Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What's Midwagh? (Needlessly Long Story)

So, upon returning home on a cool fall night in Cairo, I was privy to a wonderful new experience. Riding in a taxi with three friends who live nearby (Egyptians, mind you), we come across your friendly neighborhood checkpoint.

Ok so maybe not quite so dramatic but a checkpoint/roadblock nonetheless. Seeing a taxi full of fiery-eyed youths, the Five-oh ask for the driver's license and ID card and have us pull to the right....

(while waiting for the man to come up to us)
Scalliwag:"Does anybody have anything?"
Vagabond:"I've got papers..."
Scalliwag:"Well you'd better fucking swallow them-oh whatever"

About this time two officers come up and open the doors for us, asking us if we wouldn't mind stepping out of the car. [NB: All police banter will be translated here loosely, at risk of offending any Straussians, so as to get the universal 'cop' feel out of the conversation]

"Well well well, so where you boys from?"
[residences given]
"Where you been tonight? Out havin some fun?"
"Just downtown, nothing really"
"Boy what the hell do you got in your hair?"
"Nothing, sir, it's just a headband to keep my hair back"
"Oh my isn't it then, you know my daughter has one just like it! So how bout you just tell me, what do you have on you?"
"No, nothing"
"Why don't you just tell me, so's I don't have to search you?"
And then, this is great, one of my friends says, for reasons I don't quite get, in English "That's not your right."

As I'm standing there thinking what on earth would have possessed him to say that, in English no less, the officer replies: "What? What was that?"
[now in Arabic] "That's not your right. I don't have anything on me, but still it's not your right."
"Oh really? Wait- how about you tell [names and points to the guy who seems to be the BMOC (Big man on Checkpoint)] what you just said, tell 'im in English.--Hey, get a listen of this!"
"Well, it's not your right to search me, but I'm telling you we don't have anything on us."
"Hey there boy, you're shakin, somethin worrying you?"
"Just cold, sir" [true, he was complaining about this all night]
"Sure 'bout that? I dunno, you seem a bit nervous? Why don't you just tell us, we're not out to get you or anything, just come clean and tell us something."
About at this point the officer proceeds [and before you get the wrong idea, for a state with nearly unchecked police powers, these guys were being pretty friendly] to start frisking my friend. "Hey, rolling papers! and you've got the long ones, huh? Whatcha rolling in these, boys?"
So out comes the half truth from a friend that they were using them to smoke Midwagh a perfectly real and legal substance that is very popular in the Emirates (where this friend had lived). Now these kids did have Midwagh, but not on them to say the least. As the discussion ensued over the nature, origin, and genus of Midwagh, and how it might be deployed within a rolling paper, Another officer asks me what's inside my backpack and asks to see it. As he starts looking through my papers and course readers, he happens to remark on
a)the first page of one of my readers is from Gibb and Bowen's [rather atrocious] Islamic Society and the West. "Oh great, I'm going to prison" I start thinking, "this could be a long night."
"Boy they sure do got you doing a lot of reading, you're reading all this?"
"Yeah, well, you know how it goes"
"Uh huh, and what do we have here?"
b)An American friend of mine had happened to give me a newsletter published by the university al-Quds (Jerusalem) club featuring an article he wrote. This newsletter was half English, half Arabic. "They publish these kinda things at your university, do they?"
"I suppose, I haven't read the thing" [meanwhile in my head I'm thinking of about five other incidences wherein government involvment in the otherwise autonomous university affairs--usually incited by very silly things such as this-- created some very stick situations.]
At this point another officer (there's about 5 total I think) chimes in "Y'see, they do alot of free-speakin' over at the American university." Fortunately this was not dwelled on too long. At this point the front pocket gets opened and the officer proceeds to unwrap every single gum wrapper and piece of paper trash I have in there trying to find drugs.
"Listen, there's nothing there, there never has been, those are just gum wrappers"
"Oh no, I know, I'm just lookin'" [as he takes a deep smell of one of them to check for hash residue]
"Suit yourself"

Needless to say, after about 5 more minutes the officers had just gotten bored or perhaps really figured (out) that we didn't have any contraband on us, and started to send us on our way.

"Listen boys, we'd really love to see some of this midwagh stuff, why don't you keep some on you so that next time you pass by we can have a look, eh?"
OK, sure.

So I'm bad at telling stories, and it really does end kind of abruptly, although it is funny to note that one of my friends had to make sure as we were getting in and driving off that the Officers new that even the Sheikh of Dubai was a fan of the stuff. We even went into a discussion as the tired cabby pulled off of how much you might spend on the bottle of the stuff. Needless to say, however, I've officially (although they never saw my ID) been interpellated by the Egyptian state security apparatus. Ah, what a sense of subjectivity I'm feeling now. Good night.


Blogger dchan said...

this is the complete opposite of what ive come across in france so far. i will give more examples later, as the keyboard im using right now is shitty, but long story short, white american girls can do no wrong in paris. this extends to openly smoking and drinking in front of la prefecture de paris on a nightly basis. the only way to get into trouble here is by, well, i hate to say it, looking like an arab. incidentally, the first time i hung out on the left bank two years ago some morrocan guy tried to buy me from my friend seb for a bar of hash.

5:36 AM  
Blogger Austin 5-000 said...

It sounds sort of like 1960s Texas. Cut your hair, wear a polo shirt and boat-shoes, and slap a confederate flag patch over any pictures of Che that you have on your person, and I think you'll be fine.
This is a complete perspective shift for me. As a fearful DC resident, I orient my prayer mat towards the Metropolitan Police Headquarters every night.
Good luck, my friend.

9:05 AM  
Blogger Robot said...

Why didn't you just tell them you knew Joseph Loewenstein? The whole incident would have been over in two seconds.

"Of course we know Professor Loewenstein! We have been anxiously awaiting his Spenser edition for what seems like centuries, now!"

9:54 AM  
Blogger Robot said...


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Blogger dchan said...


12:21 PM  
Blogger Robot said...

It appears that creating links in the comments section is quite difficult. If you kind of highlight from the end of the next line up to the beginning of the next line down, it will highlight the whole link.

Also, a week long absence from Scantron can mean only one thing: it began when Richard Rorty remarked upon the young scholar's calves...

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