POV

Global Odyssey: Locked up… in the USA

Our friend Eric Hill has a mission: “To visit all 194 U.N. recognized countries in world record time and film and document the exciting journey to show that awesome exists in EVERY country, especially with the people.” Eric’s journey will be one of full cultural immersion, while simultaneously raising funds and awareness in partnership with a variety of charity organizations. CBK will be reporting on his progress as he moves along. Check in next time for another tale from a great adventure.

Story and photos by Eric Hill - http://gowitheric.com

Source: Eric Hill www.gowitheric.com

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Held at gunpoint in Zimbabwe, having navigated through North Korea, accused of being a spy by extremist militants in the active war zone in Syria, arrested in a conflict region of South Sudan… I can’t deny there are moments of uncertain future in the journey through this beautiful world, but I can’t help but laugh that the fact that the first time I’ve ever been locked and held in a room would be when I returned to the US. But before I get to that, I can’t skip the final country in this first African leg.

Kyle and I Rode with some of the guys from the village back to Juba over the four hours of super rough road. Not knowing if or when I would see Kudelee and it’s people again, and the fact I wasn’t excited to get back to the chaos of Juba, made the drive seem especially long. I was, however, getting more and more excited again for Sudan, the final stop on this leg.

Sudan was full of surprises. Once again, we started out with none of the right currency. Because of the poor US-Sudan relations, I never expected that US dollars are the currency to have! I was sure that my wad of Ugandan cash I had from selling the motor bikes a couple weeks earlier was much more likely to be of value there. Wrong again. We got to the airport to find out our Visa fee had some other fees attached that had to be paid or we would be shipped out of the country without being allowed to step foot on Sudanese soil.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Apparently there is absolutely nowhere in the country to get money from an ATM or exchange Ugandan currency. And, unlike Burundi (the last country in which we had no access to money), there is absolutely nowhere in the country allowed to use credit card transactions AND it is illegal for US citizens to wire money to Sudan because of the effort by the US to prevent the funding of terrorism. This time we truly had nothing we could spend. Luckily, a local saved the day again… story of my life! Moez, our guide met us at the airport.

Moez was already an incredible help before we got there. He already had made the near-impossible task of getting a visa as an American a three-day cinch. The way I got lined up with a guide that had good enough connections to be able to get a US passport holder into Sudan is actually pretty interesting; a hostage negotiator stationed in the Darfur region of South Sudan, Hakim, happened to be traveling to North Korea the same time I was. We quickly became friends and he is partially to thank for saving Kyle and me from another rough patch by introducing us to Moez. But I digress. Moez ran a very small operation and I learned by the end of our stay he wasn’t very financially motivated. He really loves his country and is genuinely interested in showing that Sudan is a great place to anyone who is curious. This was good for us. With this tight situation we got ourselves in (you’d think I’d be smarter than this by now) and he was dedicated to getting us out smoothly. He called up his brother and took out a loan in US cash to cover our expenses for the trip. All he needed was my word that I would get him the cash somehow. This was a lot of money for that region that we were dealing with. I was touched he would trust me like that. I hate admitting it, but I had a little mix of mistrust for him. I figured it was smart to keep some skepticism, maybe that’s true, but in the end when it turned out it truly was an immediate trust for me, I felt like I had gone against one of the purposes of the trip, to show that there really are good people everywhere in this world.
Feelings aside, the fees were paid and after the 3-hour ordeal, we stepped foot on Sudanese soil!

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

We were welcomed by a hellish blast of 117 degree wind rushing in the corridor from outside as we walked out of the air-conditioned airport. Kyle and I both let out a simultaneous “whoa!” at the hot rush of eye-ball drying wind. Moez had his work cut out for him to make us love this oven of a country.

What better way than to meet the good food and people there. We dropped our stuff off at the hotel in downtown Khartoum and went straight for one of the many stands that sold ice-cold fresh-squeezed juice. Orange, mango, guava, and even one made from one of the favorite trees, the baobab tree. We had tried them all before the sunset.

