Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Tale In Which I Join Alice, In Wonderland

This entry is semi co-written with Lewis Carroll.  It is possibly the longest entry I have ever written but it takes this many words to describe my adventure through the Kuwaiti system for traffic accidents.  In the attached tale, I have removed or changed names, do not give detailed appearance descriptions, and do not reveal locations in order to protect the innocent, the guilty, and anybody who happened to be standing around while this was going on.

With the exception of Alice...  Alice is always Alice.  Most often she is Alice in mismatched socks.
 Down the Rabbit Hole

Alice is feeling bored while sitting on the riverbank with her sister, when she notices a talking, clothed White Rabbit with a pocket watch run past. 

It was 6:30 in the morning when I hopped into my car and headed to work. Traffic was moderate for a Thursday morning but I made good time getting from my neighborhood to the highway. In no time at all I found myself on Highway 30 headed south towards Camp Arifjan.  Following my normal routine I immediately got in the left-hand lane in order to avoid all the traffic coming on and getting off the highway for the next few kilometers.   I was, however, facing a wall of traffic.

Evidently, somewhere up ahead, there was an accident or some other snarl up that was causing the traffic to be stop and go.  I allowed the car in front of me to have a goodly amount of space in case I needed to break. At some point I put on my brakes because the car in front of me had stopped doing this caused the car behind me, which was evidently following much too closely and fast, into direct contact with the rear of my car.  I looked in the rearview mirror to see a white car being driven by an Indian with two passengers.  After ensuring that I was not bleeding or injured in any other way, I proceeded to let loose with a string of profanity while still seated in my car – – in that way I would not offend anyone but at the same time I could release some of the anger that I was feeling because I had heard of but not experienced the nightmare of Kuwaiti traffic accident rules.

The Pool of Tears

Alice is unhappy and cries as her tears flood the hallway. After shrinking down again due to a fan she had picked up, Alice swims through her own tears and meets a Mouse, who is swimming as well.
I got out of my car and using my phone’s camera took pictures of both the damage to my vehicle and his, to include getting a picture of his license plate and promptly emailed those to myself to prevent loss of evidence should something happen to my phone. I then used the phone for what it was designed for and called the Provost Marshall’s Office on base as well as the Kuwaiti police. Several people I work with pulled over and asked if I needed help.  Since I was not injured and my vehicle was more than drivable I sent them on with my thanks.  American military civilians are a small community in Kuwait, so we tend to be very close knit and help each other.

The Caucus Race and a Long Tale
The sea of tears becomes crowded with other animals and birds that have been swept away by the rising waters. Alice and the other animals convene on the bank and the question among them is how to get dry again. 
The Kuwaiti police showed up in about 15 minutes, from what I understand, this is remarkably fast for a no injury accident.  There were two officers in the car and the lead officer got out and directed me to pull over to the opposite side of the road in the emergency lane as it would be safer. I truly think that he failed to consider how dangerous it would be for three cars on the left side of Highway 30 to transition across the highway onto the right side during the middle of rush hour when all the cars going down the road are moving at speeds well above the posted limit. But, what the heck I gave it a shot and in no time at all we were all on the opposite side of the road. The police asked for my documentation as well as that of the other driver and then started to prepare an accident form.  The form once filled in became The Form and I would find as the day progressed that it was more valuable than the Holy Grail, the Shroud of Turin, and the Dead Sea Scrolls combined.

Neither Kuwaiti officer seemed to understand English very well, especially t when it came to trying to interpret the English words on my Michigan driver’s license. However I helped them out by identifying what my first and last names were and my birth date. This is how The Form gained its only two English words – – my first and last name.
The Rabbit Sends a Little Bill

The White Rabbit appears again in search of the Duchess's gloves and fan. Mistaking her for his maidservant, Mary Ann, he orders Alice to go into the house and retrieve them, but once she gets inside she starts growing. 
After a few minutes, The Form was complete and the officer handed it to me. I did not realize that he did not give a copy of The Form to Mojabar (the other driver).  Along with The Form we were told that we needed to proceed immediately to the Police Station in Al Gruffton in order to go through the next step in the process.  So, we proceeded from the highway to the Police Station in Al Gruffton.

