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It’s not unusual to see a small battalion of police walking up the street. Usually there are six or seven in single file each armed with something. The first few generally have a plexiglass shield; the type you see riot police carrying. The last few also have a shield; these are much smaller, made of metal and attached to the arm with a strap. Presumably they are used in combat. The side by the hand has a semicircular part missing just large enough for a neck. Presumably it could be used for pinning someone against a wall. The semi-circular part is surrounded by metal triangles resembling sharks teeth. If the person who is pinned struggled, they would come away with considerable lacerations to the most tender and vulnerable area of the neck. The middle police carried a form of spear/baton decidingly medieval in design, its thickness and look updated to be futuristic.
These units seemed to patrol everywhere. They didn’t just stick to the streets but could also be seen marching through museum exhibits and through shops. They were able to go almost everywhere although I did not see them patrolling inside our hotel. All serious and menacing, a wave and a smile tends to break the ice on their frequent patrols. Tourists are a rarity here and they simply don’t know how to react.
While out walking with a friend, a group on patrol came from behind us and initiated verbal contact. Their English level was low and all they were able to convey is we must go with them to their station. No amount of verbal convincing deterred them from their task. Running was not an option. While not jovial they weren’t menacing either. Very calm collected and in control. This wasn’t the kind of country with rogue officers doing what they want. It wasn’t the type of place where a bribe is expected. It is the kind of place where the rules are followed to the letter and face saving is a big part of the culture. Always know what is happening and what to expect.
The station itself was windowless and quite fortified. They used a buzzer and intercom to gain access and took us to a room very close to the entrance. It looked like an office with a simple desk and overflowing ashtray sitting on top. Along the wall with the door were a bank of chairs so we sat down. Never appear scared or aggressive unless you have a good reason to. Be confident and in control. Don’t give them a reason for anything. I took out my iPhone deducing that they weren’t interested in stealing it and would find it easily enough if they wanted to. They hadn’t searched us yet or asked for identification. I simply wrote, “We are tourists. We are leaving in a bus in 1 hour.” It conveyed the truth along with a deadline and a way out.
We were in a corner of the country not well traveled and indeed frowned upon for tourists to enter. We hadn’t seen a foreigner for days. We were basically the farthest place from any ocean on the planet. It was so isolated here that the North Wind was rumoured to come from a cave in these parts. So isolated that any sort of investment in the region would have been scoffed at a couple decades ago. Times had changed and cities were blossoming out of the desert. Factories producing high end goods had sprouted leaving the once pristine desert choking in pollution. So why were we here?
My friend tried to explain it with Google translate. A long winded explanation using speech translation software resulted in an officer scratching his head in confusion and amusement at the translation. They gave up and called for someone higher up presumably one with English ability. One officer was consistently left to guard us while a cycle of officers each one more senior came into question us. Eventually they asked for our passports and we furnished them with colour paper copies. Best not to give them the real thing as you can afford to lose a phone or anything else but without your passport you truly are a hostage.
Their question kept on repeating. Why are you here? In any smart ass detective series the answer would be witty like “You tell me. You brought me here” or “Well! When a mommy and daddy like each other ……”. Neither was the reason all that secretive or spy like. No industrial espionage, no attempt to ferment rebellion among the locals. They didn’t accept our tourist answer so they checked our phones. They made us unlock them and went through them with a fine-tooth comb. They swiped through the photos for what seemed like an eternity. Presumably they were looking for evidence of us documenting police movements, military installations or photos with known suspects. All I had was a blurry distant photo of a police officer asleep on a lobby chair in our hotel using a rigid see-through riot shield as a blanket. Would they find it? Would it be enough to accuse me of being a spy? Is their a photo of something I forgot about? The mind can be so paranoid sometimes.
Our statement was simple. We are tourists. We have a guide. Call our guide and ask. Take us to our hotel and speak to him in person. Our bus leaves soon we can’t be late. They never did call him. They never asked us our hotel name. How long would this take? After 45 minutes I began to wonder if it would be days until we were released, and what our guide would do when we didn’t show up for the bus.
At just under an hour they moved us outside. They flagged down a taxi and told the driver our hotel. They must have found quite a bit about us in the background as no one asked where we were staying. We were told not to leave the hotel and walk the streets again. Throughout they were firm polite and professional. We shook their hands before entering the cab and were driven directly back to our hotel.
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