Also to ease the effects of the tortuous heat, we did as the locals do and got ourselves the traditional attire. Once we had our jilabias and bloomers, things got a little more comfortable. Plus, the stares became fewer since we blended in more…at least in the periphery of the locals view. Kyle and I were the only westerners that I saw the whole time.
Moez seemed to know everyone around us. We met friends of his from all walks of life it seemed. A bazaar owner, a launderer, a street coffee vendor, a beggar, a teen that fixed my computer, a hotel manager… the variety was perfect to get at least some idea of how the Sudanese are. Plus I had my first introduction to coffee made the Sudanese way: coarsely filtered and with lots of ginger. Try it. It’s a loud taste, but it’s delicious.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

We had an uneventful night at the hotel other than the fact that these were the most normal sleeping arrangements since the hotel before the Kilimanjaro hike. Air conditioning and individual mattresses made it almost disappointing how normal it was in such an offbeat place.
The next day we explored the Meroe Pyramids 3 hours into the desert outside the city. Moez and our driver insisted we wait for the temperature to cool in the day before we walked in the desert around them. We spent some time at a café nearby, then headed out to explore them. Kyle was all grins as he got to ride a camel for the first time, then we were both full of laughs and smiles as we flipped and jumped and climbed around the ancient ruins. We ended the day with a traditional Sudanese meal of beans, humus, and bread. Then after nightfall we set up our beds right on the sand out in the desert near the pyramids and slept under the clear moonless sky. No need for blankets or a tent. It was perfect. The next and final day, we spent exploring the city with Moez. Unfortunately, even here, with a permit for taking pictures from the government, and Moez by our side, our cameras caused some commotion. Several times Moez whisked us off to safety as small crowds started to become heated when they saw the outsiders taking photos. Tourism isn’t a major industry there and journalists have unfortunately created some pretty condemning stories with the pictures they’ve gotten there. If only they new my intentions. If only they knew I was there to show how awesome they and their country are. I’d like to think the few that clearly didn’t like that I was there would be like almost everyone else there that loved that we were visiting.

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Kyle, Moez and I shared one last local meal then headed to the airport. We had some more visa issues and to make a long story short, I ended up spending the night at the airport and flying out the next morning. I absolutely loved my time in Africa, but being stuck at that airport made me anxious to get home. After about 36 hours of travel, I finally made it to Atlanta. I was back in the USA! What happened next, I suppose I should have predicted, but it was still a surprise.
I was going through customs as usual, and made it to the customs officer who stamps the passports upon entry. He leafed through my passport a bit, paused, raised his eyebrows, and continued to flip the pages. He looked up at me, then down at my list of countries visited before entering the US.

“Go ahead and wait over there for me,” he said to me, and handed the passport to another officer.

“Come with me,” the other officer said. I followed him to a desk with a couple more customs officers. “Go ahead and wait in there for me,” he said pointing to a glass-walled room with an automatic sliding door.
I kind of figured at this point there were some red flags with Syria and Sudan on the list. I patiently obeyed. I walked to the door which slid open of course and went into the room and sat patiently on one of the chairs near a very frantic Middle Eastern mother and her son. Then I remembered I hadn’t written my flight info on the entry form. I popped out of my chair headed for the door so I could give the officers the information. And nearly smacked my face on the sliding door when it didn’t open. “Strange,” I thought. I backed up and waived my had at what I thought was the motion sensor. Nothing. I tapped on the glass to get the officers attention and pointed to the door and mouthed so they could read what I was saying “it won’t open.”

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

I was answered by a finger pointing in a “sit-back-down” motion and a muffled voice through the glass from the officer saying, “you have to stay in there.”

I was locked up! For the first time in my life I was being held in a locked room. And this was the US! After all the places I’d been warned about that I had visited it would be the USA that I officially get locked up, haha.

I was finally escorted out into another locked room where I was sat on one side of a desk to wait for another officer. The guy that came in was friendly, but I straight up got INTERROGATED.

“Why did you go to Syria? … What happened? … Why Sudan? … Why so many stamps?” and on and on.

Luckily I had an official project to back up my story and things went really smoothly. In fact by the end of our talk, The Global Odyssey had a new fan! He also told me I might get a call from the FBI since I might have some useful information. I was…flattered? But it made me feel like the spy the members of Jabat Al Nusra had accused me of being two months earlier. It reminded me that what I was doing was at least a little unusual at least. I’m glad I never got that FBI call. Just for the sake of journalistic integrity, I wouldn’t even want that pressure.

It was an unexpected welcome back to my homeland to say the least, but I still love you, America 🙂

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Courtesy of Eric Hill

Source: Eric Hill www.gowitheric.com

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