How I got arrested in Morocco:Part 2

Thursday, 3 December 2009, 13:33 | Category : missions, photoshoots, Travel
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After heading back to the hotel after driving down the same narrow stretch of road AGAIN. We were taken to a different Riad closer to the airport in the Medina. It was nice to have a change of scenery but by this point we really wanted to just get home.

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So after another chicken tagine we settled down to another early night for our 8am airport pick up.

Tuesday

After checking in we headed to passport control. As we were queuing I heard an officer say my name. ‘Uum, that’s me!’ I said ’You have a leak in your bag come with me’. ‘A leak?’. Jo and I looked at each other both knowing it could only be one thing- my gun.

I have been travelling and performing with my Olympic starting pistol for 18 months. It’s a stunt gun that allows you to put in tiny gold bullets which go BANG in the chamber, the snout of the gun is filled in so you can’t shoot anything out of the end. Sounds scary, I know, but its totally legal to buy if its for dramatic purposes. Which is obviously what I use it for.

I had been questioned before about it in Sarajevo (see blog) but once I explained they quickly let me go…

Why not use a plastic gun? Well cap guns don’t make as bigger a noise (part of the dramatic effect) and plus I have struggled to find one that looks the right period. Anyway when we landed in Marrakech on exiting the airport we had to pass through a X-ray. I got a girl to explain to the guard in French what I was carrying. I’m not sure if he fully understood, but he put my bag through the X-ray and then let us go.

Cherry and I were then marched towards about 5 guards all gathered around my suitcase. I started shaking. I knew I could explain the gun, but bloody-hell I had perhaps not through this through fully. I was asked to open the suitcase where I scrabbled around to find the gun which was buried in my selection of polyester dresses and covered in glitter. I handed it over to the guard explaining it was for a photoshoot. I frantically went through my purse looking for my business card which has a picture of a gun shooting a lipstick on it to try and back up my claim. Some guards seemed relaxed, others were sent off to get the head officer of the airport.

We were assured we would still be able to get on our flight, but I was bricking it. We were supposed to have left Morocco three days previously- how could things keep on going wrong?

Time was ticking towards our flight time, after sniffer dogs were set on my cases we were taken through passport control to an office. On the way an officer hilariously grumbled ‘My hands are covered in glitter from your gun, my wife will suspect me of being with another woman’. Funny the moments of comedy you can find when things seem to be going from bad to worse.

At the head office there was even a more gruff looking moustached officer inspecting my gun while other gathered around. Crap- it does look real I though as he sprung out the barrel to poured out the tiny gold bullets. And then it hit me ‘I bought a GUN to Africa. SHIT I AM A TOTAL IDIOT’. I was asked why I had not declared it. ‘I told the guard when I arrived!, check the CCTV!’

After more waiting, no one seemed to be able to tell us if we were allowed to get on the flight, or explain to us what was going on. Then we had to go hand over our digital cameras.

This humourless guard started flicking through our pictures. Shit it. I had one private picture on there- nothing super explicit, but private none the less exposing one teeny nipple.

‘Where was this taken?’ he demanded.

‘In London‘ I replied. Things were getting serious now- Morocco has very strict pornography laws which can lead to jail sentences. I felt physically sick with dread especially when he came to innocent pictures of us in the bath that had been taken in the Riad.

One of the pictures that caught the policeman's eye...

One of the pictures that caught the policeman's eye...

another nice bathroom that almost got us into trouble!

another nice bathroom that almost got us into trouble!

It became obvious I was not going to be able to get on my flight and I asked them if they could let Cherry go- thankfully they said yes, as I had been the one carrying the ‘firearm’. She did not want to leave but I insisted, I felt sure it would get resolved and I hated to delay her any further. It was awful though, even though I knew she should go I still had to turn my back when she headed towards the gate, I was pretty scared.

After another half hour of waiting and more questions about pictures on my camera, and after being formally arrested for bringing an undeclared firearm into the country I called Alan the photographer, explained the situation and he swiftly called his contact at the British Embassy.

Matthew from  the embassy called me back about ten minutes later. I can’t tell you how nice it is to hear a reassuringly British voice, when you have been arrested by Moroccan Police. I half sobbed down the phone, while he said he would call the airport to find out what was going on as they were telling me very little.

Then one of the guards said ‘Come with me’.

‘Where are we going?

‘Just come’.

Then my phone rang and it was Matthew the consulate.

‘Will you tell the consulate where we are going?’

The guard shook his head. We were heading towards an empty gate with a plane with two policeman out side.

Oh god- hey are putting me on a plane to PRISON! I started crying as I tried to drag my two suitcases across behind the police man and I kept asking ‘Where are you taking me!?’. We got closer to the plane and my heart skipped a beat. Then I was lead to a rather boring office downstairs and told to wait. I felt like a idiot. Almost as stupid as a burlesque dancer, who takes a gun to Morocco for a photo shoot, and then thinks they are going to get flown to a secret prison, where she would most undoubtedly be tortured and never seen again. But I tell you fear does quite warp ones mind to dramatics.

