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The Naughty McCourtie 3: The day I P*ssed-off Poland

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By Rebecca McCourtie

I consider myself to be a relatively well-composed individual. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I get excited at times. I show happiness and sadness. I even show anger on the odd occasion. However, as a general rule I would say that my emotions are always in check and relative to the situation at hand.

In having said this, I also know that life can sometimes throw you ‘knicker-s***ting’ moments, whereby ones ability to internally compose oneself flies right out the window. While not often, I have certainly been victim to these instances. For example, the time I booked a hotel online in Stockholm and ended up on the outskirts of the city in a refugee camp. Or the time I boarded a heavily congested train in a multicultural area of Gothenburg. Five minutes into the journey the cabin started to smell like burning and petrol, which subsequently led to 90% of the train getting off at the next stop. It’s sad and unjust when minority actions taint the broader perception of ethnic and cultural minorities, including the perceptions of those very minorities about themselves. Or my encounter with the drug fueled tourist sherpers in Cairo who mounted the bonnet of my taxi, whilst simultaneously yelling ‘ride my f*cking donkey,’ in protest to me opting to tour the pyramids in the safety of a cab. Or the time a man walked away from a suitcase at the Marrakesh Menara Airport and failed to return during the entire twenty minutes I spent staring at it, praying that it didn’t explode. Like I said, ‘knicker-s***ting’ moments when you really feel for your safety! These moments hit you when you least expect it and leave you feeling shaken well after the incident is over.

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I am sitting in a plane right now destined for Tel Aviv. I’m taking a few moments to draw in a few deep breaths and count my lucky stars that I actually made it onto the flight. You see, I just had one of those ‘knicker-shitting’ moments. To be specific, I  was just detained by the Polish police and interrogated by border protection officials!

 ‘I’ve already told you, the Swedish Government didn’t issue me with a tangible visa  in my passport… they are electronic. I have all the paper work here!

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‘What do you mean if it’s not in my passport you wont accept it? Obviously this paper work is proof that I’m not illegal! HERE, this is my housing lease and my tax number… MY TAX NUMBER… aka: I AM LEGAL and on the books…

OK, can’t you just call the Swedish authorities and ask then? My flight leaves in forty minutes’

I chose to stay silent after this. I was starting to feel terrified. My attempts to explain myself weren’t getting through.

‘Maybe that’s in Sweden, but this is Poland!’ With this statement the border control official shook his head and pressed the insides of his wrists together, indicating that I would most likely be arrested and taken off to Christ knows where. I turned my head to look at the doorway. A number of policeman were now standing in the doorframe, overzealously blocking it JUST IN CASE I decided to do the runner (the runner to where? It was a freaking airport!)

‘This is Poland!’

‘What the hell did that mean?’ I thought to myself. I knew I was in Poland… I also knew that I had a Swedish Holiday Working Visa and was WELL WITHIN my legal right in the Schengen Zone. I looked back at the border control man blankly. It was unprofessional of him to indicate that I had an impending arrest on the horizon. I got the feeling he wanted to stir hysteria in me, like he wanted to see the young woman from Australia cry. Well, I wasn’t going to give it to him! I nodded in response his physical suggestion that I was about to be cast in iron. What else could I do?

Absurdly enough, he looked a lot like my deceased father. I had been in Poland for over two weeks and had not come across one red head… but there, as I sat at a bleak brown desk with little more than a telephone and out-of-date looking computer on it, my father’s doppelganger looked at me with furrowed brows. It almost felt like a reenactment of my childhood, except this time I wasn’t going to simply be sent to my room, I was going to be sent to a dirty prison cell!

All I wanted to do was get the hell out of the country. It wasn’t like I was trying to get IN!

It was such a shame. I had had a wonderful time in Poland and now my attempt to depart was wrecking it all! The country had challenged every single stereotype I had held. Contrary to my preconceived notions of bleak skies, sad faces, and depressing post-Soviet surroundings, I was met with sunshine, smiles and beautiful natural and architectural surroundings. Poland was everything BUT the negative stereotype that seemed to follow it post-iron curtain.

I guess in a way the bleak sky, sad face, and post-soviet surrounding did catch me though, it had caught-up with me in that little office facing the man who bore a freakishly similar resemblance to the father I had lost five months earlier.

