I came to Oman because I wanted to really get to know the Middle East and Oman. Well, when I found myself being questioned by the police in a police station, I knew that I was REALLY getting to know Oman.
So here's the setup: On a Wednesday evening (the weekend starts on Thursday, so Wednesday = Friday in the MidEast), I stayed up until 2 am with homestay brothers and sisters, just kinda hanging out. When we do go to bed, we're pretty tired, and we sleep deeply. Furthermore, air conditioners in Oman sound like jet fighters scrambling to intercept Russian nuclear bombers during the Cold War. The combination of these two factors means that we couldn't hear anything in the rest of the house unless it happens in our room.
Flash forward: My homestay sister Tuti is in my room telling me to get up. This is not cool on many levels. For one thing, it's 8 am, and I'm still very tired. But, more importantly, while my family is very laid back, it's unusual for her to be in the guys room, espcially hile we're still in bed. So I roll over, and I see cops. In our room. Many of them. My first thought is something the effect of "it is ay to early for this." Turns out, sometime between 2 am and 5 am, when my homestay mother Zainab got home from a wedding (it's one of the few legit social opportunities for women, so they stay out late), her room was ransacked and robbed. The room was torn apart, stuff tossed everywhere, and a safe was taken. And we didn't hear it in the room next door because of the runaway AC.
So now the police are asking questions. They bring a dog to try and detect a scent. First, they ask us all to line up outside, so the dog can sniff us. Seems that since the locks weren't broken, they sort of suspect someone in the house. This is my first indication that this day is not going to go well. While my family is totally cool about Western influences, most Omanis (and certainly anyone that's in the police) can not possible fathom the idea of letting a foreign man into the home. This becomes a very big deal in a bit. So, the dog starts sniffing, and guess who he stops by. That's right, me. They shift everybody in the line, and bring the dog by again. As 'evidence,' they're taking Polaroids as the dog goes. When the dog stops at me a second time, the guy taking the pictures has this big grin on his face, like he thinks his just closed the case. In the photo, you can see me just absolutely scowling at the camera. I'm seriously not pleased at this point, having been awokened, not allowed to shower or get changed, and am now a suspect in a robbery. So I put a lot of effort into showing my displeasure in the photo, and it shows.
At this point, we all go back into the house, and the cops inform me, Zainab, and Tuti, that we are going to have go down to the police station in Mutrah to 'give statements.' Zainab and Tuti try to convince me that this has nothing to do with me, but even if this isn't about the robbery, there are going to be issues. At this point, all I can think of is that if I ever try to get a job with the State Department, it's going to take a heck of a long time if I have to get fingerprinted at some POS Omani police station. So, when I go to change, I change into really nice clothes, grab my Oakley sunglasses, the sunglasses cleaning bag, two packs of gum, my phone, and some other items that are about to become very useful.
Here's the thing about cops in developing countries: Either they don't want a confrontation ith an American because it's bad for business, or they have a way of dealing with foreigners that is totally different from the normal procedure. If you're smart, an American can usually take advantage of this. I know I went to Oman to promote cross-cultural understanding, learn more about the culture, yada yada yada. This is the type of situation that stereotypes about Americans are made for. I snap into American tourist mode. Cops in foreign countries can only really affect you if you get nervous. So, I pour my entire being into being the American tourist that is seriously pissed off about being bothered by the local police.
We go down to the station, and they take me and Tuti into a seperate room to ask us questions. She's acting as my interpreter. The sergeant (or whatever his local equivalent is) starts asking her questions first, then turns to me. He asks, in English, to know why I'm in Oman. I answer in English, saying that I'm here to study Arabic. He asks me a basic question in Arabic. I answer in Arabic. Badly. With a horrible accent. I could have answered a lot better, but know he asks the questions in Arabic to Tuti because he thinks I don't speak well, and I can pick up the gist of the questions in Arabic, while still answering in English. Let the mind games begin. At one point, he asks for my passport. I have anticipated this, because it's going to be a problem. I answer with the truth, that it's locked in a safe at my school. In Al-Hail. 45 minutes away. Fine, he asks for another form of ID. Uh-oh. I give him my ISIC card, hich is pretty much disposable. He says that he needs to more forms. Crap. I give him my driver's license and OU ID. He starts to record the info. At one point he asks if there is a driver license number. With as much loathing as possible in my voice, I reply, "Underneath where it says drivers license number." He then proceeds to ask if there is a sheikh of my tribe in Cleveland that he should contact. I laugh.
This is where things get really fun. Now he tells me that he needs to hold my ID's for a few days. Shit. If cops in a country that is governed by the rule by law rather than the rule of law, it's generally not a good thing. So, I fall back on a trick I heard about in China, where they try to pull this stunt for bribes. I calmly ask for a pen and paper. Slightly confused, they oblige. I then begin to very obviously write down their names and ranks (they conveniently had name tags with the proper spellings). Then I ask for a recepit verifying that they have my ID's. They leave the room and come back in a few minutes and say that they have decided they only needed to make a copy, and ask for the sheet of paper back. I say no.
At this point, I'm seriously pissed off. They aren't looking at me for the robbery any more. They're interested in me because it is so totally foreign to them that Zainab would let a forieng man into her home. It is further complicated by the fact that A) she's divorced and there's no husband in the home, and B) I was technically home along with Tuti (who is 18), with only the other kids and the maid present. This is about culturally equivalent to a conservative Omani as inviting an Eastern European prosititute in a home in America and letting her conduct business in the house. Now you know why they're interested. Plus, they think all Americans are spies, and the fact that I'm nowhere near the tourist spots, and living with a family, doesn't help things. If you think I'm being paranoid, at one point I kept hearing them ask Tuti a quesiton with the word 'mutazawj" in it, which means husband. My suspicions are confirmed when she tells me later that they thought we were getting married. Seriously. So now I'm pissed, and I do my best to convey it. I chew gum frantically, changing the peice every 5 minutes. I play with my sunglasses. I put them on, I take them off, I clean them with the lens cleaning bag. I text people on my phone and play games on it while they are asking me questions. Eventually they get the point, and let me go sit outside. They finish questioning Tuti and Zainab, and we finally get to go home.
The crazy part of all this is that the actually caught the guy the same day, and recovered everything. Apparently, this is highly unusual, since my family had already started to write everything off. So it was pretty much a waste of time, aside from the rather interesting cultural experience that resulted from all of it.