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How a small visa problem can put you into jail in Indonesia pt II

Post Series: Visa Problems and Indonesian Jail

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It was only one week ago when I was driving my motorbike through the rice fields, passing little villages and schoolchildren on their way to the school in the village nearby.

I was greeted by teeth-less farmers on their daily journey to their rice paddies and youngsters outside a local coffee place.
Since I came to Bali I started to go on these morning trips almost every other day. Just to drive wherever I wanted, drink some coffee on the way and explore some parts I had not been before.
Sometimes I’d drive for hours and every time I got this feeling of being totally free, being able to go wherever I liked and do whatever I wanted to do. During these morning drives I had no worries, no specific time that i’d had to be back, I always brought enough money for a coffee or something to eat and I just took whichever road looked more adventurous or more beautiful than the other. This had to be total freedom. It was almost like I went on these rides because I knew I was going to lose all of this freedom a couple of days after..

And now, instead of being able to go wherever, I couldn’t even walk for more than two meters without meeting a wall or prison bars and it felt deeply depressing for me. Not being able to see the sun, the palm trees, the rice fields, the people on the way and all the beautiful things I used to see along the way, even though all of this was so close at the other side of the windowless thick white walls.  

The hallway outside of our room which led to the other cell and the way out was made up out of white iron bars with the immigration office and its waiting room right behind it. There was no door or anything blocking the view from the hall into the room and so people were almost able to see our whole bedroom from the office outside. Sometimes we’d feel the questioning eyes of the immigration officers looking at us when we were making a noise. We were wearing the same clothes for days and didn’t have a shower or brushed our teeth in a while. The cells had very bright lights like the ones you’d expect in a hospital. They never turned off these lights, not even in the night which made it almost impossible to sleep. How did we ever end up in this situation?

For some reason I always had the idea that I would be able to cope with a life in prison for a short time. Not that I would find it enjoyable, not at all, but that I wouldn’t go mad if I ever ended up in one.
I know that I have a strong mind and that I can manage to stay positive in the worst situations, but a cell this size messes up my brain. I underestimated the cell quite a lot and  I knew that I would have a hard time losing all this freedom that I had just a few days before.
It is hard to imagine how it feels not being able to do anything other than stare at a wall for at least an hour.

It was hard to say whether time went by fast or not. If we had any clarity of how long we’d still be in the cell than we had a moment to live to. But our days were spent waiting for our friend who did his best to visit us every single day with food, drinks and cigarettes. One day he brought a survival package for us from our friends and the organizers of the party with clothes, underwear, a notebook and some pens, we found chocolate and even a face scrub in the bag (which we couldn’t use since there was no shower).

We didn’t talk to the officers much even though we could see them from our room. Sometimes we waited in the hallway to see other people instead of just each other and stared into the waiting room.

One day we were alarmed by the screaming of of 15 Chinese girls in sales uniform who took up most of the waiting room. We heard from our Chinese neighbor in the cell next to us that they got arrested for working illegally in a clothing shop for Chinese tourists. They all claimed that they couldn’t speak a word of English when they were asked by the immigration officers who had no idea how to deal with this situation. I started to speak in my broken Chinese with one of the girls who sat close to us because I got curious about what they’d done. She started asking me all sorts of questions and called her friends to show them the foreigner behind bars who could speak Chinese! All this unwanted attention also drew the guards eye who immediately stormed towards me and the Chinese girl to see if he really heard me speaking Chinese. He told me to follow him and before I knew It was standing in a interrogation room in front of a group of officers who looked at me and the officer with questioning eyes. “The Dutch foreigner can speak Chinese, he can translate!” he said with excitement in his voice and a big smile almost as if he was the one who thought me mandarin.

Before I could say that it was not sufficient to really translate or anything they started to discuss whether they could use me. The officer who dragged me into the room turned towards me with a disappointed look in his eyes and said “never mind, you can go back now”. And so my time in the cell continued and when the girls disappeared I continued my new hobby which was staring at the white molded wall, sometimes unsure whether I was awake or sleeping.

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The thoughts of people having to stay in a cell for years kept us going and amazed us every time. How could people survive like that? There is often nothing else to do than stare blankly at the wall, we didn’t even talk for long hours since eventually we’d run out of stuff to talk about. The way we spoke changed over the days since our mind got used to having plenty of time. So every time a story was told, we’d use more details, spoke slowly and didn’t put any effort in watching whether the other person was actually listening or not, it was just a way to keep ourselves busy.

One night me and the Portuguese guy were sitting in our cell, I think it was about midnight when we heard the door opening. Usually at night we’d only hear the cleaner who sometimes went out for a cigarette or the immigration officers who were working late night.

