Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Support your local police – beat yourself up

As in most places where corruption is the norm, Kuwait’s police force is an object of fear for those lacking money or influence. Us decadent Westerners usually have trouble figuring this out, but we can be excused for not figuring it out when the cop is in plain clothes and an unmarked car. From the Arab Times, 2 Jan 2006:

“Misty L. Dennis, employed with a contractor at Camp Arifjan, had barely driven for a few minutes when a car tailing her in the fast lane started flashing lights incessantly. With the road bustling with cars, Misty was unable to make way for the motorist.”

Lose-lose situation for young Misty – Kuwait is full of guys (and gals for that matter) who don’t seem to imagine that the fact the traffic is bumper-to-bumper in all lanes could prevent them traveling as fast as they want. You’re in the fast lane, only able to do 110k because of all the cars in front, and Mr Crazed Mutant zooms up behind you flashing his headlights and shouting imprecations you fortunately can’t hear. If you’re not a Kuwaiti and the guy behind you looks like one, it would be a seriously good idea to pull into the next lane over at this point. But of course, the gaps in the next lane over are about 2 feet longer than your car, that lane’s moving significantly slower than yours and Mr Crazed Mutant is 2 meters behind your rear bumper, presumably still flashing his lights like mad although you can’t tell because they’re too close to your car. So, unless you like playing motorway Russian roulette Mr Mutation has to stay behind you, working himself into a frothing rage. He quickly deteriorates to the point where getting you out of your vehicle to give you the beating you so thoroughly deserve takes priority over getting wherever he was in such a goddamn hurry to get to in the first place. And of course, given that as far as he’s concerned the question of whether he lives or dies today is up to Allah, not any action he takes or doesn’t take himself, getting into a “chicken” contest with him is a really bad idea. At some point he will stop you. Misty L. Dennis quoted by the Arab Times:

“He suddenly pulled up and stepped out of his vehicle, opened my door and identified himself as a police investigator.”

The man, she said, then hit her with the door before dragging her out of the car. “He threw me to the ground but I managed to regain my balance. He began assaulting me and pushed me against an iron railing.”

Horrified, some motorists tried to intervene but the man, who was in no mood to listen kept assaulting Dennis mercilessly. In the ensuing melee, Misty’s phone and necklace were broken while she suffered severe contusions on her face, hands and legs.

In a move that must have taken some courage unless she’s completely ignorant about Kuwaiti police, Ms Dennis followed the guy to his police station, blocked his car with her own and refused to move it until the guy was charged. The cops told her that if she pursued a complaint they would cheerfully bung her in jail for four days. Now, the money shot – here’s how police investigations work in this country:

Finally after intense negotiations, an agreement was reached between the two parties. Under the deal, the investigator was asked to pay KD 500 (ca US $1700) to the victim but the former brought it down to KD 350, which was eventually accepted by the victim.

Says Misty “I was not at all interested in his money, but the prevailing circumstances forced me to compromise….”

The prevailing circumstances being a choice of:

  1. Accept the guy won’t be charged for beating you up but at least walk away with KD 350 to show for it.
  2. Accept the guy won’t be charged for beating you up and spend four days in jail for annoying the police.

What’s it to be New Zealand, the money or the jail cell? Duh-uh.

My housekeeper was horrified that I called the cops when I was in a fender-bender not long after arriving in Kuwait. It wasn’t actually that bad – I had one shouting at me because the only thing he knew about New Zealand was that we robbed Kuwait in the 1982 World Cup. Given that I could barely remember NZ had actually played Kuwait in the ’82 Weltmeisterschaft, a spirited defence of our nation’s honour wasn’t on the cards. Another one had a go at me for my earrings, but from his point of view he was providing a helpful service to see that I wasn’t mistaken for a poofter and promptly beaten up or backscuttled. Apparently, men are allowed to wear a watch. Anything else says “Come and get me big boy, I take it up the arse”. My housekeeper later filled me in on the proper procedure following a non-injury accident – you both drive your cars down to the nearest horde of Indian or Pakistani panelbeaters, find out what it will cost to fix, and the one who suspects the cops would be most likely to make him responsible hands over some cash. The question of who was responsible for the accident is generally simple to work out – if a Westerner is rear-ended by a Kuwaiti, the Westerner is clearly at fault. But if an Indian is rear-ended by a Westerner, the Indian will certainly be held to account for his terrible driving – and so on. My housekeeper was therefore even more horrified that I’d accepted responsibility for a collision when the other driver was Indian. You live and learn, I guess.