It was one of the scariest days of my life. I had gotten up very early that morning, had headed downtown to do a grocery shopping and was looking forward to going home and having a quiet afternoon, studying my Slovak dictionary. I put all my groceries in the car and headed out of the K Mart parking lot. However, I failed to see a small, oddly placed traffic sign as I turned left onto the main street. Apparently, the sign was important – it said, “do not turn left.”
I hadn’t driven twenty feet before a police car appeared out of nowhere and parked adjacent to my car. I screeched on my brakes and watched two police officers come running towards my car with guns. They were yelling at me and attracting a lot of attention from people who were walking by the area. Not knowing what to do, I put my hands up and shouted “don’t shoot!” in English. I understood ” Passport” and “Visa” in the police officer”s rage, both of which I had left at home that morning, despite the constant reminder from friends to ALWAYS carry them with me.
THAT was the moment that I knew I was in big trouble.
Before I knew it, I was pulled out of my car, handcuffed and pushed into the back of the police car. One of the police officers took my keys and my wallet, got into my car and drove off into the sunset, groceries and all.
My heart was racing. I had no idea where I was going or what I had done wrong. It suddenly occurred to me that no one in the entire world – including my own family – knew I had been arrested. I tried to ask some questions in my broken Slovak but was completely ignored. I broke into tears but that didn’t impress anyone either. I eventually ended up at the police station. I was taken into a room and without any explanation given, was strip-searched by a female police officer. I kept asking if I could use the phone but no one was listening to my request. Thirty minutes later, I found myself in a jail cell, hand cuffed to an old radiator, along with a gruff – looking young man, who I later found out, suffered from schizophrenia and had murdered his wife the night before.
I don’t think circumstances could have gotten much worse for me. Foreign country, can’t speak the language, no Passport, no Visa, no car, handcuffed to a radiator in a smelly basement jail with no identification, no money and no means of communicating with my family. All this for making a left turn out of the K Mart parking lot???
I know it’s hard to believe but I was left in the jail cell with this strange, wife-murdering, schizophrenic man for about two hours. He wanted to learn some English vocabulary so I decided that it would be advantageous if I cooperated. My English 101 lesson was also helpful in dealing with the awkwardness of the situation.
Eventually, I was taken upstairs and allowed to use the phone. I called a Slovak friend who quickly came to the police station and after about two hours of explaining, I was released. To this day, I still don’t understand how all this could happen……something to do with the fact that it was very suspicious that as a foreigner, I wasn’t carrying my Passport and Visa. I ended up having to pay a fine for the silly traffic violation and I had to pay more money to get my car back two days later.
It’s part of cultural adaptation to “expect the unexpected” but this was ridiculous!