.
“Ah!” says I. “That explains it. Well, my friend from immigration just wants to sort out the paperwork. Can you tell me who at our end booked the visa?”
“Oh yeah, we got it through [corporate travel agent] who arranged it with [client rep] which is all managed by [client’s country manager].”
“I see…well, too many chefs and all that…anyone else you can think of who I can contact that might know about this?”
Boss proceeds to list off another six or seven names. Bureaucrat is frantically writing them down. We kill off the call, with boss-man reluctantly agreeing to pay all fines, and to organise me an emergency passport through the Aussie consulate. Bureaucrat Man says that since I have been so “cooperative”, they’ll hold me for another day or two until I am deported, with strict instructions not to try to come back without a proper visa (if at all).
Back to jail I go, but this time I’m sitting in the office room with the militia blokes chain-smoking and watching bad movies on my laptop. Under much coercion, I put on Team America: World Police, and these guys are laughing hysterically at the “derka-derka” stuff because they think that’s what Arabic sounds like to Americans. I took the laptop back with me but I let them keep my hard drive full of porn and pirate movies.
A day and change later I’m back in Australia. I smell like an elephant’s vagina and Aussie Customs holds me for 45 minutes because I have an emergency passport with a deportation stamp, but then it’s in a cab, home, where I have to borrow the neighbour’s phone to call a fucking locksmith to let me in because my phone and my keys are in a police station in Algeria. I call work to pay for the locksmith and it’s one of the few times my boss just agrees to pay for something without argument.
Some months down the line, I hear through various channels that the Client had to pay some massive amount of money for “additional ex-pat processing fees” to the Algerian gov’t, lest they all be booted out of the country.