In Al Gruffton, I entered the Police Station which was fairly barren but serviceable.   On either side of the entrance way were small sitting areas that were surrounded by a half height wall. A small walkway to get into either sitting area gave the overall effect of them being corrals.  Directly in front of the door was a counter where the Desk Sergeant sat.  The Desk Sergeant had a frown on his face and maintained a sneer for the entire time I dealt with him.  I presented The Form to him and as I did the Sergeant broke into a flurry of Arabic.  I’ve never quite figured out why, but my first reaction when someone speaks to me in any foreign language I always respond in German. This of course led to a look of surprise in the Sergeant’s eyes as well as Mojabar’s.    It may have explained some of his gruffness if he thought he was dealing with a Russian and an Indian.  Regaining my composure, I then asked if he could speak English, to this he responded “No”, then motioned for both Mojabar and I to have a seat in the right most waiting area. So, we went and sat down.

Mojabar did speak Arabic as well as English; however he had a stutter which made him difficult to understand in English and probably in Arabic as well when you add in the Indian accent.  He was dressed nicely, but not in the suit which led me to believe he was probably a mid-level technician of some sort although I never asked.
I watched as a delivery boy brought in food and presented it to the Sergeant, and then the Sergeant and a dozen others gathered in the space behind his counter and ate.  While killing time, I looked around the Police Station and I noticed that not a single sign was in any language other than Arabic. I guess have gotten used to things in the United States where signs are in English, Spanish, and sometimes French (especially up in upper Michigan). Most police officers, according to the research I have done for my book Blood Upon The Sand, are Bedouins and not Hathar.  Since most of my experience and been with the latter, I used this time to observe an unmet population.

They finished eating, and I waited an additional 15 minutes before I walked back over to the counter and asked if anyone there spoke English.  When the Sergeant shook his head, I used my cell phone and called the Host Nation Office on the base.  It is their function to act as translators in situations like these, to include even coming out to the area where assistance is needed. 

Anyway, I handed the phone to the cop and after several minutes of back-and-forth on the phone he handed me the phone back.  I was told that we needed to go to a different Police Station because the Sergeant had determined that we were not in his jurisdiction.  I was then queried as to where the accident had happened. When I explained it to the Host Nation Office they told me that it was in Al Gruffton’s jurisdiction and asked me to hand the phone back to the Desk Sergeant, which I did.

Voices were raised this time and then the Sergeant passed me back the phone; I noticed that his sneer had turned to a glare.  This situation was not getting better. This time the Host Nation Office basically told me that the guy was being a jerk and he didn’t want to deal with us.  The Sergeant then started talking to Mojabar in Arabic telling him we needed to go to the Police Station in Al Thankful.   So, I took The Form from the Sergeant and left.

On the way there, I went back to my apartment to pick up my passport. I thought it might be helpful in this situation because if nothing else I wanted more proof that I was an American.

Mojabar and I got separated on the way to Al Thankful, so I was on my own in trying to find the Police Station.  Al Thankful is not a big neighborhood but I could not find the Police Station. I stopped a few people and asked directions but none of them seem to be sure where it was. On the plus side I now know where the Al Thankful Elementary School and National Bank of Kuwait’s offices are located.  I called the Host Nation Office and told them I could not find the Police Station in Al Thankful and they instructed me to return to Camp Arifjan and to come to their office after filing a sworn statement at the Provost Marshall’s Office on what had happened.
Advice from a Caterpillar
Alice comes upon a mushroom and sitting on it is a blue Caterpillar smoking a hookah. The Caterpillar questions Alice and she admits to her current identity crisis, compounded by her inability to remember a poem. 
It was now noon. This was a simple rear end, fender bender with no injuries and no one arguing over who was responsible. In the United States, this would have been over three hours ago. However, there is more to my tale.

Prior to going to the Provost Marshal’s office I stop by my office and typed out a statement of what had occurred. I figured that since I was dealing with people who were going to try to translate this into Arabic at some point it would be easier to do it from a typed statement than from one that was handwritten.  I made a sworn statement at the Provost Marshal’s and then went to the Host Nation office. Before I got to the Host Nation Office, I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize.

The call was from the Chief of the Al Thankful Police Station and he wanted to know why I was not there yet. I explained that I could not find the police department and that I had been instructed to proceed to Camp Arifjan and make my statement there. He asked, in the most polite terms, if I would be willing to come back down to his Police Station and drop off The Form since they needed to process Mojabar’s report. I told him I would let him talk to the Host Nation people when I got there. 
At this point I should point out that it is a five minute ride from the Police Station on base to the Host Nation office.  The Police Chief called me twice from different numbers during that drive to remind me he needed The Form. The drive took almost twice as long because I had to pull over to answer the phone, I did not want to ignore the call and perhaps upset a Police Chief.
Once inside the Host Nation office, I was offered coffee or something else to drink and then I had to fill out an accident report. I did this and then mentioned the calls from the Police Chief who was requesting The Form.  I was told to ignore him and that the Host Nations Office would take care of this matter from this point on.  That was great, except now I felt sorry for Mojabar who needed The Form to straighten things out on his end. I was asked to wait for one of the Kuwaiti liaisons to come in so that he could review all the documentation.  I was told the liaison would be by in about five minutes.

