Important Notice

It is not my intention to denigrate Saudi Arabia or its people. It’s like everywhere else, there is good and there is bad. I would rather focus on the unusual and the humourous. Offence is not intended.

“The country is not perfect. The media cannot be trusted, mistreatment of religious minorities is common and there are some that live in fear.” You can decide for yourself whether that statement is about Saudi Arabia, the UK, or any country for that matter.

To quote the Joker, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

That is all I will say about either subject.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Margrave vs The Traffic Police

If you drive on Riyadh's ring road at night you see a large number of cars stopped by unmarked traffic police cars. You don't see a Mercedes or a Porsche stopped. The majority of the cars are pick-up trucks or less expensive cars. Sadly I'm driving the latter kind of car rather than the former.

So it had to happen eventually, didn't it?

Late at night I'm driving home after a very long day at work. I'm doing 115 km/h on the highway where the speed limit is 120 km/h when I notice the car ahead being forced to brake by a weaver. I change lanes to avoid the danger and suddenly a silver car pulls right up behind me, tailgating me with barely a yard's gap. I decide to move back into my original lane to avoid him but he follows me. Suddenly police lights start flashing and I realise he's an unmarked police car. I move into the slow lane to allow him to pass but he follows me! I finally realise that I'm being stopped by the police! Outrage and indignation arrive but are quickly beaten into submission by fear and resignation.
"What on Earth can he be pulling me over for?" I wonder to myself.
I pull the car onto the verge by the side of the highway and he pulls in behind me.
I should explain at this point that in the countries where I've lived if you are stopped by the traffic police you never get out of your car (unless you want to be shouted at). You wait in your car for them to come to you.
It slips my mind that Saudi is different.
I sit in my car.
The policeman sits in his car.
Time passes.
I frown at him through my rear view mirror.
I notice he's fidgeting a bit and I wonder when the hell he's going to come and see me.
He stares at me.
He's probably wondering when the hell I am going to go and see him.
Time passes.
He blasts his police siren.
Realisation dawns and I get out of my car and walk over to him. He winds down his window and I shake his hand.
Me: Salaam!
PO: Salaam!

Me: Err, is there a mushkilla officer? (I apologise to all Arabic speakers for my casual butchering of their language)
PO: Istemarah!

Me: Oh… right… umm…
I walk back to my car, retrieve what I assume is my Istemarah and my driver's license and walk back to the police car. The lights are still flashing. They're almost blinding.
Me: Here you are.
PO: (pointing at my car) Car!
Me: Yes, err, it’s a car.
I assume he wants my help to check his English vocabulary.
PO: Car! Car!
Me: Yes, it's my car. Well, it’s a rental actually.
We look at each other.
Me: Ohhhh! You want me to go back to my car! Right… well… goodbye then.
I walk back to my car with hunched shoulders and sit down. I call my wife to let her know I might be a bit (or perhaps a day) late and squirm impatiently. I make sure the policeman can see I'm using my mobile. A tiny bit of hope suggests he might get worried about who I'm calling.
Perhaps he's sitting in his car wondering if I have powerful wastah.
I sit in my car looking at my phone, wondering if I have powerful wastah.
I wonder what the arrest sheet will say.
"Margrave. Pompous git. Arrested for driving a cheap car under the speed limit. Given extra time for bad hair."
Time passes.
More time passes. Note to self: keep a book in the car for just such emergencies.
I look in my rear view mirror. The policeman is chatting on his mobile phone! I wonder who he's talking to. Is he calling his mum to find out when dinner's going to be ready or is he arranging to have a whitey-hating psychopathic prisoner moved to my jail cell?
Time passes. The moon orbits the Earth. Or maybe it's the other way around. Normal laws no longer seem to apply.
Next to me on the highway tailgaters, weavers, swervers, sliders and crazies speed on their merry way.
More time passes. I slowly realise that my chances of waiting this long only to be told that I can go free are very slim indeed. I wonder whether I should have behaved differently. Perhaps deference was a bad decision. Belligerence might have worked. Or it might have put me straight into the back of his car in a pair of shiny new handcuffs.
I look back at him again. My mouth hangs open. He's lighting a cigarette! This is unbelievable! He's sitting there without a care in the world! Is this a post-coital cigarette after royally screwing me? Was it good for him? It wasn't good for me! I wonder whether he'd notice if I just drove home.
I get out of my car and walked back to him.
Me: So... is there a mushkilla, mate?
PO: Car, car! …one minute.
Me: Ohh… only one more minute? Ok...
I walk back to my car once again and drift away. I imagine I'm a Muslim chap in England with a long beard. I've been stopped by the traffic police and I'm sure it’s because I'm a Muslim chap in England with a long beard. The real me commiserates the imaginary me. The imaginary me grins and tells me to get lost.
I fret about what the conditions in the traffic police jail will be like. I realise to my horror that I need the toilet. I need a number two! My imagination starts to conjure up images of the worst police toilets in the world. The sights! The sounds! Oh god, the smells! I think of my "Family Section" photo and beg forgiveness. I cross my legs.
Suddenly behind me he blasts his siren.
I look in my rear view mirror and he looks at me. His lights are blinding. I'm not sure whether he's trying to make contact or just having a laugh.
I get back to worrying about the toilet.
He blasts his siren again.
I try to look at him through the rear view mirror but by now his lights have killed my vision. I open my door and lean out to see if I can see him. I can't.
I wonder if the toilet will have a lock on the door. Will there be toilet paper? Why didn't I learn how to use that hose?
He blasts his siren again.
Finally I get out of my car to see if he is trying to get my attention. He is. He’s now gesticulating angrily. I'm obviously the most stupid person he's ever stopped. At least now he'll have a story to tell at dinner parties.
I walk back to his car and he hands me a small piece of paper. I look at it dubiously.
PO: Ok!
My driver's license is nowhere to be seen.
The red mist begins its inevitable descent.
Angrily I open the piece of paper. It's my Istemarah. The policeman has carefully and neatly folded it around my driver's license. It strikes me as the most considerate and sweet thing anyone has ever done and engenders immediate feelings of warmth towards him.

The feelings don't last long.
He has a yellow piece of paper in his hand. It's a traffic violation!
He looks up at me, yanks his seat belt and says "Seat belt!"
I wouldn't even sit in my car in Riyadh without my seat belt on! I value my life too much! I can't believe he is going to fine me for something I blatantly didn't do and something he blatantly could not have seen from behind me anyway!
Me (outraged): Of course I was wearing my seat belt!
PO (sarcastically): Ohh… "of course"!
Me: Yes, of course!
PO: Ok. Bye bye!

He puts the yellow traffic violation back on his seat and waves me off.
In a daze I walk back to my car, put my seat belt on in the most theatrical manner possible, turn on the engine, indicate and slowly crawl away.
I think it's time to get a nicer car.