Well, maybe that is a bit too draconian, but after experiencing an overland border crossing yesterday from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan at Korday, it puts the rudeness and inefficiency of U.S. border agents in perspective.
Think free for all. Pushing, shoving, yelling, screaming. This is not the border you cross with a young child or senior citizen. Stamping out of Kyrgyzstan was not too bad, though it took a long time to get out of the country–there is a gate on the road about 100 yards from the border that lets a few cars through every couple minutes (raised manually by border officials). That took 30 minutes to get past. Once past that, your driver instructs you to get out of the vehicle and take your bags. You proceed into a passport control booth where I did not have to wait more than a few minutes to get the exit stamp, though U.S. citizens (and other foreigners, it seemed) had to go to back room to physically get stamped out. Most crossing the borders were either Kazakh or Kyrgyz citizens, who only need an identity card to travel between countries.
Then the fun starts. You walk about a few hundred feet through no-man’s-land between countries before coming to a long line waiting to get through a grimy green gate. It was a busy afternoon and there was a line of about 100 waiting outside a gate on the right side of road, with soldiers only letting through a couple people at a time. You get in line and are immediately compressed, with those behind you pushing hard, as if that helps. Whenever the gate is opened, the pushing grows in intensity, as does the yelling. Inevitably, the crowd tries to overpower the two armed soldiers opening the gate and one soldier strikes a man on the head like I was struck in Bangkok.
Finally, I get through. But there is no border agent waiting to stamp my passport on the other side of the gate, only an even bigger line with more yelling, pushing, and shoving. Think of a packed Tokyo subway at rush hour, only everyone pushing. That’s what it was like–for nearly 30 minutes. There was another gate ahead where small groups were let through every five minutes.
But the fun was not over yet. Past the second gate is the actual passport control, but the room is small and the soldiers had let in far too many people. That meant, you guessed it, more pushing and shoving. I was so compressed I began to loose feeling in my left arm (which was clutching my rollerboard).
Finally, I was stamped through and then directed to a metal detector on the far side of the room. I set it off, but the officer waived me by. I had made it into Kazakhstan…just a little battered.