Of checkpoints and checklists

By Shakir Reshamwala

With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting lockdowns and curfews, checkpoints within the country – earlier found only outside embassies and other sensitive sites – can now be seen everywhere, especially during the curfew hours. On some days, I encounter up to five checkpoints on the way home from the newspaper during the night.

Mostly I am waved through these checkpoints; other times officers only take a brief look at my curfew pass; while occasionally the QR-code is scanned by the policeman to confirm its validity. I have a pass and a legitimate reason to be out on the streets at this late hour, so my mind is at ease, but Murphy’s law is also at play here.

On the days you have all your papers and nothing to worry about, you will be waved through. Just the very day you forget your phone or wallet at home will be when the policeman decides to check all your documents. Ditto with when you forget to fasten your seatbelt or the taillight stops working – lo and behold you are pulled over by a passing traffic patrol.

This makes going through checkpoints an intimidating affair. Take for instance passport control at the airport. While leaving the country, a person may suddenly be told by the immigration officer that a travel ban has been placed against them, and they will have to miss the flight. If the traveler manages to depart without any issues, there could be a problem waiting for them at the arriving destination. Despite having a visa and all required documents, they could be pulled aside for further questioning or even denied entry.

To be sure, the officers manning the checkpoints are courteous and professional, and one is on their way in a matter of seconds. Body language is also at play here – the officers can make out if someone is trying to pull a fast one. They have become adept at knowing whom to stop and whom to wave through. It may be an inexact science, but is effective most of the time.

Now for some checkpoint etiquette:
Rule one – have all your documents ready. If the curfew pass is on your phone, unlock your device and type in your details before your turn arrives. Having a screenshot of the pass works best. Make a checklist of everything that is needed and have them on hand. The last thing you want to do is fumble for your papers after you reach the counter and irk the guards.

Rule two – maintain eye contact with the officers and truthfully answer any questions. Rule three – once you are given the all-clear, move! This is not the time to flip through your passport to check where the entry was stamped or leisurely put your documents back in the bag, or worse, start putting on your belt or socks. Holding up the line makes the already-jittery motorists or passengers behind you more irate and gets everyone’s stress levels high.

So the next time you have to go through a checkpoint, be confident and have your credentials handy. The officers too will appreciate it and the experience will be a pleasant one. It’s not the Checkpoint Charlie.

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