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Sunday, 10 February 2013

A Series of Unfortunate Events!!!

Imagine that something not so nice happens during the late evening.  You are in your home when someone calls and really frightens you. You manage to close the door without letting them in but they are banging on your door and shouting and screaming that they will make a big problem for you with the police.

About half an hour later a policeman arrives at your house and asks you to go with him to the station to answer some questions. How do you expect to travel to the police station?

By car, of course.


Yes? Well expect to be disappointed if you were expecting a car.

This is a VERY long story that will definitely NOT be cut short but if you only want to know the answer to the question search this page for the word "policeman" to jump to the correct paragraph.

It all started way back in October. It was a normal working day in the dive centre and I had some serious diving to do with some guests. Early in the morning a car pulls up with 4 people in it.

One person is a German diving instructor. He works for himself and we have an agreement with him that he uses our facilities for a set rate and looks after his own guests. With him was another German - a young man - who was his student. Apparently this man had already gained his PADI Open Water and was here to complete an intense course working through Advanced Open Water Diver, Rescue Diver, Emergency First Response (EFR) and finally Divemaster.

The other two people with him in the car were an English couple. It seems the man had done something similar to the German student at a dive centre a bit further to the south. On achieving his Divemaster he had worked briefly for the dive centre involved but had then left and started work for this freelance instructor. Interestingly, his instructor at the dive centre who had taken him through the levels up to Divemaster was the same German freelance instructor he was now accompanying. So, having left the dive centre the Englishman was working as a Divemaster for this German guy. He was in Egypt with his wife, the other member of the group. His wife did not dive but liked to accompany him whenever she could and had come to spend the day on the beach.

I like to chat to all the guests at the dive centre but I suppose I spent more time chatting to this couple simply because they were English and I don't come across many English people here. They seemed like a nice couple from the north of England with plans to stay in Egypt for a while. For the man (I will call him Mr A - I won't use any real names here) his dream was to have his own diving business here. He had built himself a web page inviting people around the world to come and dive with him. He was setting himself up to arrange transfers, accommodation and diving for his guests. However, for the time being while getting started he was working for the German instructor.

The day went quite well and by the time we all left I was on friendly terms with this couple.

The next day I arrived early at the dive centre to find Mr A already there, alone, waiting for me. He explained he'd come because the day before he'd told me he would come but he hadn't had much sleep. There had been some sort of major problem the previous evening between him and the German instructor. It seems part of the deal there was that he lived in the German instructor's flat. The result of whatever the problem had been was that he and his wife had been evicted and they'd had to find alternative accommodation in the early hours of the morning. This was not an easy task.

Fortunately, they had kept in touch with some of the Egyptians Mr A used to work with at the dive centre where he'd trained and one of them offered him and his wife a room. Apparently, as we were speaking, his wife was busy unpacking and settling them in.

This also meant that Mr A no longer had a job (i.e. no income) but he wanted to know if he could still dive because he loved the diving so much. I told him he could dive with us any time for free and, if he liked, he could help me occasionally with courses but this was not a job offer and I couldn't pay him because I already had a full staff. He agreed to this.

The next day Mr A turned up with his wife and Mr A dived with me on a guided dive. It was a pleasant day and we got to talking again - as you do. Mrs A was saying how the room was OK but they would need to get something else soon because it was small and not much light and, and, and, and so, on the spur of the moment and for no conscious reason that I can fathom (the words just came out on their own) I offered that if they were ever stuck and needed somewhere just for a few nights I had a spare room in my flat that they could use. I thought no more about it.

After that Mr and Mrs A were regularly at the dive centre. He negotiated with the owner a deal to bring his clients to us and to use our instructors if his clients needed courses that, as a Divemaster, he was not able to do. So, sometimes he simply dived with us and sometimes he had a client with him to look after. Life went on as normal.

