Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Portrait #20: Cop -- I think?

Upon confirming that my friend's money was nowhere to be found (see yesterday's portrait), and concluding that it had most likely been stolen from under the big black cloak she had to wear in the mosque, we found ourselves in front of a police station. So we decided we should look into reporting the deed.

As a group of three foreigners, it seemed somehow natural that we be immediately ushered into the station director's office to report a simple robbery. The director was very sympathetic to our plea, and when he learned that we had a suspected culprit in mind, he asked if we could identify her in a photo. We decided to try, and out came the most fascinating lineup ever. It was roughly 50-sheet-or-so notebook with about 10 faded passport photos stapled to each sheet. Each photo had a different background so was presumably brought to the station by... the convicts themselves? On the line of each photo were a few words describing the person and his/her criminal history.

We didn't find our suspect in the notebook, but there was one woman who looked somewhat like her. That woman's crime was astrology: palm reading and predicting the future and the like.

Once we had failed to identify our suspect in their lineup, the real fun began. We were ushered, by the guy who seemed to play the role of director's-assistant, into a back room of the police station. We walked through two dank hallways, then through a room with about five civilians sitting around waiting for something, into a tiny room which somehow had barely space enough for three bunk beds and a desk. There were two men lying on two of the bunks. One of them got up and left when we walked in. The other groggily rolled over, and only after about five minutes managed to pull himself out of bed.

Meanwhile, we took our seats and our handler, who was dressed in plainclothes, opened up a notebook. It was about A5 size, and looked like his diary. He asked for my friend's passport but settled on my driver's license. The lineup notebook lay on the desk next to his right arm.

As he wrote the report, he was very friendly and jocular. We joked about things like the funny way our names are spelled in Arabic, and the number of random bits of information he was asking of us. As we chatted, he wrote. Into his notebook he entered three pages of handwritten information, including but certainly not limited to my friend's name, date of birth, father's name, mother's name and marital status, the time and location of the robbery, a very, very superficial description of the missing wallet, a slightly more detailed description of its contents, and my name, date of birth, father's name, mother's name and marital status. I was to be entered into the official police report as the "translator."

Nearing the end of the third page of his writing, three of his buddies came in. They too wore plainclothes but acted like they belonged in the inner chambers of a police station, with its smoke-yellowed and faded walls, iron beds with ripped-up foam mattresses, and two fans fighting to make a difference. Our guy chatted a bit with them, but mostly focused on the task at hand: the three-page-long paragraph in his agenda. Meanwhile his friends chatted with us about speaking Arabic and English, about what we were doing in the country, and the fact that... oh I'll stop talking about that conversation in a public forum! Feel free to imagine an end to that conversation!

Our guy wrapped up his essay and asked us how he could get a copy of a digital photo that my friend had of our suspect. There weren't very many choices: the station doesn't have a computer, much less email, nor a way to print out photos. So he asked us to print it out and bring it to him. When he saw our hesitation, he gave me his phone number and told us to call him as soon as we had the photo, and he'd come to us to get the photo and drop off our report-of-crime-committed. He did all this with utmost sincerity, but was friendly and laughed as we said our farewells and thank-yous.

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