It has been a long evening and it is time to part company. Opening her car door, our Boss pauses.
"You know," she says. "You should take photos of the damage to show the police tomorrow."
"What a great idea!" I respond, "What a shame that our camera was stolen as well. Perhaps I could draw a reasonable facsimile."
Duly chastised, she suggests,"Do you want me to send a guard over from work? Would you feel safer?"
"Honestly, no. I suspect that this is the safest house in Iraq right now. Besides, there's nothing left to steal."
Back in the House in Complete Disarray, Mr. This Cat's (Not Abroad) and I begin the labourious job of making things less topsy-turvy, all the while keeping a watchful eye on Celeste who is still acting like a bit of a stoner.
"Look - blood!" Mr. This Cat suddenly cries, holding aloft a rather jaggedy shard of bloodstained glass. "It's evidence! One of the thieves must have cut himself on it as he opened the door through the broken window. We need to give this to the Not-Very-Secret Secret Police that everyone knows, or the Really-Secret Secret Police that nobody knows (this is, after all, Iraq) tomorrow."
I run to the kitchen and grab one of the few prized possessions not stolen by the thieves: a ziplock storage bag into which he carefully deposits the shard. "Chain of custody, you know ..."
"Yes, we need to ensure the integrity of evidence." I nod knowingly. It's not for nothing that we've spent the last 20 years religiously watching every episode of Law & Order. Time well spent!
Time passes. It is the morning, and we are at station of the Not-Very-Secret Secret Police that everyone knows. In total there are 5 of us: Mr. This Cat & I, Our Boss, Our Landlord, and a Kurdish Colleague of ours who speaks excellent English. Because of the flurry of phone calls made the night before by Our Boss' Well-Connected Friend in the Private Security Business, we are to see a director, or possible The Director - these nuances are seldom clear - first.
To the backdrop of Arab music videos whining at top volume on the television, Mr. This Cat is asked to tell A/The Director what happened; as I am a woman, I am not. Our Boss interjects. Our Landlord interrupts. In the 30 years we've lived in this neighbourhood, nothing like this has ever happened, safety, accountability, this is a crime, security, in the 30 years we've lived in this neighbourhood, nothing like this has ever happened, they're working for an American NGO, in the 30 years we've lived in this neighbourhood, nothing like this has ever happened punctuate the ululations of lovesick Lebanese chanteuses.
A/The Director turns to Mr. This Cat. "Do you know who did this?"
Jesus Mary & Joseph!
Mr. This Cat suddenly recalls the vital piece of evidence tucked safely away in his man-bag, and he triumphantly hands the ziplock baggie to A/The Director.
A/The director looks at at with unfeigned disinterest, opens a desk drawer and tosses it in, presumably for all of eternity.
"We do not have DNA labs here. We are not that advanced," he says. "This is not CSI."
Advanced enough to watch CSI, I think ....
From this (i.e., that we don't know who the guilty party is) we are made to understand that the interview is over. A/The Director has made good on whatever favour he owed someone by seeing us personally, and we are now to go to the Detectives to make a full report. And by we I mean Mr This Cat, for as I am a woman, my presence is completely unnecessary. I go anyway.
As we leave, he tells us that in the 20 years he's been A/The Director of the Not-Very-Secret Secret Police, nothing like this has ever happened.
Down a flight of stairs and through a courtyard we go, until we reach the cramped office of the Detectives of the Not-Very-Secret Secret Police. One of the detectives was at our House of Disarray the previous night, and I am momentarily tempted to ask him for my garden trowel back. We - by which I mean us and a host of unoccupied police staff - sit in big overstuffed armchairs which, like most of the furniture in Erbil's government offices, looks like it was either prised out of a '72 Chevrolet Impala or from a salon belonging to Louis XIV.
With the help of our Kurdish Colleague, we (by which I mean Mr. This Cat for as a woman, my presence is completely unnecessary) recount our story. The Lead Detective makes careful notes and then, once the report is completed, barks something at one of his unoccupied staff, and leaves. Before leaving he tells us that in the 10 years he's been a Not-Very-Secret Secret Police officer, nothing like this has ever happened.
The Junior Detective - identified as such by our Kurdish Colleague - takes the notes and then copies them by longhand onto sheets of paper separated by carbon paper.
