I was arrested at Dubai International Airport for possessing two seeds of cannabis in my bag. I really did not know they were there and it wasn’t even my bag. I spent the next three months in jail awaiting trial. It must be told, all in the desert is not gold.
I met a lot of people while ‘inside’ with confused looks on their faces, wondering why they had been locked up, some for trace amounts of cannabis in their blood, others for prescribed medicine. Some of these people are still in central prison. If Dubai wants to become the tourist mecca of the world, it might have to adjust its religious policies.
In my homeland South Africa, I had been stabbed twice, shot at, nearly killed in a bomb blast, had five cars stolen and rescued two rape victims. It soon dawned on me that perhaps this might not be the best place to raise a family. I decided to relocate my family to the Middle East.
I had been in Dubai for two years when I was offered a part time job in the Congo. The gig entailed rigging work for the launch of a new mobile service for the Sheik of Abu Dhabi. I was working as a production manager at the time and being well paid, but the 15,000 dirham for 10 days work was too juicy a deal to pass up. With a smile in my eye, I made the travel arrangements. Looking back, I wish I had never heard of the Congo.
I made my way to the Congo, stopped in Addis Ababa for a beer and then Brazzaville where I toiled in the African sun. The show was a huge success, a lot of back patting followed, as did a party for the crew. A few joints were swung around, weed being as prevalent in central Africa as money is in the Vatican. I did suck on a few sweaty hand rolls, and, unfortunately, unlike Bill Clinton, I did inhale.
I should at this juncture point out that I have asthma, and do not smoke tobacco, least of all marijuana, and the one and only time I did previously breathe in the drug, was in high school when Leann Liebenberg promised to French me if I smoked some. I wasn’t kissed, but did have an asthma attack.
On the day of departure one of the riggers gave me his left over weed. I stuck the rolled paper envelope into my bag’s side pocket and waited for my bus. When we got to the airport in Brazzaville I threw the plant away and cleaned out my bag, or so I thought. I still had a hangover from the party the night before and should have been more thorough. Too little, too late.
When I arrived in Dubai, I cleared all the X-rays and customs points and fetched my bag. As I was making my way to the exit, a short round chap in Arabic dress asked if he could look at my genitals. Slightly taken aback, I nervously agreed. He suggested I follow him to a room, where he closed the door behind him and I dropped my pants.
He asked me to lift my business and gave the space beneath a thorough inspection, perhaps looking for fleas. Apparently satisfied, he requested I turn around, bend over and spread the proverbial cheeks. My wife says I think the sun shines out my backside, and evidently, this gentleman wanted to see if it was true.
By the look on his face it wasn’t, and he then told me to pull up my pants and follow him outside. We went to a row of tables and he began rummaging around in my bag.
To the left of me was an Australian I had worked with and to the right a few police officers. Most likely due to the beers I had on the plane I still was not bothered, even after the my lewd exhibition.
Next thing I know the customs man lets out a yell and holds a speck in the air like a prospector finding gold. He carefully placed what turned out to be a seed on the table and proceeded to dig all the gunk out the grooves at the bottom of the bag. (I was rather embarrassed at the filth he managed to scratch out.) After scraping out a tablespoon of hair and grit, he sifted through the debris and, lo and behold, he found another seed. I was just as amazed as he was.
At same time, at the table next to me, they found a freshly rolled joint in the Aussie’s wallet. He had a silly look on his face, and was mumbling that someone planted it there to frame him. We were then taken to an office, where we met a Bosnian, an English boy and some Pakistanis.
After a couple of hours, we were cuffed and hustled unceremoniously into a waiting van that had a steel mesh cage in the back. The police were mostly pleasant and constantly reassured us that we would be on our way home in a few hours and not to panic.
The other prisoners seemed rather relaxed, and only the Bosnian looked a tad shell-shocked. You can see the fellows in the video, including myself, seem to think it a very funny situation.
We were 100% sure we would be sent home in a few hours or, at the least, on the next plane.
We were taken to the central investigations department, where we were locked in a cell and taken out one by one to weigh our contraband. The two tiny seeds were placed in a tiny plastic bag and that was placed on a scale. The weight came to 0.44 grams. After the weigh in, the cuffs were put back on and it was back in the van.
