James Stanley

Stories from the Mongol Rally: Kazakhstan Policeman Selfie

Tue 18 November 2014

Within about half an hour of getting into Kazakhstan, we were pulled over by the filth. We were travelling with an American team, 3FLP, by this point.

The police did not speak any English, but indicated that we needed to turn our headlights on, even in the daytime. Fair enough. We turned them on and were ready to drive away.

This did not placate our policeman, who insisted that we get out of the car and give him our documents (our confusion about exactly which documents was merely met with further shouts of "document! document!"). We presented him with international driver's permits (which do not hold any legal standing anywhere in the world), and he seemed happy.

He walked us to his car and told us we needed to pay $200. Half-jokingly, I suggested $10. He countered my offer with $50, which made it clear that this was a bribe and not a fine, and signalled that we did not actually have to pay it at all. The back and forth about the "fine" continued for some time, and eventually (understanding that the copper did not speak English) I said to him "look, I'm British, I don't have to deal with your shit, I'm going to get back in my car and drive off". I took back my driving licence, got back in my car, and started it up. The policeman also started his car up, and began shouting things over his loudspeaker. It was clear that he was going to pursue us, which I was excited for, but Rory pointed out that this probably wouldn't end well for us so I got back out of the car.

Now the policeman demanded to see my mobile phone (I guess he was intending to call someone who would speak English at me). I retrieved my mobile phone and went back to his car. Having lost any sense of seriousness, I took a sweet-ass selfie of me and this policeman, which seemed to annoy him a bit. He wanted me to give the phone to him so I demanded that he give me his phone, assuming he would refuse. He gave me his iPhone, I gave him my Nexus 4 and felt like we'd had a fair trade. He started looking through the photographs on my phone, so I looked through the photographs on his. He didn't have many so I took some more for him, mostly selfies of me and pictures of our car and the Americans' car.

While playing with the man's iPhone I was not paying attention to what he was doing on mine. Eventually he gave me my phone back and I returned his. The American's gave him a couple of Mongol Rally dog tags and we shook hands and were allowed to leave (it seems taking the selfie had reduced the price from $200 to "delete the selfie, plus 2 dog tags").

To my chagrin, it turned out that the policeman had deleted the selfie I took. I strongly regret not installing some sort of app that would keep a secret copy of every picture that is taken.

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