Monday, February 13, 2006

No more gas guzzling for me

I sold my car yesterday. I've been putting it off for a year and a half because I couldn't stand the thought of a repeat performance of the three-hour bureaucracy endurance test and expensive bribery session that buying it involved. And of course because it's such a cool car, and probably the only 16-foot-long V8 I'll ever own. But I'll be heading back to NZ soon so it's time to bite the bullet. M saw a guy advertising for used cars any age and condition in the paper so I gave him a call, dreading the circus hoops about to be jumped through. Instead, the guy turns out to speak fluent English and actually arrived at the time he said he would, gobsmackingly unusual for this part of the world.

The poor old Grand Marquis, under my ownership, has had pretty much every panel bashed and two wheel trims smashed. The front passenger door is hard to open because it's bent and consequently large areas of paint have peeled off. Unsurprisingly, it's now worth a fraction of what I paid for it. And of course the dealer didn't get where he is today by paying people fair market value for their cars. He was a Kuwaiti, he turned up in a maroon Caprice Classic with full sculpted velour interior, must have been an expensive option when it was new - best dark winter dishdasha with lots of gold accessories, including a gold pen to sign the forms with. I was a scruffy unshaved whitey in DMs and a $2 op-shop jacket, so it's fair to say he probably wasn't feeling overawed by my opulent, sophisticated Westernness. So anyway, he not unfairly assesses my vehicle as an unsellable heap of shit until he does a full panel and paint job on it, and offers 100 KD. I do the suitable spluttering "You cannot be serious" routine and assure him that it will be possible to get someone to pay 300 for it. So it goes for a while and I'm telling him no possible way will I accept 150 for it, and he says "If you take 150 KD, I will handle the transfer of ownership." Shit! Suddenly I didn't want to lose the guy! OK, if he'll take responsibility for the bureaucracy, I'll accept 150 KD, much though it pains me to take such a miserably small sum etc etc.

So, much writing with the gold pen, payment of a deposit, and he was as good as his word. Seriously, when I bought the car, it was from a Pakistani, and he'd already done the significant paperwork before I turned up, and we still spent 3 hours being pointlessly shunted from office to office, trying to struggle to the front of shouting crowds all waving their papers at the guys behind the counter, getting nowhere, and when it got close to closing time eventually bribing a Bangladeshi clerk to do the transfer. This time, the Kuwaiti sent one of his fixers to do it, and we were out of there in less than 30 minutes. He was shaking hands and kissing people left and right, and I got to sit in a chair and at one point get up long enough to show my ID and sign a form. Then "OK, all done." Christ, that was worth writing off the other 150 KD for, any day.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Employee of the month goes to...

I've often heard it mentioned by expats that the Middle East attracts a lot of Westerners who have fucked up their lives "flatter'n hammered shit" as Ellsworth put it on Deadwood, and feel a need to get out of their own countries for a while. I've occasionally felt myself to be working with some of these people (and no I am not one of them, thanks), and recently had an example of a now ex-colleague definitely worth a mention in this regard.

Our maid also works for a colleague of mine, the manager of the USO section (they bring in celebs of various types to entertain the troops). The other morning when I dropped the kids off with her, she was at his apartment, and took me down to the parking garage to look at the poor guy's Trans Am, his pride and joy. Didn't look very proud now, with all the tyres flat. The rear window was also smashed in - and a pretty expensive window it is too, being large, deeply curved and fitted with a heating element. The big concrete block on the back seat provided a clue as to how it got broken.

The same bozo had taken to the manager's SUV too, but had given up after two tyres, presumably because a GMC Yukon's tyres are a harder prospect to destroy than a Trans Am's. And fortunately, loose concrete blocks are in short supply down in the garage.

"Any suspects?" I asked.

"Well, the guy he had to fire yesterday is currently topping the list."

"Hmm, bummer. I suppose he flew out last night then?"

"No! This moron is meant to be flying out tonight! That's why Mr B is down at the police station right now, laying charges."

"Oh my God! He smashed up the car more than a day before he was going to get on the plane?"

"Yes. I don't think this guy is one of God's cleverest creations."

No sir, he certainly isn't. I got to work and enthusiastically related this gossip to my co-workers, like the no-life loser I am, and then a bit later the boss of the Post Office, which is in the same building as us, came in to use our photocopier. He had a box with him and needed to copy the address label. His copier was too small to get a good shot at it, so he came to see us (your local library always has a good photocopier).

"Whoa, that's a heavy box," I said, lifting it onto the copier.

"Yeah, it's full of alcohol." (Note for the reader: alcohol is an illegal drug in Kuwait. It's also banned for US service personnel, DoD civilians and civilian contractors (ie me and my mates) by US Army General Order no. 1: Prohibited Activities. Fortunately the Army can't court martial civilians, so we just get terminated for the first offence.)