But today was different, we didn’t hear the cleaner, we didn’t hear other officers and we didn’t hear as much motorbikes outside as we were used to. Until the outside door opened and we heard footsteps coming closer to our cell. We weren’t able to see who it was since we were in our cell but heard that they were coming directly to us.

Someone used a hard object to knock on the iron cell bars and after we heard a low voice. “Excuse me, come here, I have news for you!” Me and my cell mate looked at each other to see if the other knew who it was. We both realized that this was a familiar voice that we’d heard before and more importantly, a voice that actually spoke English to us! We knew that it was not our friend who came to visit us every day since he would not be able to enter the immigration building at this time. So who was it?

We quickly put on clothes and our shoes just to be sure, it was seen rude to appear in front of government officials with shorts, flipflops or without a shirt, which is exactly how most tourists appear in front of them. We looked around the corner and saw an older man in immigration uniform in front of our cell. We knew exactly that this was the head and the big boss of immigration and so this could mean either very bad or very good news..

We had no idea whether we should feel relieved or panic and we tried to show as much respect as possible. “Hello sir, how are you, can we help you sir?” And at one point I think one of us even said that we were happy to see him. He smiled in front of us and told us that our case was an extraordinary one. Many people were involved and either tried to help us or tried to make us stay in jail or get us deported. My Portuguese friend wanted the latter since all he wanted was just to get out of the tiny little cell where as I wouldn’t mind to stay for another week if I could just stay in Indonesia for longer or if I would be able to get back.

The head of immigration looked very calm and had a little smile on his face which gave us hope. He said: “You two have to get ready immediately since you two are leaving tomorrow.” My eyes grew bigger when he continued:

“We will give you some time to go back to Ubud and to the place you were staying. Then you two will have to come back to immigration to get deported.”

My Portuguese friend started laughing and making cheery noises and thanking the guy but I had other ideas. My head was full of questions with the most important one being: “Where do we go?!” Before I could ask anything he continued to speak. He told us that we will have to book our tickets tomorrow to a country of our choosing and we will have to leave Indonesia within a couple of days. “So we are getting deported and we have to pay for our own ticket?!” I wanted to ask but another question came out. “So we can just.. leave this cell tomorrow?” After the calm ‘yes’ that followed it seemed that all the other questions disappeared. We looked at each other and both starting to shake the officer’s hand. We hugged each other and did a little victory dance as if we had won anything. But through our happiness of leaving the cell I realized that I was getting deported out of the country that I love so much. Indonesia

The next day went by as a blur. We woke up, waited for a couple of hours in the cell until one of the officers opened the door and asked us to book the tickets. After some standard problems such as credit cards that didn’t work and such we got both of our tickets to Malaysia, the cheapest tickets we could find. We heard that we were banned from the country for a month which was a lot shorter than the 3 years I thought we’d get! So that was a big relief, it also meant that I could just stay with a friend that lived in Malaysia for a short time, travel a bit and eventually get back to the Netherlands!

We would never be able to enter the country without a valid visa and so we will have to go to an embassy or consulate if we wanted to go back. But it seemed that it was over, we would drive to the airport after the weekend. The head of immigration and 6 other guys in uniform would join us all the way until we’d get in the airplane. The whole plane would think we were criminals and I was already making plans what I could do with that knowledge. Yes, I did get a bit excited, I just hoped that they wouldn’t use handcuffs.

During only a short week I learned so much. Not only about visa regulations in Indonesia, but also about friendship, trust and all these cliches. But that is not all, I began to look at situations differently, situation in my past where I didn’t have patience, situations that I started thinking about since I had plenty of time. But I also thought a lot about people imprisoned around the world, sometimes in a smaller cell than me having to stay there for years in a row, I was here for a couple of days and was amazed that people can survive that.

You don’t see how much freedom we actually have until you’re not able to walk for more than 2 meters without hitting a wall or iron prison bars. The next morning after we were out, after a night of partying with everyone in Ubud, I took my motorbike and drove through the rice fields, I drove through the jungle and there, next to a river on a small rock I sat down and thought how lucky I actually am, I thought about how immensely grateful I should actually be for my life. How much freedom we have in the west to just go wherever we like and how easy it is to achieve a life of location independence for almost everybody around me.

So use this freedom, don’t stay in your office, go outside, experience this freedom your own way and enjoy life. Because it can change drastically before you know it. Make sure that if it does, you won’t have any regrets.

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Jaime is an explorer, he can't sit still and loves a challenge. He makes a living writing articles, Digital Marketing and more

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