Occasionally Mr A would ask me about working as a member of staff in the dive centre but I explained to him that I didn't have any vacancy because (a) I was fully staffed and (b) he only spoke English but to work in my diving centre he needed to speak French (about 70% of our guests are French speaking), or German (about 25% of guests are German) or Italian (about 3%) so there was no way I could justify employing him even if I was in need of a Divemaster at the time.

Apart from that the chat was generally friendly and occasionally I would meet Mr and Mrs A in the evenings for some social time.

In early November Mr and Mrs A started talking about some family problems back in the UK and the need for Mrs A to go back for a short while (I seem to remember 3 weeks was mentioned) to sort things out. At some point during November Mrs A left. I did not pay too much attention because by this time my German friend, Doris, had arrived and was spending a week with me so most of my attention and social life was with her.

Then, out of the blue one day, Mr A rang me. He asked me if I remembered saying that if ever he and Mrs A had problems I had a room they could use. I told him of course I remembered. He then asked if he could move into the room NOW. I explained politely that he could not move in right now because my German friend was staying with me but he could move in when she left which meant waiting until the day after tomorrow. He said he'd call me in 2 days to arrange a time.

So, two days later when Doris left, Mr A arrived and settled himself into my spare room. I didn't notice any diving equipment among his belongings so I asked him about this and got the full story. It goes something like this:

Mr and Mrs A had taken a couple of holidays in Egypt before, in Sharm el Sheikh. Then last year they had taken a holiday in the south where Mr A had made a "try dive" and enjoyed it so much he went on to do his Open Water Course. From that moment his dream was to work as a Diving Instructor and dive his way around the world. Mrs A supported him fully in his dream.

Back in the UK, Mr A made arrangements with the dive centre where he'd done his Open Water Course to revisit to completed the courses up to Divemaster and was told there was the possibility of a job there afterwards. So, Mr A wrapped up his car body workshop business, liquidised his assets and came to Egypt.

It seems that at first everything went as planned EXCEPT for the finances. They hadn't been here very long when there were problems with one of the adult children and they ended up sending a large chunk of money back to the UK to bail her out. Mr A also admits to a couple of purchases here that, with hindsight, were not wise and further depleted their funds.

Still, he was nearing the end of his training and would soon be getting paid.

When he did start work it was not what he expected. He spent a lot of time in the swimming pool making Try Dives and talking to guests. His pay was very low and he was unable to move to independent accommodation.

Then came the point when there was some disagreement between him and the diving centre concerned. I don't really know what happened. I have one story from Mr A and a totally different story from the owner of the dive centre. Suffice to say that Mr A was no longer working there so he and Mrs A had to move out of the accommodation.

The German instructor had also recently left this same dive centre and heard about Mr A's predicament. This is when he offered him a job with accommodation. For Mr A this meant he was still on track to live his dream.

I'm not sure how long this arrangement lasted but it ended just after I met Mr A.

About 2 weeks after this the German instructor finished with his student and made his way back to Germany. This was another financial blow for Mr A.

Mr and Mrs A ideally wanted to rent an unfurnished flat because the rents here for unfurnished properties are around 1/4 that of a furnished place. The German instructor had all his own furniture and would not be taking it with him. So, he sold it to Mr A but told Mr A he couldn't take it yet because it was still needed. He gave Mr A a key to the apartment telling him to come and take the furniture after the German instructor had flown to Germany. So Mr A handed over the money and took the key.

The day after the German flew home Mr A went to the flat. He found the owner of the flat there. Mr A explained he'd come for the furniture but the owner wouldn't let him remove anything. It appears the German had not paid the rent for 3 months so the owner was claiming all the contents in lieu.

There was nothing Mr A could do. He had lost his money and still didn't have any furniture.

Things went from bad to worse for Mr A with no work and no income.

Before leaving England Mr and Mrs A had an emergency plan for their return. It was in the form of giving a car to one of the children. They didn't take any payment for the car on the basis that if they needed to return the UK the child (an adult) would buy them a ticket on her credit card. So, when Mrs A needed to return they contacted the child concerned. The reply they received was that no ticket could be bought for Mrs A because the credit card was maxed out!!

