Thursday, 13 September 2012

Day 173 – Making friends with cops. (Uzbekistan)

As previously blogged about (Blog Day 161 – Police checks), there is an abundance of police checks in Uzbekistan. Since our first day here, when our passports were scanned five times within 250km, they haven’t been quite as prolific but they’re still unbelievably more common than anywhere else any of us have ever travelled to. At some checks, they don’t seem to be pulling anyone over – we guess they’re just taking footage of all the passing traffic, but we’ve still had our passports checked more in the last two weeks than I have had in my entire life up until this point. Most of them are not overly intimidating though and sometimes the whole thing can be quite light hearted.
There was one checkpoint where the golden toothed policeman laughed at Denner’s eyebrow ring then, without even glancing at a passport, waved us on. I guess he realised people with eyebrow rings are rarely up to no good...
We were sitting waiting for ages at one of the first police checks we went through, so Tunkles and Ben got out to go and have a look at what was happening. More intrigued by the funny foreigners than our documents though, the policeman called over all the other policemen to laugh at their beards. Realising how to make friends with these ones, Ben rushed over to get Denner out of the car. When they laid their eyes on his extreme facial hair, they all lost it. Nothing more was done with our documents and after letting the hilarity subside a little, we were free to go.
A few days ago we were perturbed because the policeman who had pulled us over had looked at our passports and was waving us to go on, but another two had appeared at the other side of the car and quite forcibly insisting that (we thought) we put our back window down to have our boot searched. Confused by the mixed messages, we wanted just to drive on, but the second and third policemen were pretty adamant that we pull over. So we did. And we realised they weren’t asking to search our car, but were in fact trying to tell us that we’d left our stupid electronic back window down. Here we were being all indignant, and they were just trying to help!
One policeman waved us to the side of the road, then approached the passenger’s window as they invariably do, seeing our car is right hand drive and here we drive on the right hand side. The appropriate greetings were made, he shook hands with the three men, and proceeded to ask us where we are from and where we were coming from. Seeing we can’t tell the difference between these questions, it’s a stab in the dark as to whether we’re answering the correct one or not. We often get some odd looks while they’re realising our confusion. The policeman sternly asked for all our passports and registration documents, then began moving away from the car. As he turned away, he did a double take and burst into laughter, pointing at the driver, the passenger and back to the driver, miming steering. Slapping his thighs in hilarity he called over his fellow policemen and they surrounded the car, laughing hysterically at us silly foreigners with our steering wheel on the wrong side. The first policeman moved around to the driver’s window and vigorously shook hands with Ben who was driving, before handing back our passports and registration with not so much as a second glance. Still chortling to himself and shaking his head in amusement, he waved us on our way.
Entering the area near the Afghan border, we went through a fairly intense checkpoint. We had to park and take our passports, registration slips and car import document into a little office where all our details were copied into a large, very neatly hand ruled notebook. All vehicles leaving the area
were being thoroughly searched; luggage, tyres and anything that can be stripped from the car being put through a scanning machine inside a portable trailer. There were a lot of trucks – mainly European – going through this checkpoint, on their way to and from delivering goods to Afghanistan. It looked like people were there for hours waiting to be cleared, and we weren’t looking forward to our return the following day.
On our return though we were pleased to find out that they don’t in fact hold up every single vehicle for an excruciating amount of time – just most. This time we knew which office to go to, so we went straight there where our passport details were copied into the big book again, and the policeman didn’t even glance at our registration or car importation. Nobody was interested in searching our car and five minutes later we were away.
We went through a second checkpoint on the way towards the Afghan border. This one was a bit less intensive, but we were still required to park the car and take our documents into a little office. The guard who was designated the task of taking our details was much more interested in having a chat though, and continued to do so. Unfortunately he really struggled to fathom that we couldn’t understand a word he was saying, but after a bit of gentle nudging, we got him to try miming. He was very taken with me and whether I was married. We told him that Ben and I were married, and he was very excited to find out about our potential children. After miming it differently a substantial number of times, he finally believed us that much to his disappointment, we were childless. We realised afterwards that perhaps he was fishing, and we were supposed to ask him about his wife and children.
On our way back through this checkpoint the following day we weren’t even stopped, so I suppose if anyone was ever to tally up all the hand written notebooks, we would technically still be in that area.

No comments:

Post a Comment