I continued to sit in silence. There was evidently nothing more I could say to support my case. What would be, would be! Besides, if I got deported it meant a free flight home. I could sort out any ‘life ban from Europe’ issues when I got back to Mum’s place. I wondered if a deportation flight would include my connection from Sydney to Canberra? Always look on the bright side right?!? This is what I was trying to tell myself as the border control official tapped the desk pointlessly and flicked through my paperwork for the tenth time.

‘You have overstayed in the Schengen Zone.’I made another futile attempt to explain that I had NOT overstayed my welcome.

The Schengen Zone was all well and good if it ran smoothly, but what happened in situations like mine? Those that are a little more complex than the passport

average tourist backpacking around during their three month Schengen allowance. Surely I wasn’t the first Australian to be travelling through Poland on a Swedish Working Visa.

Specifically, my issue was this: I have a 12-month working visa for Sweden. On the 16th of April I left Sweden and decided to travel around Europe. Unable to get a definitive answer as to whether my Swedish visa allowed me to travel freely throughout Europe for the remaining seven months of my visa, or whether I was subject to the Schengen three month limit (applied to Australians) from the date of my Swedish departure, I decided to play it safe and leave two days before the three months was up. Better safe than sorry right? One would have thought so, but apparently not! This Polish border control official was trying to tell me that I didn’t have a valid visa, which subsequently meant I had over-stayed in the Schengen Zone by SIX months, in other words time including my entire stay on my Swedish visa. If this was deemed to be the case then my next destination certainly wasn’t going to be Tel Aviv, it was going to be JAIL! I ask again, what happens in situations like mine when there is a breakdown in communication between countries? You end up in a post-Soviet interrogation room, THAT’S WHAT!

I wondered whether this situation would have occurred if I had been departing from another Schengen country like Germany, France, or Italy. Specifically, I wondered whether Poland’s relatively recent entry into the European Union meant that their administrative processes weren’t quiet up-to-speed with the rest of Europe. I had NEVER had any issues in any of the other countries I had visited, and now Poland was busting my balls over nothing. I WAS LEGAL! What is the point in having a Schengen Zone if the countries who are party to it don’t, or can’t, communicate imperative information! Poland should know that Sweden issues electronic visas! They should also have a means of checking the validity of a traveler purporting to be in receipt of one.

It took twenty minutes, multiple policemen, and countless border control officials, all thumbing through the same paper work that I had presented to the first official, to eventually deem me to be valid. In the end I don’t think they were so much convinced of my validity, as they were befuddled by the issue, and dare I say it, embarrassed that they had no way of checking.

I am not going to lie; I was scared! I kept on thinking about what my poor mother was going to do when I called her from jail… would I have even been allowed a phone call from jail? It would have been an absolute disaster had I been detained.

Desperate to catch my flight I attempted to snatch my papers from my Daddy-look-a-like and make a swift move for the door. Clenching the bundle and stopping me from my intended sprint, Daddy-doppelganger looked me straight in the eye and said: ‘You tell Sweden this is not OK!’ I nodded my head and shot a confused look back at him: OK dude, I’ll tell Sweden the Polish are pissed-off and I’m sure they’ll listen to me! RIDICULOUS!

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India to Approve US $ 3 Billion Deals with Israel

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youtube according to Janes website, India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) is poised to approve the procurement of various Israeli military equipment worth an estimated US$3 billion ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tel Aviv later this year. Official sources said this includes two additional Ilyushin Il-76-based Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Phalcon airborne early…

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ALMOST THIRTY: Too Old or not Young Enough?

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By Rebecca McCourtie

EXCITEMENT, that’s what I felt when I got in a taxi at the train station and told the driver to take me to my next volunteer gig at a hostel in central Tel Aviv.

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So far I had been a chef at a chateau, a goat milker, a cheese maker, a gardener, a beekeeper, a honey extractor and an English teacher. After leaving Sweden I had been making my way around Europe volunteering. Essentially the deal was, I worked five hours a day, five days a week and got free board in return. It had worked an absolute treat to date! Well… mostly a treat, except for the goat farm stint when I had to leave early because I had a severe allergic reaction to the goat hair. Aside from my sinuses almost exploding out of my nostrils, I had had nothing but positive experiences and it was a no-brainer for me to T-something up in Israel doing the same sort of thing. Thinking hostel work might be fun and something different, I organised a three-week stint at a hostel in central Tel Aviv.