The bits and pieces of freelance work that Mr A was picking up did not provide enough income to save anything or buy a plane ticket. Nor did the solitary guest that came to dive with him as a result of his web page. Mr A now had to set about raising the money. Eventually the man he was sharing a flat with took pity on him and actually lent him the money. According to Mr A this was on the basis that there was no rush to repay it, he could repay bit by bit whenever he had work - it was a very relaxed arrangement.

So, Mrs A left and Mr A was on his own.

He still had bits and pieces of freelance work and two German guests did a couple of days diving with him as a result of his web page. And, he was still coming to my dive centre regularly simply to go diving.

Then one day when he had been out during the day looking for work Mr A returned to this flat only to find the door locked - the locks had been changed so he couldn't get in - and his suitcases outside. He tried to find the owner who just hours before he'd considered a good friend to find out what had happened and why he was being treated like this. The owner told him that he knew he'd had work, he was upset he hadn't offered to repay any of the loan, he now needed his money back so he'd kept the diving equipment and laptop plus a couple of other items in lieu of the money. Thank you and goodbye. That's when Mr A rang me and asked to use my spare room.

Mr A moved in and started to settle. He was in a very poor state, mentally and physically, and had spent 3 or 4 nights on the streets. He seemed relieved to be, as he put it, "safe at last".

After a day or two, Mr A started to think clearly again. He realised he needed to somehow get his things back. If he was to survive he needed work. Therefore, he needed his laptop to be able to search for and contact dive centres that may have some freelance work for him and he needed his diving equipment. If anyone did call him with freelance work it would be imperative for him to be fully equipped.

During this time I didn't see very much of Mr A. I was out at work all day, came home tired, and was in bed by around 10.30pm so I could get up again at 6.00 the following morning. When I arrived home Mr A was either already out or on the way out. I don't know what time he got home but it was after I went to bed and I didn't see him in the mornings - I assume he was still in bed. 

Then, one day I arrived home to find Mr A in the flat with his diving equipment (but no laptop). It seems his wife had left some jewelry behind when she went to England and he'd sold it to raise enough money to get the diving equipment back. His original debt was LE3,000 but the man he owed it too was now making him pay LE2,500 for the diving equipment and LE1000 for the laptop. It had taken the intervention of a friendly policeman sympathetic to Mr A's cause to actually get the equipment back once Mr A had raised the money (the man he owed reckoned he could get more for it selling it piecemeal) but he did get it. He told me two items were missing (a reel and an underwater torch) but at least he had the equipment he needed if he was offered any work. Hurray.

Now he just had the problem of getting his laptop back so he could use the internet to search for work. He needed LE1,000.

I think he was talking about this to another of his Egyptian friends in a local restaurant/coffee house with the result that this friend agreed to lend him the LE1,000.  I will call this friend Mr B. This must have been, from memory, around the middle of December - certainly before Christmas but not long before. So Mr A settled his previous account and reclaimed his laptop. He promptly set about looking for work.

According to Mr A this was another very relaxed arrangement with no need to make any effort at all to pay the money back until February.

In early January Mr B came to my flat looking for Mr A and took Mr A downstairs. According to Mr A, Mr B was accompanied by two of his friends and started to pressure Mr A to return the money saying he would take the laptop instead. Mr A told me about the conversation and said he'd persuaded Mr B to wait until 1 February.

So things were back to normal except that Mr A was no longer going out in the evenings. He seemed to be looking for work and I helped him rewrite his CV with a bias towards diving. I used my experience of what I look for when someone send me a CV.

At first he seemed to be a bit less depressed having something to do. However, the depression was quick to reclaim him. His nightly email conversations with his wife upset him because he missed her so much and she was obviously very unhappy in her current situation. Also, the replies he was receiving about work were quite positive but the jobs were not immediately available. I had tried to explain to him that we are in the low season and he doesn't speak any languages so it WILL be difficult. He was finally beginning to believe me.

