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4/16/09 My Brush with Algerian Prison

At some point, and I'm not going to say when, I drifted close to the Moroccan-Algerian border. I was with a group of ... people ... and we were all excited to see it.

I saw the barriers and the guards and the flags, and it all seemed mighty photogenic to this shutterbug. I reached for my camera, but fortunately I was reminded that it's a federal offense to photograph government installations, whether they be office buildings or dams or border crossings. I put my camera away.

Shortly thereafter, as we were heading away from the border, an honest-to-goodness stretch limo drove past me. I didn't know those *existed* in Morocco, so I snapped a couple shots of it. (Like I said, shutterbug.)
A minute or two later, Algerian police stopped us. As they approached, a brown-skinned American who is often mistaken for Moroccan quickly said, in English, in his down-home-iest Midwest American accent, "Hi, there, can I help you with anything?"

They brushed past him and looked around for blond heads. There were two of us, and we were urgently ushered over to them. "Did you just visit the border?" one demanded in French and then English.

"Yes..." I let my voice trail off.

"Did you take pictures of the border?" he barked.

"What?" I asked, feeling the blood drain from my face.

"Pictures. Of the border. Do you have any?"

"I took pictures of the limousine," I stammered. I have no idea if I spoke French or English. Probably English, but I really don't remember. For that matter, I don't remember which language he was speaking. The sudden interrogation left me a little shaken.

"Where's your camera?"

I pulled it out of my shoulder bag ('cause really, when is my camera *not* in arm's reach?) and handed it to him.

"Your pictures?" he barked again.

With shaking hands, I turned the camera on and flipped it to the display setting. A shot of the limo, receding into the distance, appeared.

"The next one?" he demanded.

I obediently hit the button to show the previous picture: a closer shot of the limo (the one shown above).

"I'd never seen one in Morocco before," I stammered, but he waved away my explanation.

"You didn't take pictures at the border crossing?" he demanded a final time.

I shook my head, wide-eyed and chalk-white.

He growled something to his associate, and they both strode off.

Shaken, my blond friend and I continued on our way, away from the border. Far, far away from the border.

Note to self: Don't irritate border guards.

The prisons here - in both Morocco and Algeria - are scary, scary places. I'd probably just be deported, not actually jailed, but we don't want to test that theory, now do we?

No, no we don't.

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