A couple of weeks ago the children had their end of term holidays and I wrote down all the places they wanted to go, bearing in mind that not all of them wanted to go to the same place. One of the firm favourites with everyone was the beach, and so one morning everyone got up to get ready for a barbeque on the beach. But we live in Algeria….and we have workmen……in the house….when they turn up that is…..so there’s even less chance of anything actually going to plan. And this day was no exception. My husband and I left early to buy turkey, and also to get my temporary residency paper stamped for the umpteenth time at the police station, so that by the time we got home and had the workmen, who surprise, surprise did turn up, sorted it was around 1.00pm before we left home. But having lived in Algeria for as long as I have, if I have learnt anything, it’s to grab any opportunity with both hands and run with it.
I love driving through the country roads to the beach with the fields on either side full of flourishing vegetables, past shops selling the most beautiful fruit and vegetables in all their glorious colours, and passing by hedges of bamboo that seem to stand to attention on either side of the road. During the summer we usually frequent a beach that’s quite off the beaten track and therefore a lot quieter than the popular beaches, but this day we decided to go to one of the latter and were pleasantly surprised to see that it was almost totally deserted. We were able to park quite close to a lovely spot on the beach where a fire was still smouldering away after its previous occupants had left it. The boys went foraging for firewood and prepared the barbeque and the girls and I …..just sat and enjoyed the view. I realised, as I sat there and felt myself unwind, that I have totally underestimated the importance of just sitting and being still.
The sea air gave the simple food the most wonderful taste, and wandering around the beach picking up shells and comparing ‘finds’ made the day a magical one Alhamdulilah. As we were leaving I thought to myself,I hope nothing happens to spoil the beauty of the day. Almost…as if I had known……
As we were driving back I took some photos, and we came to a part of the road we had driven the previous day, where I had seen a glimpse of land jutting out to the sea. As my husband’s idea of slowing down for me to take a photo sometimes means lifting his foot marginally off the accelerator and, as my camera is a simple point-in-the-direction-and-press-a-button kind, I decided I would be very clever and have my camera ready in my hand out the passenger window to take the ‘Perfect Picture’. Suddenly my husband and the children in the car shouted, almost in unison, ‘The Camera!’ And I said, ‘what about the camera?’ Then I heard them all shout ‘The Policeman!’ I honestly didn’t know what they were going on about as my husband slowed the car to a halt and I looked at them all in amazement. ‘WHAT policeman! WHERE?’ I asked. ‘The one outside the police station!’ they all shouted at me as if I was an imbecile. WHAT police station!!!! Honestly I didn’t have a clue for a minute until I looked back, out the window and saw a policeman come up to the car. This is where my heart dropped to my feet, because one of the very first things my husband impressed upon me when we came to Algeria on holiday in 1987 that first time, was to NEVER take any photos of the police or navy, or any of their buildings. And I’ve always been so careful to comply, but this time I was so busy waiting for the view to come in sight, with getting the right picture, I never even saw the policeman or the station, or realised that I was practically waving the thing in his face. I handed over the camera and thought to myself that it was ok, as I hadn’t taken any pictures of them anyway, so they would see that for themselves wouldn’t they??????
The policeman was very polite and courteous and walked around the car to speak to my husband, but standing to one side, without actually looking in the car. I have found this to often be the case when we’re stopped as a family, or even when it’s just me and my husband…..the police, out of respect do not want to encroach on our privacy and will usually stand to one side to talk to my husband. On this occasion my husband got out of the car, and the policeman first asked if there were family photos on the camera (again this is out of respect as he didn’t want to offend my husband by looking at pictures of the women in the family, especially if there was a possibility that they weren’t wearing hijab), but my husband told him that there weren’t any…..just views of our day out. Alhamdulilah I was so grateful for the fact that I don’t take any photos of people, and this day was no exception.
As he looked through the photos my daughter, who was watching surreptitiously from her vantage point in the back seat, suddenly exclaimed ‘They’ve found something! They’re going back to the police station!’ As soon as she said it I remembered……that morning when we’d been chasing after my paperwork, I had taken what I thought was a nice photo of a general view with the new tramway……and…….a police station plonked right in the middle. It was in the distance, but the unique blue and white colour made it stand out, and while I didn’t think anything of it at the time, the policeman, unfortunately, didn’t share my view. My daughter wailed ‘WHY did you take a photo of the police station?’
What I didn’t realise until my husband told me afterwards, was that the policeman actually said to him ‘let’s go into the police station where we’ll be more comfortable.’ If I had known this I would have had images of the whole spy story, cold war type ‘comfortable’…..the kind that brought up visions of chains and hands being hammered to old wooden tables with rusty nails.
We waited in the car and I sank into a pit of guilt, feeling so stupid and awful for spoiling such a lovely day, and also knowing that my husband was dog tired and really didn’t need all this hassle. The children decided that they would watch for my husband to leave the police station to gauge whether he was mad or not – if he came straight out fast and didn’t say a word to the policeman who stopped him then he WAS mad and we would just all put our heads down and suffer the onslaught. He did come out and came straight up to my window, handed me the camera and asked me to delete the photos I took of the police station. My husband knows his way around a computer like nobody’s business but my humble digital camera totally defeated him and he couldn’t figure out how to delete them himself. Then he asked ‘WHY did you take a photo of the police station’, and my reply didn’t sound any more sensible second time round.
He went back, and shortly after came back out, spoke to the policeman and then got into the car saying, ‘no more pictures of police stations, ok?’ There was nothing he could say to me that would have made me feel worse than I did at that very moment anyway. It turns out that when he went into the police station he had to speak with the man in charge, who took one look at him and said ‘I know you’. My husband didn’t recognise him at all, even when it transpired that they both came from the same area. He was very polite and apologised for all the fuss but said that, with the Presidential elections only a couple of weeks away they were all being extra cautious (or, in my words, ‘jittery’). He asked him a few questions, checked that I had deleted the photos (just looked at the number of photos on the camera), and then said to him that if there was anything he ever needed any help with, not to hesitate to come and ask him, and then he asked him ‘What was she trying to take a picture of anyway?’ My husband told him the particular view I was aiming for, and the policeman replied ‘But she can’t take a photo of that either…it’s owned by the military!’
I think it’s going to take a while for me to live this down…... if ever.