Me, the bearded cop, and the non-bearded were stuck in the back. Or at least I was stuck with them. We started driving off, and I began to worry about how far we would be going. The entire time I had been telling anyone who cared to listen that I was currently residing with my Nani Amma (mother’s mother) in Gulberg III. Now I was pleading with the non-bearded cop to call her, explaining in all honesty that she would be very worried that I had not reached back home by now. He told me to wait, the station was close and we wouldn’t be more than half an hour. That was a positive development as he gave me a time frame, and a short one at that, but I didn’t put too much stock into it. I continued to insist I had to call now, repeating the same few phrases over and over again (I was getting some language practice in at the very least, to help me the next time I’m in such a scenario).
This non-bearded cop could be the friendly sort, but he had quite an angry face that I had experienced earlier when I refused to get in the car. He was a good cop/bad cop/big cop all in one, and that face got me to do whatever he wanted. As I continued to plead, his facial expressions slowly began to change as I’m sure his annoyance levels went up. He eventually was in full scowl, and I had my cell phone out in my hand asking again to call. He suddenly raised his beefy hand as if to hit me if I asked one more time. Taking a not-so subtle hint, I promptly shut up and put the phone back in my bag. That wasn’t good enough for him now, so he took the entire sabzi tela away. This piqued his curiosity as to the other contents, which I enthusiastically endorsed, believing it would help my cause. I had him pull out the lonely planet guidebook and showed him the Lahore map and all the touristy sites I had marked to visit, just as I had uselessly showed the original cops (I guess the markings could have also looked like all the places I intended to ‘target’). If that had any effect on him, it went by unnoticed.
After taking my possessions and I quieted down for a bit, thinking about that scowling face of his. I was getting quite distraught by this point, in my view all aspects of my defense had been logical and clear, what more could they want? What more did I need to do to prove I wasn’t a terrorist, and how exactly was I going to get that change at the station? My basic hope at this point was someone, namely Tali Hali (my aunt), would call to check up on me, at which point I could tell her “no I’m not fine, I’ve been abducted by the police.” Unfortunately though, she most likely thought I was perturbed by all this needless monitoring after she had called me twice earlier in the day, and likely wasn’t going to bother me again. Too bad for me, as I was in need of some serious monitoring right now.
We were driving around real slow, about 10km an hour, ostensibly looking for other terrorists to pick up. I was not-so-secretly hoping we didn’t actually find any other ones – being seated and detained amongst real, live terrorists who might not be so enthralled by my “I’m an American defense” would not exactly have made me more comfortable. After a brief respite, I started talking again, saying anything I could at all that supported my story. We passed by the zoo, and I excitedly remembered I still had my entrance ticket and proudly produced it from my pocket, waving it frantically to prove that I had indeed just been there. Terrorists don’t go to the zoo, they hate animals! I went further to say there were pictures of animals on my camera as even more irrefutable proof. The non-bearded cop looked at my ticket for a moment before losing interest. One of the front seated policemen turned around to ask a question to another of the cops, I started pointing to the zoo and showing him my ticket through the glass, to little effect.
The bearded cop seated across from me was clearly enjoying this situation, and that was only pissing me off. He kept saying things to me that I did not understand in the least. Even if I can’t get the entire sentence, I’ll usually pick up a few words here or there to gain a general understanding. But with this guy, no matter how hard I concentrated, I couldn’t understand him at all – it must’ve been his accent or he was speaking slang or something like that. The non-bearded cop I understood fine, although I understood his facial expressions a lot better than his words. The bearded cop continued talking and I kept trying to decipher it. I kept telling him I was just learning Urdu, I don’t know it all that well just yet. I was getting annoyed, and finally I flat out declared to him “I have no idea what you’re saying.” He replied (in Urdu), as smug as ever, “that’s because I’m speaking Pashto – and by the way you do understand me.” I was momentarily confused, but then I understood. Many of the homegrown terrorizers tended to be from the Northern Areas of Pakistan, and belong to the Pasthun ethnicity, correspondingly speaking Pashto. This cop was testing me, to see if I really understood the language or not, and thus determine if I was actually who I said I was. I think it was clear I wasn’t just faking stupidity (that comes naturally), but as with many things thus far, what was crystal clear to me wasn’t necessarily seen in the same light by my captors.
We arrived at the police station, after passing many a check points. The car was in full view of the outside world, so my presence elicited quite a few stares, as if they had finally caught a real live terrorist and I happened to know the exact location of Osama bin Laden (update: two years later in May 2011, I actually did). I got out of the back of the car, closely escorted by the non-bearded cop. The car drove off and we waited there a while, in the courtyard of the station. In the car ride I came to understand that whatever incident involving me had probably been called in, and these guys had no choice now but to take me to the station regardless of whether they thought I was innocent or not. At that point I had meekly decided to try a different approach and chat them up a little bit (or at least the non-bearded cop, the bearded one was constantly whispering poetic Pashto sweet nothings in my ear – it really became an awkward ride). I got as far as a generic question about where they were born, and it didn’t really work. But I did feel like I established somewhat of a rapport with the non-bearded cop, and he was beginning to believe me, as my story added up every which way. While we were standing there I decided to turn to him and ask straight up if that was the case. He ignored my question. He had been pretty good about not answering sensitive questions, he had obviously done his “how not converse with suspected terrorists” training well. He instead smiled and put his hand on my back multiple times, that beefy hand that was, which simultaneously reassured me while reminding me of the potential consequences of not following his instructions.
We stood out there a bit longer, ostensibly waiting for something but I wasn’t quite sure what. I had some time to ponder this predicament. I imagined there would be points in my life where I would stand accused of being a terrorist because of my name or ethnic appearance, but most of those situations involved airports. And America. Never once did I think the same would happen in Pakistan. Ridiculous, I went there trying to blend in and in doing so blended right into a stereotype.
I was led back around the corner to a spartan room with a desk and a cot type bed perpendicular to it. I sat on the cot and waited, alone. The bearded cop, my companion throughout all of this, had suddenly left me, and now I didn’t even have a familiar face around. An older man came in. He was very direct and began asking me questions immediately (didn’t even buy me dinner first). I moved to stand in front of his desk as he noted all I was saying, about my address, my stay in Pakistan, when I arrived, when I was to leave, ect., then left.
Non-bearded cop returned, and while he was killing time waiting for something to happen next, he decided it was his turn to inspect the bevy of evidence on my camera. He pulled up a picture of myself, in shlvar kameez again, with an uncle and cousins, demanding to know them all. I thought I was fingering my own family, and they would soon be joining me in this room (at least I would have some familiar faces around then). He flipped through some more pictures when he suddenly leapt from his chair burst out bluntly, as if he had identified a head terror ringleader, “yeh kon hai?!!” or “who is this?” It was a picture of my 90 year old grandmother eating her daily half box of ice cream. I explained, with as much emotion as his outburst, that that was my aforementioned grandmother (“voh nani yar!”), taking the opportunity to remind him that she was still worried about me, and probably not even able to eat her ice cream right now. At the same time I was trying to process what on earth about that picture (below) made him think that sweet old lady looked anything like a criminal mastermind.
to be continued (and continued and continued) . . .