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June 20, 2007

KSA: The Kindom of Sacrilegious Authority

Filed under: Blog — admin @ 4:37 am

At about 8:50 PM, I was heading towards the last custom clearance queue. A chubby guy in his late 30’s was scanning the passengers’ baggages and showed the usual signs of aggressiveness which I’ve grown quite accustomed to over the years. As soon as my suit-case went into the scanner, I started praying but I knew that it was just too much to ask for as I heard the dreaded call (which, if possible, was made even more dreadful because of the atrocious accent): “You there, open this suitcase”!

If you’re wondering who I am, let me first clear up some facts. I’m not a drug-dealer and I haven’t ever tried to smuggle anything of that sort either. What bothered me however was the fact that I had about 80 DVDs with me. If you’ve ever traveled to KSA, odds are high that you’ve also experienced the phenomenon which virtually equates n DVDs with n grams of Cocaine. If you’re thinking of bringing DVD movies which contain even the most trivial amount of on-screen romance, think again. It won’t be a walk in the park. Downloading those movies on 56k dial-up connections would be a relatively easier and painless process, and I’m not joking either!

Anyways, as soon as I opened up the suitcase, his eyes spotted the DVD case. He opened it up, and immediately threw a questioning glance at my face. What amused me about his behavior was the vibrant sense of accomplishment that he was radiating. After a moment’s pause, the following conversation ensued:

“What is this?”
“CDs”
“What CDs?”
“Playstation 2 games” (Experience has taught me that these are the most acceptable form of optical media in the kingdom)
“All of them?”
“Most of them” (Quite hesitantly)

At this point, he started flicking through the DVDs. The ones with covers that looked like cartoons were spared any unforeseen trouble, but as soon as he saw a DVD without a cover, he stopped his hands and started staring at me inquisitively for a second time.

“And what is this?”
“A movie”
“What movie?”
“The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition”

Not surprisingly, he was completely oblivious to my last answer so he just pulled out the DVD from the bag and threw it on his desk. At 9:00 PM, he had about 40 more DVDs stacked haphazardly on each other along with my passport. Most of them were declared to be suspicious because they didn’t have any covers on them, but that wasn’t the only ingenious criteria that they had come up. They also short-listed the DVDs which had obscene scenes such as hugging on their respective covers. In other words, anything which doesn’t have cartoon characters on its cover is considered as contraband until thoroughly checked.

After a few minutes of apprehensive waiting, he started shouting around for some Abdul Kareem. A porter suddenly came running from the other end of the hall. The custom guy handed him over my DVDs and told me to close my suitcase. After I locked it and turned around to spot the Abdul Kareem guy, a horrible realization dawned upon me: he had disappeared into the blues. Discerning the hopelessness on my face, the custom guy started shouting again for the porter and in a few minutes I was standing in the “testing room” of the airport. For a newcomer, this can be quite an intimidating experience as you’re surrounded with about 8 PCs (running Windows XP in Arabic) and 12 TVs with a DVD player connected to each of them. For the veteran, this is one of the funniest places on earth. If you don’t belong to the latter category, keep on reading and you’ll find out the reason for this facetiousness.

One by one, the DVDs were inserted into the DVD-ROM drives of different PCs. As most of them were PS2 games, they contained strange binary files which weren’t remotely recognizable by Windows Media Player (half of the benchmark for digital-contraband). Looking quite frustrated, he tried all of them in the DVD players. On about the 18th DVD, he hit the jackpot. The DVD started playing ‘The Massage’ episode of Seinfeld. I started feeling a tingling sensation in my spinal cord. Luckily, the massage scene on George passed by without any sexual involvement. The on/off tingling sensation continued for another half hour, at the end of which both of us were left equally embittered. He couldn’t spot anything more sexual than a physiotherapist’s massage while I was constantly checking at the clock. At last, he resorted to figurative questioning once again, which resulted in me explaining for the umpteenth time that I don’t have any “sexy videos” with me. Finally, my passport was handed over back to me at half-past nine. I picked up my suitcase, and the packed CPU that I had brought with me and started walking towards the exit lounge. Apparently, the Saudi custom clearance guys don’t give a damn if any of the following is found in your baggage while entering the kingdom:

  • A 250Gb hard-disk
  • DVDs with cartoon-ish covers
  • DVDs with the Playstation 2 logo

However, the following things can set all the customs personnel on fire:

  • DVDs without proper covers
  • DVDs with females on their covers

If you don’t want to get caught while trying to sneak porn into the kingdom, do not write them as WMV files on DVD-Rs or as standard playable DVDs. You’ve been warned, these guys have an acute observation for spotting suspicious “sexy videos”.

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