Then just before the end of January I started my vacation. The dive centre was not busy and I should have about 1 month as holiday. I hardly take any days off during the busy times so this would be a good time to relax and chill.

This meant, though, that I was home with Mr A. I was up around 8am and Mr A was up around 1pm. I went to bed around 11pm and Mr A often didn't go to bed until 5am or 6am. In his defence, he was spending all his time researching dive centres and sending off his CV. In the 6 days that this lasted I think Mr A managed to email every single dive centre in Egypt, Cyprus, Malta, Spain, Portugal, Mallorca, Sicily, Italy and possibly others, always asking my advice about what the diving would be like and ignoring me when I pointed out he didn't speak the required languages.

He did get an excellent offer on Malta and was quite excited about it for a while. He replied that he'd like to accept and they sent him a list of things they needed him to scan and send to them, like his passport and Divemaster certification. This went well until he reached the item on the list that said "Driving Licence". Divemasters on Malta generally need driving licences because you drive the guests to the dive site - it's mostly shore diving. Sadly, Mr A doesn't have a driving licence. He DID have one but he 'lost' it. He was clocked riding his motorbike doing a wheely at around 84mph in a built up area. He was not only clocked on radar but they were running video at the time as well. So, they took his licence away for 3 years. He thought he was due to get it back and asked his wife to find out for him. The reply was that he could have it straight away but it would be a provisional licence. He has to retake the practical test - the extended version - before he can reclaim his full driving licence. Therefore, he did not meet the criteria for the job and the offer was cancelled. He did hear from them again afterwards and there is a slight possibility he MAY be able to work with them during the high season.

Anyway, I digress. Here's back to the theme.

On the evening of the first day of my holiday Mr B called at the flat to see Mr A. They spoke on the balcony and I got on with what I was doing. After all, it was none of my business.

They came inside and immediately Mr B started trying to involve me by explaining that Mr A owed him money. I interrupted him straight away to say his business with Mr A was with Mr A alone and was nothing to do with me - I was not interested, did not want any part of it and they should resolve the issues between themselves.

Once Mr B had left Mr A insisted on giving me his side of the conversation in spite of what I'd said. It seems he did owe Mr B LE1,000 and he'd promised to pay him on the following Saturday.

Over the next 5 days Mr A continued to become more and more depressed as he sent out more and more job applications even for non diving jobs. He was now, for example, looking for work as a shelf stacker or an order picker or anything he thought he could do. Then he decided he'd go to Malta anyway because there were a couple of hints of jobs even without a driving licence but the season doesn't start until April or May. He checked the flights and got very excited.

However, he needed money to pay for the flight. He asked his wife if it was possible to put some money in the UK bank account he still had so he could pay on his card. His wife told him she'd sold the car they'd left with the daughter. The daughter didn't want it any way and she'd got £300 for it. It's another long story that doesn't really have any place here but it seems she was ripped off by her son-in-law as the car was worth far more AND he was delaying paying her even though he had the money.....

Nevertheless, after a couple of days the money was in the bank and Mr A went back online to book the flights. In the meantime, of course, the cost of the flight had gone up.

Then everything continued to go wrong for Mr A. He booked to take two suitcases with him thinking that they would be 20kgs each so he could take 40kgs. When he got his confirmation email it said he could take two suitcases with a combined weight of 20kgs. He did complain and the company refused to make any refund but did eventually agree that if he paid the difference he could take one suitcase and one sports bag giving him a total of 32kgs.

There were several other minor incidents but eventually the day came for Mr A to leave. He packed as much as he could but had to leave quite a lot behind. Still, he had his diving equipment and the essentials of life.

It was now Sunday and Mr A left by taxi at 2pm.

But remember he'd promised to repay the LE1,000 on Saturday. There'd been no sign of Mr B so I supposed it was all taken care off.

Then Saturday afternoon and evening were great. It was very relaxing just to be alone with my cats in my flat again after such a long time sharing. It did seem very quiet and I suppose, in a way, I noticed that Mr A wasn't here but I was happy for things to be back to normal.

