recently when driving back from kampala to kotido i was stopped by the traffic police.

we had just crossed the nile, and were creeping up the steep hill after the bridge. and i say creeping because a)the car was quite full of stuff and heavy and, ergo the car moved even slower than usual. b)its a steep hill. i drive a manual. again-ergo, slower than usual.

i will admit that i did not check my speed as i was coming up said hill. but i submit to you the above information regarding the steepness of said hill, the weight of the car and will add that i had just navigated a massive speed bump.

ergo–i was not traveling 74kmph. there is just no way under the sun that this could be true.

but the officer who flagged me down said that he was “able to clock” me at 74 kmph coming up the hill. he even showed me on his radar gun.

i was extremely polite and patient. i said, “sir, i did not look at my speedometer as i was coming up the hill, but i know that there is no way i was traveling that fast. i know that the speed limit in this reserve is 20kmph. also, the hill is steep and the car is heavy so i know that i had to be well within the speed limit.”

basically he ignored my response and asked to see my driving permit. so i retrieved my uganda driving permit from my purse and handed it to him. he was shocked to see that i *actually* had one. he did not hide this shock.

he then started in on the speech that is meant to scare me into bribing him. “now…what are we going to do, you were breaking the law… what can we do?…”

i sat there, waiting for him to name it out right that if i paid him then this whole incident would be over. he never just came right out and said it (drat!). instead he kept repeating “what are we going to do?”

my mantra was, “well, we follow the law. we will do what the law says.”

well, that was just a response a mad [crazy] person would give, apparently. he enumerated many reasons that following the law would really just create more problems for both of us, eating all of our time.

he told me that he had to keep my permit with him, to write me a receipt (ticket) and that i would have to come back there with a bank slip to clear the receipt and retrieve my permit. he asked where i was to, and i answered honestly (i never answer honestly. i nearly always say lira because i don’t want to get into a conversation about kotido/karamoja on the side of the road when all i want is to be home) telling him that we were going to kotido, and that we live there. and have for a year and a half.

this started the “now, what are we going to do…?” barrage again. i forced myself to not roll my eyes and stuck with my mantra, “we follow the law. if you need to keep my permit and give me a receipt for me to pay at my bank in kotido, and then i have to come back here to finish the business, then that is what we will do. because if i was truly breaking the law then i should have to pay those consequences. if i was not breaking the law, however, then i should not have to pay anything.”

in an attempt to make me nervous (i believe) he said, “well, let me discuss with my colleges.” so he took my permit over to his fellow officers to “discuss.” if it was really an attempt to make me nervous and break to pay a bribe to get my permit back, it didn’t work. i wasn’t nervous. on the contrary i was getting worked up.

there were many emotions that clouded my mind, many of which are resurfacing as i type this about 3 weeks later… i was angry. i was (and am) angry because we were taking time out of kelly’s and my day. we had already been on the road for a long time, and had a long time to go. daylight is not to be wasted when traveling here. i was angry because i knew that i wasn’t speeding. i knew that i was well within the law. i do not like being called or implied to be a liar or someone who would deceive people who are supposed to be protecting the people.

i was angry because i felt like he was trying to take advantage of me. as a white person and as a woman. using intimidation and fear to take something away from me that you perceive that i have because of how i look.

a deep feeling of sadness was fighting the anger i was feeling in that moment. sadness that for whatever reason, this man was angling for a bribe. it could be because he doesn’t get paid well/on time/at all/very much from his job. and to make ends meet this has become the “acceptable” form of making money. sadness that such corruption is a mainstay in this beautiful country. sadness that had i been a different expat or ngo worker i would have just chalked it up to “typical ugandan” behavior and thought badly of the whole people of uganda and perhaps of the continent. (i don’t think that way, for the record. its not “typical” and i do not think less of the people of the ‘pearl of africa’. or the continent, for that matter.)

in the moment i was calm, cool and collected. stating my case and sticking to my story. “we will follow the law.” and i think that that was the best way for me to behave. i do not believe in paying bribes. i know this won’t fix the system or make things ‘better’ but well, i’m just morally against it. we spent my time and his time on the side of that road, i think that’s payment enough.

the officer came back from consulting with his fellow officers. he handed my permit back to me saying, “we see that you are a mother, susanne.” (why the middle name??) and we respect our mothers, so we are going to let you go with a warning.”

i swallowed my feminist pride, gave a smile/grimace in his general direction and said, “thank you.”

and then he made some comment about how yes, i was correct in thanking him for “letting me get away with it.” i gave him another
smile/grimace and drove away. at 20kmph.

and then, i rolled my eyes.
multiple times.

2 haiku (and parenthetical addendum) on the incident:

to the police man
you accused me of speeding
that i was not doing

you ask for a bribe
i do not pay them, for i
work for m.c.c.
(and because i have scruples)


One thought on “ergo…scruples

  1. you represented MCC and yourself very well, Thera! Your MO is the same one our niece Amy uses in Kenya, where bribes are even more common. It’s ethical, and gives lots of practice in the Christian virtue of patience! Proud of you!

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