Leaving Petra for Aqaba, we eased onto the almost empty main road south, after the King’s Highway and the Desert Highway merge, and were immediately pulled over by two Jordanian policemen. We reached for our passports and prepared ourselves for another of the frequent, polite checks and chit chat we had been experiencing all around the Dead Sea area and near the Israeli-Palestinian border.
Approaching the passenger window, one of the cops in mirrored sunglasses asked for our car papers. We were handing them over when the second cop began to bang insistently on the driver’s window. We lowered it hastily. “Driving licence”, he spat out. We obliged and he took it into custody. “You could have caused a disaster,” he declared. We were taken aback to say the least. “You didn’t stop before turning. Could have had disaster accident.”
Given the snail’s pace at which we joined the highway, the few number of vehicles on the horizon and the good visibility in both directions, it would have been hard to have an accident at all, let alone a disastrous one. We were somewhat nonplussed. The overbearing official was adamant, however, the fine would be 5 dinars. Though sceptical, we decided it wasn’t worth brushing the guy up the wrong way since he was clearly prone to over-excitement.
“Now pay 5 dinar, now, now,” he hammered. We acquiesced hurriedly, fearing some kind of arterial explosion. “Just give us the paper and we’ll pay.” His lip curled slightly as if over a bad taste. “If you don’t pay we’ll keep your licence. Give me now.”
At this point we realised this was more than a cop who hadn’t had any lunch. And no, these guys don’t take plastic. We flatly refused to hand over any cash until they could produce a penalty notice and receipt. Tight-lipped, the policeman retired to his van to consult lengthily with two others. When he returned with the official paper, the fine had increased to 15JD. Our comeuppance for not playing the game. He didn’t turn a hair when we questioned the hefty surcharge to send our payment into the state coffers instead of his pocket.
We decided it was worth it since, of all the wonderful people we had met in Jordan, this one was definitely not worth a tip just for pulling us over. He sulkily handed us our paperwork and stalked away. Only one document was missing – they clearly hoped we would forget and leave it. But when confronted they surrendered it quickly. By that point I had realised that we were right outside a roadside police station. You have to admire their nerve. These cops didn’t even leave the grounds of the station to set up their dodgy ambush.
But then I’ve ceased to be surprised at the murky workings of bureaucracy in this region. This morning, back in Beirut, I received a birth announcement from France in a beautiful envelope complete with crimson cursive script and themed baby stamps. On the left a neat slit ran the length of the envelope which had been resealed with sticky tape. It seems that LibanPost couldn’t wait to find out if it was a boy or a girl either.
On Monday 21 June, a blog carnival will be published here on gingerbeirut.com with rubber stamp stories from other Lonely Planet bloggers on their travels around the world.
In the meantime, for more rubber stamp stories in the Middle East, check the tag cloud.