An hour later a tall thin man walked in wearing traditional Kuwaiti dress.  I stood and greeted him in Arabic which I think shocked the Host Nation Office representative because I did it properly.  There was some talking in Arabic between the two of them and then he asked me for the number of the Police Chief.  I provided it to him and he made a phone call.

The liaison then spoke to me in Arabic with the Host Nation representative translating. The gist of it was that because of treaty agreements between Kuwait and the United States my obligations with regard to this accident were complete. The other party was at fault and I had provided the needed statements.  His office would translate my statement into Arabic and then send it down to the Al Thankful Police Station so there was no need for me to do anything further in that regard. However, if I felt like doing so I could meet with Mojabar or go to the Police Station and provide them with The Form; but I was cautioned that I did not need to provide any further statement has all of this had been taken care of.

Before I left the Host Nation Office, I received a call from a friend of Mojabar who spoke better English and he requested that I meet them at the Police Station at 5 o’clock so that I could turn in The Form.  The Kuwaiti government had recently started to deport expatriates who receive traffic tickets for speeding and other traffic violations.  I am not sure what they would’ve done to Mojabar if for some reason The Form was not turned in; so, I agreed to meet them at the Police Station. They were going to meet me at a mutually known point from there I would follow them to the Al Thankful Police Station since I still didn’t know where it was.

All of this was Okayed by the Kuwaiti liaison. So I shook his hand and thanked him, again in Arabic, and he said a few words that I did not know in Arabic before he did the Arabic Cheek Kiss thing. 
Pig and Pepper

The Cheshire Cat appears in a tree, directing her to the March Hare's house. He disappears but his grin remains behind to float on its own in the air prompting Alice to remark that she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat.

At 4:30 PM, I cruised down Highway 30 and met up with Mojabar and his friend then I followedThe Form.  Mojabar’s friend Raj then proceeded to speak to the officer in Arabic explaining that there had been an accident earlier in the day and that we were here to complete the police portion of the report.
them to the Police Station in Al Thankful.   This Police Station, unlike the one in Al Gruffton, was not labeled in English anywhere on the building; which explains why I could not find it.  The Station was, however, located between a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a doughnut shop -- that should’ve been a dead giveaway.  We walked into the Police Station, which looked exactly like the Al Gruffton Police Station on the inside with the dual waiting corrals.  I went to the Desk Sergeant and handed him

We all stood around the sergeant’s desk as he started to go through the paperwork, and then he started to fill out another form while reviewing Mojabar’s registration and driver’s license. When he completed that he asked me for my registration, which I handed him, and then he asked me for my driver’s license.  I think this is the first time that the Sergeant noticed that I was not an Indian.  His entire demeanor changed once he found out I was an American.  He said something in Arabic to Mojabar and Raj and they went to the corral and sat down.  The Sergeant then asked me if I would like a cup of coffee and then signaled to a guy who was serving coffee to get me a cup.
A Mad Tea-Party
Alice becomes a guest at a "mad" tea party along with the March Hare, the Hatter, and a very tired Dormouse who falls asleep frequently, only to be violently woken up moments later by the March Hare and the Hatter.

This was not American coffee but Kuwaiti coffee which is served in tiny cups and is much lighter.  I like it okay and I didn’t want to appear rude by turning down his offer so I drank a cup of coffee with him standing at the counter. He asked many questions about where I was from and if I worked with the Army. Once he found out I did, he got very excited and told me that the American Army had saved his family during the Iraqi Invasion.  I was then offered a second cup of coffee, which I also took.  At this point I was wondering if I should bring up the fact that I really just wanted to draw this matter to a close and leave; but I thought better of it.
I was invited to have a seat in the sitting area behind his counter with the other police officers who were gathered there drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and munching on dates. Again, I didn’t want to appear rude so I walked behind the counter and had a seat.  As I sat down I glanced over at Mojabar who was standing in the corral and I could see concern cross his face about my newfound friendship.

