Sunday, August 1, 2010

A border encounter in Borneo

It was sometime in 1974, I think. Peter Rowles, an Australian driller and I were leaving Nunukan Island, off the East Coast of Borneo, working on a seismic exploration crew. If you have Google Earth you can find where we were camped. We were located about 3° 58’ 50.45” N, 117° 38' 17.87” E. Not long after our chartered taxi, a local boat with 3 40 HP Johnson outboard motors on the stern, left the island, we were intercepted by a steel-hulled Indonesian Navy boat containing several armed men. They escorted us to their ship, which was about a mile away. The “ship” was about the size of a torpedo boat. It was clear that it was an Indonesian Navy vessel because it had wet laundry hanging from the signal halyards where signal flags would normally be found.

Once aboard, we were taken to a cabin where two officers sat smoking and drinking coffee. We were offered coffee as is the custom of refined Indonesians. Eventually they got down to business. They wanted to know who we were, what we were doing so close to the Malaysian border and they demanded to see our passports, visas and police clearance papers. In our halting Indonesian, we attempted to answer their questions but we couldn’t produce any paperwork, because all of our documents were back at the base camp in the office safe. “A likely story,” their faces said as they glared at us skeptically.

What we didn’t do was call them pigs and racists. We didn’t say that we had a right to sneak into/out of Indonesia and that they could kiss our white, albeit rusty, behinds. No, such behavior is unacceptable outside the United States. Other countries have borders and authorities that enforce their immigration laws.

In our case back then, eventually they gave up any hope that they had nailed a couple of desperate criminals. They turned us loose. I left a fresh pack of cigarettes on the table when I got up to go—such courtesies were expected then, and probably still are.

We learned later that they went down to our camp, located a couple of our labor contractors, and shook them down for whatever they could get out of them. Such customs and practices were common then—and probably still are.

No comments:

Post a Comment