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Like I was saying, excitement filled my body as I hung my head out the window of the taxi and allowed my lungs to breathe in the warm muggy air and my eyes to absorb the bright lights that illuminated the skyscrapers in the dark of the night. When the driver pulled up outside the hostel, I paid, got out and made my way up the four flights of stairs with my heavy bags. My excitement disappeared when I walked into a room full of eighteen year olds. ‘SH*T!’ Eighteen year olds who were all drinking, smoking, running around and generally acting like eighteen year olds.

I was greeted by the VERY young manager on the night shift. ‘Hey, who are you?… Rebecca who?’ This wasn’t a good start! I had organised with the boss to volunteer, but the manager hadn’t been filled-in and wasn’t expecting me. After a few brief introductions, explanations and pleasantries, I was taken to ‘the bag rack’ outside. ‘Just leave your bags here.’ I reluctantly put my downs in the open area, cautiously aware of the fact that anyone of the heavily intoxicated, financially questionable teenagers could steal from me.

‘So if my bags go here, where will I sleep? My bags won’t stay out here the entire time will they?’

The young man looked at me perplexed, as though he couldn’t understand why I was nervous about my personal belongings being stored on an oversized shoe rack out on a terrace with zero security. He may not have had anything of great value in his luggage, but I had my laptop, jewelry and basically my entire life in those two bags. The last thing I wanted was to leave everything unattended in amongst barely legal drunkards.

Yeah, your bags will stay here the whole time because the room is small. It’s OK, I think they will be OK.’

The child-manager’s tepid reassurance towards the safety of my belongings was not satisfactory, nor was the tiny room with ONE double bed that I was expected to share with all the other volunteers.

‘I am not sleeping here and sharing a bed with strangers.’

Again, he looked at me perplexed as to why I would have a problem with one bed and four people!

I’m almost thirty, I’m too old for this sh*t. I need my OWN bed!’

Evidently my message wasn’t getting through.

‘That’s not an excuse, thirty is NOT old’ said the 19-year-old child running the shop. I tried to accept the words of the barely-legal baby telling me I wasn’t old. I knew I wasn’t old, but I also knew I wasn’t young enough to be playing ‘stacks’ in a bed with three male strangers a decade younger than myself.

I exhaled: ‘OK fine. Not only am I not young enough for this sh*t, I DON’T want to share a bed with three strangers.’

He looked back at me, not willing to lose the battle: ‘you can sleep outside on the terrace if you want. There are chairs out there. People sleep on them all the time. You’ll be next to your luggage that way.’ The more the young man tried to convince me to stay, the more horrified I was becoming with the arrangements.

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‘Sorry mate, call me a cab. I’m going to another hotel. This isn’t going to work!’Reluctantly, the young man called me a cab and asked me one more time why I was leaving.

‘Well, outside of the fact that I am not comfortable top’n’tailng with three to four strangers, I am also not OK leaving my bags unattended and out in the open. Before you say ANYTHING else, even if I WAS comfortable being in close proximity to you under a bed-sheet, its too freaking hot this country to snuggle! See you later!’

With that I grabbed my bags and fanged it down the stairs and out onto the street. What a disaster that had been! It wasn’t a good start, but like everything in life you just have to deal with it! When life knocks you down, you gotta get back-up.

I managed to book myself another hotel using the wifi on my phone during my brief ‘tour’ of the hostel from adolescent-hell. It wasn’t glamorous, but it would do for three nights while I sorted out what the hell I was going to do with myself! I was definitely not young enough to handle that situation, but old enough to know that I didn’t have to do anything that I didn’t want to do!

Indicators that you’re probably too old to be backpacking (but screw it, you should do it anyway!)

When you took your first trip overseas:

  1. Technology wasn’t ‘Apple’, it was the apple shaped pocket at the front of your backpack that could store your portable CD player and allow your headphones to feed through to the outside.
  2. Mobile phones weren’t smart, but looking under the payphone and getting the box’s number, emailing that number to your Mum, T-ing up a time and getting her to use a phone-card to call you on said payphone WAS!
  3. MacDonald’s was a place to buy food and use the toilet, not tap into free wifi.
  4. A couple of steps before phone cameras, your camera took film… digital what now?

