Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Police Checkpoints

Although the war is officially over, police checkpoints around the country and city of Colombo still remain. My first hotel was located within spitting distance of the President’s compound, which meant roadblocks, check points, traffic stops and lots of machine guns. I don’t feel threatened; after awhile they just seem to blend in to everything else on the street. Just one more hoop to getting home.

Mostly, the police checkpoints are just annoying. They wave over your car, check your national identity card, ask where you’re going and wave you on. No one bothers to ask me for my papers; I’ve already blogged about how un-Sri Lankan I look. However, Susan and I seem to get pulled over a lot more when we’re together, but they don’t hassle us too much. I flash a smile, meet their eyes and test out my three Singhalese phrases. Susan teases me that I use my charm on them; I think they just panic when they see my pale face.

Saturday night I was out with some non-Sri Lankan friends. All five of us piled in the backseat of a taxi to Gallery CafĂ©. I don’t know if we were conspicuously crammed, or if something was going on in the city, but our little car got stopped not once – but twice – by police checkpoints. Much to our surprise, they demanded our papers.

Three of my friends are diplomats, but only two of them had copies of their passports. Us Americans are told to leave them at home, so Anu and I were out of luck. The diplomats produced their copies, and argued their immunity to the men with the machine guns. It devolved quite quickly into heated discussions. I slunked in my seat. I thought the poor driver was going to drop dead with terror. Finally, they let us go.

The second checkpoint wasn’t much better, as everyone was exasperated, hungry and a bit shaken. More demands, more paperwork. I slunk further. The policemen didn’t seem to know what the word “diplomat” meant; nor do I think it did much good to be shouting it at them. I was thinking of Susan, and my subtle flirting, but was too nervous to even look up, let alone smile. I was tucked too far back in the backseat; and trying very very hard to be invisible.

I don’t know if anything was going on in the city last night, or if it was just plain over-vigilance by the police, but it definitely put a damper on the evening. Luckily, on the way back, we didn’t get stopped, but I no longer consider them “just an annoyance.”

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