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Qatar…From Afar: Mayday Mayday May Day

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The day was Wednesday, May 1, and the time about 9:30 am.

The police “Captain” called my mobile number (!) asking me to stop by the station! He refused to give any detail.

I had been preparing for a quiet departure, not a call from the police. Qatar Academy hadn’t made any public announcement about the circumstances of my departure which suited me just fine.

By Sunday, April 28, not surprisingly, a few friends had found out through other channels. They had planned a small going away party that afternoon in my apartment.

I had another business to take care of: sorting out shipment of my personal effects. But I still didn’t have my passport. In its absence, the shipping agent needed scanned copies, which the administrator coordinating my departure emailed me Tuesday afternoon.

Mentioning the call, I also texted the same administrator if I needed to see the police before leaving Doha. They wrote back saying they didn’t know and would find out. The administrator also arranged for an Arab-speaking staff to meet me at the station. Since I didn’t have a car anymore — I had returned my rental car the previous day — I asked a friend for a lift.

When we left the apartment the time was about 10:15 am.

After getting lost for a fair while, we finally made it to the station, the Arab-speaking staff in tow. During our drive, my friend and I were trying figure out what the problem might be. We thought maybe it was traffic fines. That it may have something to do with the incident in the cafeteria did occur to me. But I didn’t mention it thinking that I was being just little too paranoid.

We arrived at the station around 11:15 am.

The “Captain” appeared and led me away down a corridor and into a room at the far end. We talked for a bit about nothing significant. Then another officer joined at which point we moved to a smaller room. There the interrogation started in earnest. They had a detailed report of the incident at the school including names of the students, and the specifics of the alleged insult to Islam. One of the seventh graders’ parent appeared to have taken a major issue with whatever the child had reported to him. Not content with getting me fired from my job and making me lose thousands of dollars in the process, the parent appeared to have wanted me locked up!

Until that point, I had assumed that the parent had been over sensitive about the word “terrorist”; the school hadn’t shared the details of the complaint with me. But, having decided that leaving the school quietly, instead of arguing over it, would be better for everyone concerned, I hadn’t bothered to ask for the details. The charges floored me! Allegedly, I had shouted at my students, and made three insulting statements along the lines of, “Islamist are terrorists,” “Muslim terrorists blew up America” and “Your mother’s face looks like her ass.” These kids weren’t even my students! I had never taught them and I didn’t even know their names!

I did my utmost to impress upon them of my education and professional experience to show how the allegations were completely out of character, and not likely. I talked about my education around the world, especially my time at the United World College of the Adriatic, where we learned to respect other cultures and religions. I described in detail my extensive teaching experience around the globe in over half a dozen different countries spanning four different continents. They duly entered my statements into a computer all in Arabic and at the end printed a copy. They asked me to sign it but I refused sighting inability to read Arabic as a reason.

When all of that ended, it was about 12:20 pm.

Then, I was left alone, locked in a room, for over two and a half hours, with nothing, not even a bottle of water to drink. I began to text and call friends, colleagues, and administrators frantically. I had very little credit left on my phone but couldn’t recharge online as I had cancelled my credit card, as required, in preparation for departure. I couldn’t use any of my credit cards tied to foreign banks either. I had SMS exchanges with about half-a-dozen friends starting with the friend who had dropped me off and was still waiting for me outside.

My first request to him was to get in touch with the school and ask for someone to come down to the station. The next thing was to get me the details of a top-up card. Another friend arranged for some credits in the mean time. The Arab-speaking staff had just left not long after arriving at the station. After a little over an hour since the interrogation, he however managed to get the Director on the phone to me. We talked about my passport.

When all of that was over, it was 1:30 pm.

I continued with my frantic SMS’ to my friends and the administrator I had been coordinating my departure with. This administrator texts me saying that the Director was with the Qatar Foundation (QF) legal team and “working really hard with them.”

By then it was about 2:05 pm.

I continue with my phone calls and SMS’. The Arab-speaking staff puts the Director on the line again. The Director informs me that someone from QF legal department and another from HSSE were on their way.

When I next check the time it is about 2:35 pm but there is no change in my status.

My friend who had given me the lift and had been running errands, called to say that he had water for me but couldn’t get into the building. I had had nothing to eat or drink since breakfast that morning, around 8. It looked like I wold be going hungry and alone.

Then finally a police officer came to get me.

The time was about 3:00 pm.

Always the optimist, I thought the two people the Director had talked about must have arrived. I wouldn’t be alone after all! The officer walked me out into the reception area and motioned me to wait. My optimism faded when I noticed that there was no one else there apart from the staff manning the desks. Additionally, instead of being led towards the main door I had walked through earlier that day, he led me through another door. We appeared to have exited the building, but then crossing a short walkway, I was led towards a huge metallic door. With a knock on it he got it opened by someone from the inside. I was then led into a room where an officer very rudely ordered me to hand over everything in my possession.

All the while, since leaving the last room, I had been sending SMS updates to the administrator.

The first one read, “I am in between rooms now.”

Then the next one read, “They r telling me I’m goin to jail and to turn off the phone.”

The final text message I sent read, “I have just been asked to leave my phone behind with a person at a desk.”

I switched off my phone and handed it over along with my bag, belt and wallet. I felt I had been hung out to dry.

The time was some time after 3:00 pm.

In the days that followed no one from QF or the school would make official contact with me. But, I would learn that what had happened to me was nothing. What happened to me paled in comparison to what had happened to many I met in jail, one of whose stories I have already written in another post.

The day I got my phone back following my release from jail, I noticed the administrator had responded twice to my SMS’.

The first one read, “Ok.”

The second one read, “K I have told [the Director] and legal should be there any minute dorje.”

 

 

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