More waiting. I was told to stay in a room with two guards, who were very nice and one started laughing when I told him the story, which made me feel slightly better. I then had to sign a statement. It was written in French- so my GCSE came in a bit handy, although I refused to sign it at first without the consulate. They said they could not take me to the station to meet the until I signed it, so I did.

Then after 6 hours of waiting I was put in the back of a Police van and driven to the main Police station in the famous market square Jemma El Fna. I just kept thinking ‘I can’t believe it has come to this!’.

When I arrived Matthew the consulate was there waiting for me on the steps- god was I glad to see him!

We went into a another office where I was relieved the atmosphere was a lot more jovial. Alan had dropped off copies of the pictures of me standing ‘Bond Girl’ style with the gun and the Police found the whole thing hilarious, I was obviously not your usual arms smuggler. At this point I did not know whether to laugh or cry. It was the first time I had seen the pictures too- at least they were good!

The police at the station could not have been nicer, I was handed water and they even sent a boy out to buy me hot biscuits from the market. Arrest hospitality! I had to explain why I had the gun, with Matthew translating the facts again, while some of the officers rather distractingly played with my gun and pretended to shoot each other round corners Bond style.

After 2 hours, and more statement signing, it was agreed that I could be released but they would have to hold onto my passport while my gun was sent off for analysis in Rabat. Phew. But there was still an outside chance it could go to court. Shit.

However Matthew was so nice, and having an articulate, kind man with me made me realise that sometime its jolly good to be British and have someone one your side metaphorically hold your hand.

Alan then came to the station to give a statement and he kindly offered that I could stay with him and his wife Joanna until it was all resolved. I was so happy, the thought of going back alone to an empty hotel room was not a pleasant prospect.

We picked up Joanna and headed out to the village were they lived about 20mins outside Marrakech.  It was great not to be in a Police station.  Their house was beautiful, all cool polished concrete floors, and a lovely courtyard in the middle.

Alan and Joanna's Courtyard

Alan and Joanna's Courtyard

my guards that night

my guards that night

After a much need gin and tonic and supper I headed to bed- as we had to go back to the Police station in the morning.

Wednesday 4th November

I woke early, while I had felt confident everything was going to be resolved the previous day, my confidence had now turned to doubt. I agonized over what to wear too- my clothes were not realing but showed too much arm…should I dress western? Moroccan? I settled on a 60s dress and Joanna’s jacket.

Just before we entered the Police Station  Alan stopped me and very kindly handed me a huge wadge of Moroccan currency. ‘I don’t mean to scare you, but there is small chance that they might prosecute you and take you to court. I want you to be prepared. You can buy things in prison, like a better room, food with this etc . Seriously it wouldn’t be that bad, my friend was in prison for 3 months and he said the worst thing was the boredom.’

And on wait a minute- PRISON! It was only then that the prospect of going to jail seemed real. Surely I could not be put in a paint peeling cell like the one I saw yesterday. I was fighting back the tears as we walked across the square with Alan’s money tucked in my pocket. Suddenly my freedom, which as a (largely) law abiding citizen I have taken for granted seemed incredibly precarious in this foreign land. I was a long way from home. I had brought a firearm to Africa, not declared it (in their eyes). Shit I was going down. Oh GOD! I’m too pretty for prison!!!!

‘Oh and take your sim card out of your phone that way you can take it into jail with you , if it comes to it’ ‘But I can’t I have an iphone- they are really tricky to open and there’s no time.’ Bloody ponsey technology, no good if you get banged up in Africa!

So with one last look at the blue sky and I headed into the station to hear the results of the analysis in Rabat.

‘Heeeey my friends!’ was the greeting we received from the mullet haired cop who had spoken to us yesterday. ‘I think that means I’m not going to jail!’ I thought. Unless it was just a ruse to stop me bolting.

After a nervous ten minutes it was clear that ‘Relax, there is no problem’ as we were assured that the gun and our story had checked out. But they were still waiting for official paperwork to come through before they could give me my passport back.

Big deep breath out.

When we got back to Alan’s later I booked my flight home- the thought of going back nearly made me cry.AGAIN.

Thursday 5th November

At 2pm we went back into the Police station for the third time, where I was given back my precious passport and they actually APOLOGISED for arresting me! What a relief, I was going home!

Passport back, very happy, wearing Alan's denim jacket for modesty!

Passport back, very happy, wearing Alan's denim jacket for modesty!

Also a big thank you goes to Alan for spending about what felt like 3 days in the police station, Joanna for being so hospitable and kind, Matthew for his time and good humour and for all your kind messages. All those calls, posts and texts certainly cheered me up during those few days.

Needless to say I have learnt my lesson, and when I travelled to Dublin last week I did call up Air France in advance and the  Met Police looked over the gun before I boarded. It means I have to show up at the airport a little earlier, but its worth it. I never want to have to go through anything like that again.

Give up the gun I hear you say? Start using a prop that doesn’t fire bullets and won’t get you arrested? Now where would be the fun in that…..

Picture courtesy of Alan Keohane with the little gun that caused a whole lotta palava

Picture courtesy of Alan Keohane 'The Lotus Connection, with the little gun that caused a whole lotta palava