The Post Office guy told us about the grade A loser with his name on the box. Apparently, he'd been getting regular shipments from someone in the States. Unfortunately for him, his mate turned out not to be good at packaging alcohol for worldwide shipping, and one of the boxes turned up leaking and stinking of beer. So Mr Loser was called to the Post Office to pick up his regrettably-damaged parcel. Of course, when the guy gets there and notices the package is leaking and the entire Post Office smells like a pub, he blurts out "That's not mine!"

"What do you mean it's not yours, it's got your name right on it."

"Uh, I never heard of this guy that sent it. I don't know why he'd be sending me stuff."

"So, someone you've never heard of decides to take the trouble to send you, a complete stranger, a free box of beer?"

"I guess so. I've never had a box from this guy before. I've never even had a package the whole time I've been here!"

"Well, you know, our guys are sure they've had you signing for packages here on a regular basis. I think we'll have to start an investigation to check on that."

"Expletives deleted."

So, since then the Post Office had received yet another package of beer for this guy, and the boss needed to copy the address label to have a record of it, before returning it to sender.

"It was that dumbass that just got fired - I'd have liked to be able to fire him for this, but some other stupid shit he was pulling got to him first. Still, we'll finish the investigation, that way he won't end up working for the Army again."

"Er, this guy didn't happen to be from USO, did he?" I asked.

"Yeah, that's the guy. He's not the brightest bulb, I'll tell you that."

I certainly had to agree. I still don't know what this walking disaster area actually got fired for, but his eventual exit from Kuwait wouldn't have been a pleasant one, and they certainly won't be letting him back in again.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Cleansing dishonour

This week's Arab Times story:

: A bedoun father strangled his 18-year-old daughter Thursday night while she slept in her bed. The ‘honor-killing’ at their residence in Jahra took place when the runaway daughter returned home after spending two weeks with a man. The ‘boyfriend’ and girl were earlier arrested by the police and the man confessed to having molested her. “A person came to Al-Wafa Police Station Friday morning and requested to meet the officer in-charge,” say security sources. On being granted a meeting with the concerned officer the man reportedly said, “I have washed away my dishonor and killed my daughter who soiled my family’s name in the community.” The man allegedly told the officer his daughter had run away from the house two weeks earlier with her boyfriend and spent all that time with him before they were found by securitymen.

A case was registered against the boyfriend who confessed to ‘molesting’ her several times, confirm sources. The accused is currently in police custody, they add. Continuing his saga, the father said, “I received my daughter from the police station and also signed a note not to harm her.” During the past few days, however, he said he “could not stop thinking of how to cleanse the dishonor brought about by her behavior to myself and my sons.”

Pointing out his sons were “embarrassed to even go out of the house.” the father explained, “the looks and comments from neighbors whose outlook towards my family changed were driving us into a shell.” Some relatives, too, started staying away from the house, he added. “I decided to kill her without knowledge of my sons and entered her room with this intention,” the man stated in his confession. “When I found her sleeping, I put my hands around her neck and without feeling regret or guilt I kept a stranglehold on her, until five minutes later, I realized she was dead,” he continued.

“I then went to my room and cried for her and my sons,” stated the man. “In the morning I arrived at the police station and from there contacted my son and told him I had killed his sister,” he concluded. Following the man’s confession, the officer in-charge together with securitymen and Criminal Evidence personnel rushed to the location and found the girl lying dead on her bed, state sources. The corpse was referred to the Forensics Department which in their initial report confirmed the cause of death as being “due to strangulation,” they add. The corpse was referred to the Forensics Department for further investigation and the man and his sons were referred to the Public Prosecutor for interrogation.

"Bedouns" are the stateless tribal people that weren't settled enough to get citizenship when various Arab countries were formed. Actual Kuwaitis don't do this kind of thing, it's a throwback to the real tribal past. Several things curious to the Westerner stand out:

1. The boyfriend is charged with molesting the girl, even though any sexual activity was probably mutually consenting. Basically, this guy fucked up the old Bedoun's property (one marriagable daughter), so he has to get charged.

2. The man killed another human being because he'd been made to look bad in front of his neighbours. I wish all those Green Party members who think the world was so beneficent before industrialism fucked it up would get a grip on just what pre-industrial tribalism was all about.

3. The cops had a good idea what was coming (they made him sign a paper guaranteeing her safety), but still had to hand her over to him, despite her being an adult by Western standards.

4. This guy could strangle his own daughter and spend five minutes killing her (300 seconds staring into the face of one of your own family while you brutally murder them - would you be up for it?) "without feeling regret or guilt". How broken is that? It's interesting that this is a minor story in a local newspaper - because the local attitude is "Bedouns, they don't know any better". It's a poor lookout for the human race I reckon.