I’ve written and rewritten this blog entry a few dozen times. Every time it’s too wordy. So I have decided to keep it as short as possible. A cop pulled me over and wanted a bribe.
Driving in Kenya is a challenge. When I first arrived the thought of driving here reduced me to tears. I worked up the nerve and now I laugh at how remarkably these driving conditions have become my new normal. I was warned that trouble with the police was all but inevitable. I have been warned to always have an exit strategy from every traffic back up. I have been warned to not stop and assist if I witness an accident. I drive a 4 wheel drive with insanely darkly tinted windows and keep the doors locked at all times. Automobile air conditioning is considered a safety measure (no windows down).
So as I drove into town with a Kenyan friend in the passenger seat and my three daughters lined across the back seat we faced a traffic log jam. I saw my way out and took it. It necessitated driving on the wrong side of the road for about two hundred feet with no oncoming traffic (due to the traffic log jam.) No problem. I don’t typically drive on the wrong side of the road but this was an easy choice.
That’s when the uniformed police officer appeared from (as the over used phrase goes) out of nowhere. He stepped in front of my car (I was travelling at maybe 5 mph) and knocked on the hood with his baton. I stopped, grabbed my wallet, emptied it of most cash that I then stuck in my pants pocket, rolled down the window, and smiled.
I’ve had my fair share of interactions with law enforcement officers around the world. Most of them have been quite positive. The best have been in New Orleans. Once in Argentina I was a afraid (I’m still certain that he was one of those agents of The Dirty War that threw some of “the disappeared” off helicopters). However, never have I been so sure of the corruption and unfairness of a police officer who was out for nothing except money from me. I was incensed.
Every one of those personality tests (Meyers Brigs type stuff) scores me through the roof on justice. Not that my kids would believe it. They have long given up the complaint, “that’s not fair”. “Life’s not fair,” is my inevitable retort. But man, get me out in the ‘real world’ and let me loose on the empowered abusing the unempowered and fireworks are bound to fly (and a few choice words that I save for the lucky). Only this time, for the first time, I am the unempowered. Even worse, this time I fear that my children are at risk. So I continue to smile.
I endure a bombardment of ridiculous questions. I listen to him tell me that he will need to take me to “the station” over and over again. I, this was the worst of it, listen to him be rude to my Kenyan friend. A woman. A maid. She clearly doesn’t rate high in his world view. I don’t speak much Swahili but bad manners are universal (so is the ‘F’ word I’ve come to realize). It’s when my Kenyan friend is clearly exhausted that she tells me in broken English that “he wants money”. Time for me to pull out the big guns. I ask loudly and clearly for my daughter to hand me my cell phone so I can call (insert name here).
The person that I announced that I would be calling is a Kenyan employed by the same NGO as my husband. He is the person that I have been told to contact in time of crisis. I’m wondering how he is gong to handle the news that I’m being hauled off to the pokey. Then, like magic, everything changes.
It was the name. The fact that I had a Kenyan contact programmed into my cell phone. The cop shares a few choice words with my Kenyan friend, hands me my driver’s license, and tells me to move on. Proof of one of those other universal truths: It aint what you know, it’s who you know.
I was so crazy mad. I apologized to my Kenyan friend. I felt like her association with me caused her difficulties that day. She seemed unfazed. This unfortunate incident opened a wonderful door into an ugly war of class bias, ethnic bias, gender bias, that we were then able to discuss and cry a little over. It brought us closer and opened our hearts a bit to one another. Life in Kenya is full of corruption. Life in Kenya is horribly unfair. Life in Kenya is good in a really weird way.
When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to the evildoers. – Psalms 21:15