"They still make carbon paper?" I whisper to Mr. This Cat. "And if he's making copies, why didn't the Lead Detective just use carbon from the beginning? Why have it copied out? And don't they have a photocopier? Couldn't they have just xeroxed it?"
My Journey through the Heart of Photocopying Darkness is interrupted by a rapid exchange between Junior and Our Kurdish Colleague, leaving both looking equally exasperated.
"He doesn't understand," our Kurdish Colleague nods his head towards Junior, "why you just won't tell the police who did this. I've tried to explain that you've just moved to the neighbourhood, but he wants to know who you are accusing specifically. He needs it for the report."
Yes, we are being frightfully wilful and uncooperative about this. We decide, to mollify Junior, to not so much accuse as to just mention the Iranian neighbours (his ears perk up at this because he knows, like all Kurds, that Iranians are nothing but thieves) and the clients of the Woman We All Believe to be a Whore who lives across the street.
Our police report - originals and I think one copy - are shuffled together, punched with holes, and secured with strands of bright red wool. The wool is looped through the holes and gathered together in a large bow. I am briefly reminded of every primary school project I have ever made and struggle to prevent a blood-curdling scream from passing my lips. Once he has finished, we are told that we must bring this Police Report With the Bright Red Woolly Bow to the Judiciary and be questioned by a judge there. The judge will make a decision as to whether our situation is indeed a case and worthy of a police investigation.
Is he serious? I cry.
Indeed he is.
We have now added a "courier" - a lackey whose sole job it is to smoke and carry our Police Report With the Bright Red Woolly Bow - to our motley group of pilgrims. We drive off to the Judiciary - what in fact looks like a private villa and, on closer inspection, proves to be a private villa, but one commandeered by the government. There are dozens of plaintiffs milling about, all holding files and reports (but none as pretty as ours), as well as a host of men with AK-47's, and a small boy whose day is comprised by running to the outside tap, filling a very large bucket with water, and running back inside to fill the waiting room's Swamp Thing.
Shouldn't he be in school? I ask.
We find a patch of unused wall and lean against it. We wait. And wait. Across from me is an old woman for whom the word old does her no justice. She is beyond ancient. As I wonder what crime has been perpetrated against her (besides the ravages of time), she heaves herself up from her chair and staggers towards me. I fear she is about to die and topple into my arms, but instead - harpy that she is - she screeches at me, wags her finger in my face and, with her other hand, points at my stomach. I feel like I am in an outtake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). I follow her pointing withered claw. Ahhhhh, it seems that the bottom of my t-shirt has ridden up slightly, exposing a good 2 centimetres of my midriff. I suspect the words infidel and whore were a part of her tirade.
"Old woman: you picked the wrong fucking day to give me grief over 2 centimetres of skin!" I snap at her (in my head). Instead, I smile politely and tuck in my shirt, and churlishly hope that she has been the victim of a home invasion.
Time passes. We are called into a judge's office which, without a doubt, possesses the largest and most efficient Swamp Thing in the whole of the Middle East. We are both required to stand before him while he peruses the information in our Police Report With the Bright Red Woolly Bow and assume the demeanour of supplicants. We are then asked a series of questions - and by we I mean Mr. This Cat for I am but a woman and have no business being there - during which he takes notes.
He asks Mr. This Cat who has robbed our home.
He scribbles some more and then we are made to understand that the interview is over. As we are leaving, he tells our Kurdish Colleague that he is taking this matter very seriously, and that he will recommend to the police that they arrest someone as soon as possible. If only we knew who did it ...
At least he has the good grace not to tell us that in the 40 years he's been a judge, nothing like this has ever happened.
These events transpired several weeks ago, and although the judge did in fact deem our situation a case and worthy of investigation, we have no clue what if anything was actually investigated. After a little time passed, our Kurdish Colleague phoned the police on our behalf and was told that there had been no arrests; however, should any thieves be caught red-handed in the near future, the police will, during the interrogation, ask the suspect in custody if he stole our goods as well. Excellent plan.
And there you have it - our very own Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time: a dog which probably did do something in the night-time and a theft - but no horse and no murder (although I confess to having murderous thoughts at the Judiciary.) At least in the Conan Doyle version, Holmes not only solved the murder but recovered Silver Blaze. Interestingly, the prized racehorse was found at the neighbours. Hmmmm ... maybe I should pay a little visit to the Iranians. You just never know what might turn up