Sunday, 29 April 2018

British Expat Detained In Dubai (Well, Shacked Up In Sharjah, Really)

(Image Credit: Wikipedia)

The car was down at Al Futtaim, going through the process of leaching several thousand dirhams from my bank account, so I had a bit of time yesterday to take on a Quora question asking about the 'Dark Side' of Dubai. I occasionally give in to temptation these days and take a few minutes to correct the bias and willful ignorance you find in people's attitudes towards 'here'. I know, I know, it's bad for me and I shouldn't, but just one now and then couldn't harm. I can control it. I'll know when it gets out of hand, trust me.

Anyway, yesterday's post reminded me of the time I was nicked in Sharjah. It's not quite 'Brit Expat Jailed in Dubai', but it'll have to do.

It was back in the early '90s and it had been raining. A lot. So much so that mate Matt and myself went out for a Friday mooch around with our cameras and snapped the wildly unusual spectacle of cars sloshing through huge puddles anything up to a couple of feet deep. This was prior to the great Sharjah Drainage Project and we are really talking pretty impressive puddles or, as Dubai's RTA likes to call them on its traffic information screens, water ponds. I mean roundabouts where you can't see the round to about. (Charmingly, BTW, all roundabouts in Sharjah are called squares. Who knew?)

Out of the mosque behind us emerges a small fat man with big fat beard, wearing a Sharjah police uniform, who promptly nicks us for 'taking photo of lady'. I kid you not. Within twenty minutes we find ourselves down the cop shop facing charges of photographing ladies. It very quickly started to look very serious as our man, let's call him Abdulla, runs us in and proceeds to start arrangements to charge us. His colleagues clearly think Abdulla's taking things a bit far and there's quite a lot of joshing and good-natured beard pulling going on in Arabic. Meanwhile,  Matt and I are starting to realise this could go very, very pear shaped indeed and we are becoming sore nervous.

Now I have to explain something. In the old days, cameras used stuff called 'film'. This is a strip of coated plastic which is exposed to light by a thing called a shutter. Each time you take a photo, a square of plastic is exposed and then you wind it on so that a fresh square is ready to expose. When you've done this 36 times, you unload the canister of film from the camera and take it to a shop and pay money to develop it, which is a chemical process that makes prints of your photographs.


So eventually I break into the excited chatter and address myself to Abdulla's colleagues and say, basically, 'Look, he's gone too far. We were just taking photos of the puddles. But I can sort this easily. Take my film from my camera and develop it. If you find one lady, fine you can arrest us and charge us and throw away the key and everything. But if there is no lady in photos, Abdulla here pays for the cost of developing the film.'

This is generally considered to be a beezer scheme and therefore adopted by all present with a great deal of laughter except Abdulla, who fights a brave rearguard action in the face of logic but eventually - with incredibly bad grace - gives in to the prevailing sentiment. We have to sign a chit affirming that we will never again go to the Al Faya area of Sharjah and photograph the ladies. I was all for protesting this clear injustice but a very hard kick on the shin from Matt cured me of the temptation. We signed and fled.

I can't remember ever encountering a situation here that can't be managed with a little grace and humour - I have found wit and wisdom are greatly prized (mostly by observing others, clearly). And, generally, I have found the police are more interested in arbitration and settling things without filing cases. They have a healthy aversion to paperwork. And every time I see a 'Brit Arrested in Dubai for Playing Tiddlywinks' I look beyond the headline and 99% of the time, I get a 'hang on, it's not that simple. There's something missing from this here story' feeling.

Recently, they've got to the point where even the comments on the Daily Mail have started to question the 'man banged up for eating marshmallow' stories. And the comments on the Daily Mail, as eny fule no, are usually a litany of nail 'em up, a fair day's work for a fair day's pay etc etc. (The world's most popular news website, racking up over 250 million monthly views, the DM is actually considered to be too unreliable a source to be cited as a reference on Wikipedia - didja know that?)

The problem is not that these stories are all so easily taken in and amplified by media with vast bias and little or no 'journalism'. It's that they potentially cheapen and obfuscate real miscarriages of justice.

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