We were taken to some labs, where a kindly gentleman asked us to urinate in a glass for him and if we minded him sticking a sharp needle in our arms to take some precious blood. I said that I did mind, not knowing where the needles been and all that. The kindly fellow said it was not a problem, which I thought most considerate. We were then herded down some passages to interrogation rooms, where another nice man asked all sorts of questions.
“Are you drug smuggler? A drug addict?”
“Why do you smuggle drugs in Arabia?!”…and so on. I obviously denied everything, and the man nodded sagely, reassuring me again that I would be going home soon. I smiled. He smiled. His assistant smiled. There was a lot of smiling going on when he slid a piece of paper over and asked me to sign. It was in Arabic, but I figured with all the smiling going on there was no harm intended. Besides I was going home soon. What a load of horse shit.
I signed and shuffled in my cuffs back to the van and all of us smiled at each other. Somewhere along the line we had been fingerprinted.
Therefore, it was with blue fingers, dumb grins on our faces and steel cuffs around our wrists we were taken back to the airport and led to departures. We garnered a lot of stares, but I didn’t care, so long as I was leaving.
As we neared the gates, we made a sudden turn through some swinging doors and were led down some passages. We were under the impression that we might be going down some back route to the planes. Silly how the mind works, really, constantly convincing ourselves we were not going to jail. Even after the policemen signed in our bags and suggested we take out a toothbrush, I still thought I was going to be on the next plane home.
We were placed in another cell and taken out one by one. The daft smile was finally starting to fade, as we slowly started to expect that something was up. My turn came, and I followed a guard through some iron bars with gates in them, and huge iron locks in gates, with huge keys in locks. I started to feel sick. The last set of doors were steel plated with eye holes, and I was pushed through those and the door shut behind me. The last sound I heard was the lock clanging behind me. I then realized I was not going home any time soon. I was definitely not smiling now.
The place I was locked in is called the Dubai Deportation Centre. That’s a swanky sounding name and a misnomer if ever there was one. It was jail. In all the time I was there, no person was deported from there.
You were transferred to central prison, which was a damn site better, or taken to the CID cells and deported from there.
Once inside you have to fend for yourself. Because of all the different nationalities locked up there, the groups or gangs are made up of countrymen, Italians with Italians, Iranians with Iranians, Russians with Russians, and so on. I was the only South African there and was bang out of luck. Although, it turned out that a chap I knew had been arrested the day before, so he arranged for me to hang out with the Italians. A poor fellow had been arrested for Codeine, had taken a muscle relaxant for his back when he was in Prague.
I was placed in a cell for eight, but had 12 in it. There is no TV, no library and no gym. There are no windows and the yard is a small cement facility covered with layers of wire mesh and iron bars. The outside world is a mystery, except for the planes taking off overhead. The food was terrible, but we were fed three times a day. Except for counts, the guards generally left you to your business. I am a boxer, so violence was not too much of a problem. Sodomy was rare. I explain more details in my book.
I went to court three times and had no idea what was going on. I was told I would be getting four years, which is the mandatory sentence, no matter the amount of drugs. After two months, a fellow inmate translated my booking sheet, and it turned out that I was being held for 0.04 grams of cannabis…less than a few grains of salt.
The crimes of the people I was incarcerated with ranged from attempted murder and rape to smuggling 70 kilos of heroin. The majority though were people arrested for less then 1 gram of hash. Many people were arrested for subscription medicines, one being a 70-year-old woman. We had a lot of honeymooners locked up with us, the groom in the male section and the bride in the ladies section, with lots of tears in between. All because they did not declare cough mixture.
I lost my house, car, job and my sense of humor for 0.04 grams of vegetation. I understand zero tolerance, but the sentence was a bit harsh. The side effects of are tragic. Families break up, children suffer tremendous stress, and many lives are ruined through bankruptcy because the breadwinner is locked up.
I did not intentionally smuggle two seeds into Dubai. I had been given a hard kick in the nuts for being ignorant.
You can’t turn on the TV or open a magazine without seeing how grand Dubai is, but the reality is a laughing tourist needs to be careful not to kiss in public, take flu medicine or a sneaky joint on the beach. Unfortunately, starry-eyed individuals are flocking there and being locked up because they had porn on their laptop. Not so starry-eyed any more. Kiss mine Dubai.
Watch video related to this story.
– Article from Orato.