Then on Monday I had a surprise. I was sitting watching TV during the evening when someone knocked at my door. I opened the door to find Mr B and a friend of his outside. I did not invite them in but asked what they wanted. Of course, they'd come for Mr A. I explained Mr A wasn't here so they asked where they could find him. I was honest enough to tell them he'd left the country and gone to Malta. At this point Mr B started to become quite aggressive.

Mr B asked me to give him his money saying it was my responsibility because he'd told me about it only 7 days before. When I reminded him I'd made it clear it was none of my business but was between him and Mr A he became extremely threatening and aggressive and I became very frightened. That was why I closed the door, to put a barrier between us.

He continued banging really loud on my door, shouting and screaming, getting all my neighbours involved and threatening to make a big problem for me with the police.

Eventually, after around 20 minutes of this tirade I heard footsteps going down the stairs and it was quiet. He had left. Thank goodness.

Then about 30 minutes later there was another knock at my door. I put the chain on this time (better safe than sorry) and opened the door to find a policeman standing there. He didn't speak English and I don't speak Arabic. So, he called someone and then I called someone and eventually I understood that Mr B had made a complaint so they wanted me to go to the station to make a statement. I got my coat and key and left with him.

As we got outside the building I asked "where's the police car?". Answer - there isn't one. So, how do we get to the station? Answer - we stand on the corner of the street and wait and eventually we either flag down a taxi or take the bus.

Yes, really, I'm not kidding you. He flagged down a taxi to take me to the police station.

When I got there Mr B was also there so I made sure everyone knew how aggressive he'd been earlier and how frightened I was of him. I was then introduced to an interpreter and taken to a different part of the police station to make my statement. The first thing I was asked for was my passport.

I hadn't taken this with me so had to go home to get it - accompanied by the policeman, of course. This time we travelled by bus.

I collected my passport and enough money for the taxi home and returned to the station.

By this time the interpreter had gone home but a senior police officer spoke very good English. He was going to take my statement but officially needed an interpreter so took someone's ID card from his drawer and had them shown as the official interpreter on the finished statement. By the way, statements are handwritten and NOT typed up.

It seems Mr B's claims were:

1        Mr A and I are married therefore as his wife it is my responsibility to settle his debts if he leaves the country

2        Mr A had contacted him and told Mr B that he (Mr A) had given me LE2,000 to pass on to him.

All a load of rubbish.

So I made my statement refuting everything Mr B had said and including my account of his threatening behaviour which had frightened me so much earlier in the evening.

At this point, my passport was returned and I was sent home. I had to be back at the station with an interpreter at 9am because there would be a court hearing the next day.

I contacted a friend who would act as my interpreter and turned up on time the next morning.

There was a lot of waiting around and Mr B did not have to appear. Having arrived at the police station we left there (by taxi) for the court at around 9.45am and had to wait until nearly 11am to be called. It was a private session with a "judge", court recorder (handwriting), me and my interpreter. After confirming my name and address and presenting my passport again I was asked a few questions about what Mr B had said in his report and made it clear that there was no relationship between me and Mr A, except we are both English and I had simply given him a roof when he found himself homeless and that Mr A had not left any money with me at all.

I suppose I was in the "court" (anyone accustomed to a European court would not believe that this was actually a legal proceeding in a 'court of law') for less than 5 minutes.

Then I waited another 20 minutes while the recorder finished writing the notes and applied the appropriate number of official stamps to all the documents after which everything was handed back to the policeman. The policeman gave me back my passport and we left the 'court' on the bus.

I should have gone straight home but was advised to make a complaint against Mr B for his behaviour so that he could be prevented from harassing me in the future. So, I stopped at the police station to do this.

It was then that a very nice senior police officer with 4 or 5 stars on his epaulet told me that based on my statement the day before this had already been taken care of. Mr B had received a visit from the police and is not allowed to come anywhere near my apartment or even to speak to me if he sees me in the street.

That's what I call a result or, to quote from someone much more talented than I, "all's well that ends well".

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