Friday, August 21, 2009

An encounter with law enforcement

I'm catching up with stuff and I was reminded yesterday that I hadn't blogged about the last part of our trip to Sri Lanka and especially a couple of episodes that I referred to in passing and promised to elaborate on later.

The first concerns my meeting with the chief of police at Hikkaduwa.

On the Friday we went to Hambantota to visit the Smile school, I left my British mobile phone in my hotel room and it disappeared. Assuming that it wasn't spirited away by aliens, I concluded that it had been stolen. I told the hotel manager as much but he thought it unlikely and wasn't fabulously helpful - though he did allow me to use his phone to ring my operator to report my phone's loss and get it blocked (later he tried to charge me 450 rupees for doing so but waived it when we complained).

For insurance purposes we decided that we would have to go to the police station to report its loss so that we got a crime number to make a claim once we get home.

So we found a tuk tuk driver -Nimal who I blogged about earlier - and went to the relatively newly built, three storey police station on the edge of the town. A man in a smart brown uniform was just getting out of white patrol car with his family and asked what we needed. He turned out to be the chief of police for the area.

He invited us up to his office and showed us to seats in front of his desk. Lifting his jacket, he removed his automatic pistol from his belt and put it on the desk and sat down. It turned out that not only did he speak very good English, but he'd also taken part in exchange trips to police forces in Harrow, Leicester, Cambridge and one or two other places in the UK. Since I come from Leicester and Linda from Harrow, this gave us quite a bit to talk about.

It was the time of the Hikkaduwa beach festival and the police chief lamented the lack of sleep he'd had over the previous 48 hours. 'I don't how I'm supposed to make good decisions when I'm so tired,' he said in between barking orders to various junior officers who came and went from his office.

Turning to the reason for our visit, he asked me to write down what had happened - 'but not in much in detail,' he stressed. I duly complied and in exchange he gave me a signed piece of paper confirming that I had reported the theft of my phone. It was clear that was all the attention its loss was going to get!

Suddenly, he looked down at the gun on his desk and up and me with a hint of embarrassment on his face and then picked the pistol up, apologised for leaving it out in the open and put it in the draw of his filing cabinet. Then he returned to signing the document and handed it to me.

Commiserating with us that we'd suffered such a horrible experience during our holiday, he wished us a pleasant stay and ushered us out of his office - probably keen to get some sleep before the night's festivities demanded his full attention.

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