On this trip:

  1. Shared dorms with bunk beds are a NO, given that the likelihood of you bouncing instead of breaking is slim to none.
  2. The room isn’t the cheapest room unless it has wifi, in fact it isn’t even a room without wifi, it’s a shanty!
  3. Breakfast inclusive rooms are a MUST! Your body can’t function without breakfast… including coffee… did I say coffee already?
  4. The single most horrifying accommodation option is SHARED BATHROOM!

 

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Warming ties: Israel thanks India for abstaining on UNHRC vote

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New Delhi: Israel on Saturday thanked India for not voting on an “anti-Israel bashing” UNHRC resolution, which sources said was a result of Tel Aviv’s sustained talks with the Indian leadership over the past year.

Israeli envoy to India Daniel Carmon tweeted his appreciation. “We appreciate votes by members of @UN_HRC, including #India, who did not support yet another anti Israel bashing resolution. We thank them.”

On Friday, India abstained on a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution condemning Israel over a UN report into the alleged war crimes committed during the 2014 Gaza conflict – marking a significant change in India’s stance.

But India also stated that “there is no change in New Delhi’s long-standing position on support to the Palestinian cause”.

Forty-one of the 47 UNHRC council members voted in favour of the resolution, including the eight sitting EU members: France, Germany, Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Latvia and Estonia.

Only the US voted against the resolution.

India, Kenya, Ethiopia, Paraguay and Macedonia abstained.

Israel has been in touch with the leaders of the five countries that abstained since last July, when India had voted against Israel in the UNHRC.

Officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office have said that Netanyahu had himself spoken with the leaders of India, Kenya and Ethiopia over the past few days, Israeli media reported.

However, according to sources, Israel began the effort from last July itself.

Israel feels the UNHRC vote on the violence in the Gaza Strip was “politicized” and “unbalanced”. According to Israel, the resolution does not take into account the 5,000 rockets fired into its territory by Hamas.

The upcoming UNHRC vote was also taken up by Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon when he visited India and held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and other officials.

“The UNHRC vote has been in discussions for a while with India,” a source told IANS.

Israel conveyed to India that it understands India’s concerns about fighting terror as it is also experiencing terrorism, and both are united on the issue of combating the menace.

Iraeli daily Haaretz, reflecting the appreciation of India’s stand, said: “The fact that India abstained reflects a significant policy change by Delhi; traditionally, India voted in favour of all anti-Israel resolutions in UN institutions. Friday’s abstention was another sign of warming ties between India and Israel since the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014.”

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who is also the chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs, told IANS: “My understanding of the MEA position is that it is our normal practice to abstain when a resolution invokes the International Criminal Court (ICC), and that in this case too, that was done.

“In other words, MEA says the abstention had nothing to do with the merits of the resolution and does not reflect a changed stand on the Israel-Palestine question. Personally I will take MEA’s word for it while stressing that India’s consistent and moral position on the substantive issue must not be diluted. There is a national consensus on Palestine which I would urge the government to continue to respect.”

Ministry of external affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup on Friday said that India’s reason for abstention in the resolution A/HRC/29/L.35 was the reference to the ICC.

“India is not a signatory to the Rome Statute establishing the ICC.

“In the past also, whenever a Human Rights Council resolution made a direct reference to the ICC, as happened in the Resolutions on Syria and North Korea, our general approach had been to abstain.”

“We have followed the same principle in our voting on today’s Resolution,” he said.

Prime Minister Modi is to visit Israel this year — in the first-ever prime ministerial visit. Sushma Swaraj is also to visit Israel this year, while Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Tel Aviv earlier this year — marking warming in bilateral ties.

An independent UN commission of inquiry on Monday released its report on Operation ‘Protective Edge’, finding evidence that both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during the war in the Gaza Strip last summer and calling the devastation caused in the Palestinian territory “unprecedented”.

The members of the commission, which was appointed by the UNHRC, hinted in their report that the upper levels of the Israeli political echelon were responsible for the policies that led to some of the war crimes.

(IANS)