I was offered more coffee – – which I turned down, after three I figured I had been quite enough – – dates, which I took and then the Desk Sergeant said something to the guy who was serving coffee who then disappeared for moment reappearing with a tray of fruit.  At this point, I figured the fruit was in my honor, so I ate some of it as well.   This was a welcome respite in some ways but it was also confusing because the conversation was taking place in both English and Arabic sometimes changing languages midsentence.  Over time several new officers and Kuwaitis in traditional dress entered, I mimicked everyone else’s actions of standing, shaking hands, and greeting each one; a majority of the time I found myself getting the Arab Cheek Kiss.   I could tell that my actions seem to please the officer sitting there perhaps because I acclimated to their behavior.

I hadn’t noticed, but while I was sitting there the Desk Sergeant had continued to work on the new form and had now completed it. He called Raj over and handed them the new form saying something in Arabic to him about where we needed to go next.
The Queen's Croquet Ground

Alice leaves the tea party and enters the garden where she comes upon three living playing cards painting the white roses on a rose tree red because The Queen of Hearts hates white roses.
After thanking the Desk Sergeant and the other assembled officers, I received an invitation to return to have coffee and socialize with them any time, I exited the building with Raj and Mojabar.  I was not sure what the next step was but Raj was busy dialing numbers on his phone.  Raj tried to explain between phone calls that we needed to speak to an Inspector to close out this accident and he was trying to call a friend who could help us to do so. Raj also told me that we needed to go to yet another Police Station in order to meet with the Inspector.
The Mock Turtle's Story

The Duchess is brought to the croquet ground at Alice's request. She ruminates on finding morals in everything around her. 

After several more phone calls, I interrupt Raj and informed him that if this doesn’t move forward soon that I am done and going home.  I have spent most of my day working on getting this straightened out and at this point I am only present out of the goodness of my heart to try and help out Mojabar to ensure that he doesn’t get in trouble simply because I am not present.  They now had The Form and I did not see that I was providing any added value at this point.

Raj launched into a long explanation about the fact that it was Thursday night, which is the same as Friday in the United States, then went on and on explaining what I already knew about Kuwait’s weekend schedule. He asked if I would be available on Sunday to finish this off and I told him that it was now or never.
 Lobster Quadrille
The Mock Turtle and the Gryphon dance to the Lobster Quadrille, while Alice recites (rather incorrectly) "'Tis the Voice of the Lobster". The Mock Turtle sings them "Beautiful Soup" during which the Gryphon drags Alice away for an impending trial.

At that point, we jumped in our cars and took off.  Another trip through town with me following Raj; going to yet another Police Station. The traffic had started to die down at least, which also meant it was getting later and darker. At this point, I’ve had nothing to eat since 10 AM and nothing to drink except that coffee. So at this point I could really use some water and some food. I was not exactly in a patient mood.
 Who Stole the Tarts?

During the proceedings, Alice finds that she is steadily growing larger. The dormouse scolds Alice and tells her she has no right to grow at such a rapid pace and take up all the air. Alice scoffs and calls the dormouse's accusation ridiculous because everyone grows and she cannot help it. 

As we walk into another Police Station, which had an interior that was laid out exactly like the last two, I am in no mood for any more runaround.  I walked directly to the Desk Sergeant’s counter and ask to speak to the Inspector regarding an accident.  That would work in America, however the Desk Sergeant speaks no English whatsoever and it only gets me a quizzical look. Raj is behind me and he bursts into a flurry of Arabic explaining why we are here.  After a few moments we are directed to the waiting corral.

Rather than sitting down in the corral, I call a friend who speaks fluent Arabic on my phone and ask him to explain to the Desk Sergeant that I have already provided a statement and that I will leave unless I am immediately taken to the Inspector so that I can draw this matter to a close. I then handed the phone to the Desk Sergeant. A quick Arabic conversation goes on and then the officer hands the phone back to me. My friend tells me to show the Desk Sergeant the cover of my passport, which I do. The officer’s eyes get wide and suddenly he speaks English.

He apologizes to me in fairly unaccented English then explains that it will take a moment because the Inspector is busy with another case. The Desk Sergeant promises that I will be taken in as soon as the Inspector is free and he will guarantee me that I will be there no longer than 30 minutes. I look at my watch and make a mental note of the time because in 30 minutes I am walking out.

