A year ago, an exchange in the cafeteria with a few 12-year old students got twisted around into a sackable offence AND a felony. I ended up losing my job, losing thousands of dollars, losing my health insurance and my freedom. I landed up in a Qatari jail on May Day.
After languishing in jail for eight days with no help of any kind from, as far as I could see, neither my employer nor my country’s diplomatic mission, a friend of mine took matters into his own hands and passed my story on to Shabina Khatri, a Dohanews.co journalist.
That article, the follow-up article published within 24 hours also in Dohanews.co, and another article in the Washington post, helped spread word of my predicament. The result was a massive international campaign to get me freed. Thanks to the campaign within about four days–exactly a year to the day–I walked out of Al Rayyan jail a free man after spending only 11 nights and 12 days to the hour.
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As there had been some concern for my safety and security, I would be spending that night–Sunday, May 12–at the Nepalese Ambassador’s residence.
By the time I reached the residence, the sense of relief at being freed but hurt at the plight of those left behind, had been replaced by an urge, more than anything, to get online to find out what had happened the last four days. Except, two more visitors–representatives from the Non-Resident Nepalese Association (NRNA)–besieged me.
While the gathering at Jannie’s had been a pretty quiet affair, with friends and colleague coming and going and milling about, at the Ambassador’s, there was much recounting of the events and activities leading up to my release by four of the other five people. (The fifth one was my classmate from Nepal.)
After a brief aside with my classmate, I got the impression that the real accounts of the events leading up to my release and details of key players would be found elsewhere.
The first night of freedom was–in one way–the same as the first night of my incarceration: sleepless! I spent most of it surfing the net trying to get a sense for what had transpired!
But I guess because of the state of mind I was in and the adrenaline flowing through my veins, hardly anything I saw and read that night stayed with me!
Not long after the sun had come up, I was on the move to finally prepare for my departure from the country that I had so wanted to leave and be done with! Getting the release papers, the exit visa, my passport and finally flying out that afternoon was however a little more involved than anticipated.
I was driven out to Al Rayyan jail in the embassy’s vehicle accompanied by–just in case–embassy staff. We arrived at the station at the stipulated time—about 8–with a Kantipur journalist in tow.
Contrary to the advice I had received the previous day, I was to first pick up a piece of paper from Qatar Foundation Human Resource (QFHR) department. Then exchange that for the release papers at the station, which in turn was to be exchanged for my passport back at QFHR department. After waiting around for over two hours, the release papers finally came through the fax machine.
After exchanging the release papers for my passport, I had a brief–no more than 10 minute–exchange with the Director at the QFHR office. He wanted to know how it had been inside and if they had mistreated or abused me in any way.
I couldn’t tell whether he had come to see me on his own volition or had come following instructions from his superiors. At the end of our conversation, he handed me his business card telling me to get in touch if I needed any help.
While at the station, I had also picked up the belongings left behind before being lead into the private cell on May Day—my bag, belt, watch and my phone. Powering on my phone, a number of interesting SMS’ greeted me.
The most interesting one was from the Administrator whose job it had been to facilitate my departure from the country. The same administrator with whom I had exchanged a number of emails about my passport for some days leading to the day of my incarceration and a number of SMS’ on May Day. In response to my frantic SMS saying that “I am goin to jail”, this administrator had responded with a cool,“Ok.” (See image on the right.)
The other was a couple of SMS alerts from my Qatari bank saying that I had overdrawn!
Following my short conversation with the Director, paying a visit to the bank, I discovered a couple of strange things.
The first discovery was that Qatar Foundation had deposited my shipping allowance there, instead of wiring it to my account abroad as per the agreement in the exit clearance document submitted to them.
The other discovery was my request to cancel my credit card had not been processed in spite of receiving assurance and confirmation–at least a month before the whole ordeal had begun–that it would be taken care of. I had to pass on the task of resolving the issues to a friend as I didn’t have the time.
Then it was to the airport with a brief stop on the way to pick up and pay for the ticket the embassy had arranged on my behalf.
At the airport, when the time to say good bye came I was still on a kind of autopilot mode. The anxiety that had been there since the morning was a little heightened when, after the good-byes, I began proceeding on my own. So, from the time I bade my farewell to when I took my seat in the plane, I sent them, and others, SMS updates with details of where I was and what was happening.
Walking past security, I started counting every minute, getting a little more anxious at two points during what would be my final walk in Qatar…to freedom. The first was when the bus to the plane from the boarding gate took a while to arrive. The second was during the long bus ride to the plane–it just seemed to take forever!
The autopilot switched off and the anxiety dissipated only when the plane reached cruising altitude. Relief, an incredible sense of relief, replaced the anxiety. Relief, the feeling I had had the previous day when greeted by friends and colleagues upon arrival outside Jannie’s apartment.
Again, not unlike the previous day, that sense of relief was also accompanied by profuse tears streaming down my cheeks. Except, this time, they refused to stop! Unlike the tears the previous day—brought on by senses of relief and hurt—these were brought on also by two other feelings: those of anger and rage!
Relief at my freedom, but hurt at the maltreatment–discrimination and abuse—I received, and other Nepalese (and Asians) continue to receive, in the hands of the Qataris and other Arabs; anger and rage at the unfairness and injustice of it all!