The Moment It All Changes, Pt. 1

Ben, taking in the sweet taste of Freedom – 2010

Halloween, 2010 – New York City
I was standing on the corner in Midtown Manhattan dressed head to toe in a Gumby costume. Little kids were fighting to take pictures with me, people were stopping to take video footage as I danced around, and even the police officers on the parade route were having a laugh with me. It was one of the best Halloweens ever, and the sun hadn’t even gone down yet. I couldn’t believe how much fun you can have when no one knows who you are underneath a costume. The feeling of freedom was so unbelievable, so much different then the feelings I had exactly three years ago on the same date.

Halloween 2007 – Dubai, United Arab Emirates
There was no costume, no children laughing, and most importantly I had no idea where in the world I was. Just a couple of days before that I had been in Addis Ababa, opening up for Beyonce at her sold out show at the Millennium Festival. Over fifteen thousand people watched me dj that night with millions more seeing the performance worldwide on satellite television. It was the highlight of my career, and the possibilities of what would come next seemed to be even greater.

At the suggestion of some friends of mine I had decided to take a weekend trip to Dubai before returning to the United States. I had heard over the years how Dubai was this amazing technological marvel in the middle of the desert. “It’s the Vegas of the Middle East!” was the most common answer whenever I asked about it, and that if I loved Ethiopia I had to see Dubai. I’d been in Ethiopia for two months at that point and felt that a weekend trip would be the perfect ending to my trip before returning to America.

When I got off the plane at Dubai International Airport I was immediately struck by the size of the place, it took me a good twenty minutes just to get from the terminal to customs. After getting my passport stamped I was asked to place my carry on bag through another scanner, similar to the ones that we pass our luggage through before we get on a plane in America. The guard at the station asked me to search inside my bag, which I thought nothing of since I carried a lot of electronic equipment with me and I had gotten used to being searched after 9/11.

The guard took all of my dj and camera equipment out and began dumping the remaining contents of my bag onto the table. She was joined by another security officer and they began going through every inch of my bag until they found a small pebble.
“What is this?”  The first officer asked, holding the pebble up to my face like it was a component of a bomb.
“I think it’s a rock, a bit of dirt?”
“This is hashish!”

This is when I first got an idea that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary stop. The second officer retrieved the luggage that I had stowed on the plane and they began to tear that apart too. Ten fifteen minutes passed as they opened up every article of clothing looking in the cracks of crevasses of everything until, “Sir, would you mind telling us what this is?”
Out of one of my jean’s pants pocket the first officer had produced a small seed. It was so small that at first I wasn’t sure what she was talking about.  It took me a second to realize it was a seed of marijuana. I’d smoked marijuana for years now, but never traveled anywhere on a plane with it, and the seed had been sitting in the bottom of my jeans for what could have been months or years.

This is when the security started going ballistic. Three more officers joined the first two, while another officer took me into a small room to be strip searched. After suffering through that humiliation, I was taken into another office where a senior officer sat me down while he filled out some paperwork. I was completely confused as to why I was being stopped but figured that they would fill out the paperwork and either put me back on a plane to Ethiopia or send me on my way into the country. Being an American citizen I figured that at most the worst they would deport me home to America with a warning to not return to Dubai.

I had no idea how wrong I could be.

Benhameen is one of DC/MD/VA’s best known DJs, creator of, new Brooklyn, NY resident and all around really nice (and nice looking!) guy. He’s also a perfect example of when bad things happen to good people. Keep with him as he tells the story of his Dubai ordeal, redemption and what’s next. Remember ladies, never judge a book by it’s cover…

Check back every Monday for what’s to come next!

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