While waiting I called my friend back and tell him that he apparently broke a logjam and then asked him what he said. He laughed and told me not to worry about it but that I should be treated respectfully from that point on. (NOTE: Later I was told by my friend that he had informed the Desk Sergeant that I was in Kuwait on US Government business working for the American President; he then asked the officer if he wanted the Emir to know that he was treating an American emissary shabbily.  I laughed when he told me that, but after thinking about it nothing my friend said was untrue.)
 Alice's Evidence

Alice is then called up as a witness. She accidentally knocks over the jury box with the animals inside them and the King orders the animals be placed back into their seats before the trial continues. 
While standing in the waiting area, I was tired of sitting at this point, I watched people come and go; it was a very busy place. About 15 minutes later sergeant comes and tells us that the Inspector was now available and be will be with us in a moment. Shortly after that, a very tall Kuwaiti in traditional dress appeared and motioned for us to follow him. Raj, Mojabar and I walked down the hall to his office and then had a seat on opposing couches in front of his desk.

He spoke very rapidly in Arabic to Raj and then turned to me, smiled, and then in perfect English greeted me and asked how I was doing. He then explained that this would only take a few minutes and then things would be complete. The Inspector then took out a huge log book (it was at least 20 inches long by a foot wide and 2 inches thick) and started to write. Apparently everything in the Police Station is still done manually instead of by computer.

The Inspector read The Form and then transferred a lot of information into the book and then he asked Mojabar what happened.  Mojabar started to speak and then Raj took over. The Inspector then turned to me and in English told me that Mojabar took full responsibility for the accident, which was good because there is no way that I was responsible for the accident based on The Form.  He then asked for my driver’s license and registration.  I provided him with those and then the issue of the Michigan Driver’s License popped up again.  He asked me if it was an International Driver’s License.  I explained that it was only a state license but that I did also possess an international license although I did not have it with me at the time.

The Inspector got a worried look on his face and then picked up his desk phone and called somebody. After several minutes he explained to me there could be an issue because I was not driving legally. At that point, I pulled out my Military Driver’s License and passport then explained that with these three documents I was legally allowed to drive in Kuwait based on international agreement. He shook his head. It was time for me to pull out my trump card.

I requested that he call the Host Nation Office and they could explain this to him. The Inspector readily agreed – – I will say that he was the most cordial Kuwaiti official that I dealt with during this whole ordeal, aside from the grateful Desk Sergeant, he dialed the number on his phone and after an initial greeting handed the phone to me. I explained to the person on the other end of the phone where I was, what was going on, and what the problem appeared to be at this point. Then I handed the phone back to the Inspector. The discussion was primarily one way because the Inspector spent a lot of time agreeing and nodding – then he promptly hung up.
The Inspector looked at me again, smiled, and thanked me for my time and told me that my part in the incident was complete and I was free to go.  Both Raj and Mojabar’s mouths were hanging open.  Apparently I had pulled a wasta rabbit out of a hat. 
I stood and shook hands with the Inspector, Raj and Mojabar and then turned to go.  It had been exactly 13 hours since the beginning of this trip to Wonderland. 
 "The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

I did end up with several takeaways: I now know the locations of three Kuwaiti Police Stations and have an open invitation to have coffee with the cops at one of the stations, I learned six new Arabic words, I possibly prevented a deportation, I met a Kuwaiti tribal chief, I was thanked for US assistance in the Iraq War (second time this month), and I now know that I have some wasta in my pocket should th eneed ever arise again.

As I thought about writing about this experience, I kept coming back to comparisons between what it happened and Alice in Wonderland. When I looked at the titles of each of the chapters of Lewis Carroll’s book, I realized how apropos that comparison was and that is why I have chosen to use them here to segment this story.

And so dear reader, this ends this particular tale of my life in Kuwait. Now I think it’s time for me to go and find out where that White Rabbit with the pocket watch is going.  After all, he’s late.

 Pix of the Week
Must have been designed by two committees working individually



  1. T, this is one loooooooooooooooong post but very entertaining. I'm glad you didn't get hurt and that you made some new friends (with handcuffs). ;p

    Keep that wasta for a dusty day indeed. xx

    1. I warned you it was long -- I was blown away when I was writing it and saw it was over 5000 words. But, it just takes a lot of words to cover 13 hours of Wonderland --

      Glad you liked it!


  2. Well, I don't think I've had such a giggle to myself in a long, long time.
    It reminded me of the day I ( naively) reported my purse stolen ( at 2pm ) and managed to leave the police station at 10 30 pm. My experience included The Form, The Identity Parade, the Interrogation and finally The Escape ( my own).
    Hilarious, thanks to UmKhalodie for recommending I 'read you'.I'm hooked.

  3. loooooooooooooooooooooool - next time chill, share some food with the cops and it will all be good!! that's arab governments at their best!