July 27, 2010

Laws and Lawlessness.

A very quick, albeit naive, observation about life here is that Tanzania is completely lawless. Pure chaos. Yes, examples of corruption run rampant, and yes, people act above the law given access to people with clout or their ability to buy themselves out of most situations. And, of course, these examples emanate from even most prominent of political leaders, in other words, the very people people who should be leading by example, rather than flanking the law and then in turn expecting others to do as they say not as they do. 

Over dinner last night, someone posed the question, if things are truly as chaotic here as they seem to be, why then are there not more examples of people doing "bad" things, or rather people taking advantage of such lawlessness.  While I am in no position to answer such a loaded question with any sense of authority, the longer I have been here, the more I have learned that the appearance of chaos and lawlessness actually masks a deeply ingrained fabric of social and communal norms, where the ideals of "justice" and "retribution" and checks on errant social behavior exist in ways that are too foreign for us to recognize.

By comparison, Thailand was replete with overt rules imposing a strict sense of social order. One of the hotels we checked into in Bangkok, The Atlanta, was adorned with a bold warning on the front door, "sex tourists not welcome".  As if that simple rule was not clearly understood, their check-in procedures made clear the extent to which they take themselves seriously, further stating, "The Atlanta has a 'zero tolerance' policy with regard to trouble-makers and all illegal activities, including the use or possession of illicit drugs. Such miscreants are reported to the police without advance warning, without hesitation and without apology. Those who object to this policy, and those who wish to spend their time in Thailand whoring, indulging in alcohol abuse, drugs or other illegal activities should stay elsewhere."

Get it. Got it. Good.

Around Bangkok, every taxi van was adorned with the below sticker. Yes, yes, we get it, these are the rules of riding.
But on closer inspection, these rules were suddenly not so clear. Our roommate's six year old daughter clarified that the middle picture made a pronouncement against "wrestling" in the vehicle. Hmm, ok. And the last "rule" still leaves us scratching our heads. No horned animals? A good explanation for this one still eludes us.

In Bangkok's SkyTrain system, the exact locations where train doors will be after the train has come to a complete stop are marked on the platform as shown.
Incredibly people queue up in perfectly formed single file lines waiting to board the train until all exiting passengers have departed. Unfortunately, I never managed to capture an image of this. The orderliness of it all was particularly impressive to me, especially as in Tanzania, our immediate baseline of comparison, boarding a bus, or rather a "dala-dala," involves the herculean feat of guarding your valuables with your life and stampede-like conditions to jostle onto the bus first to secure standing space. Admittedly, even public transit systems in America cannot claim such a high level of respect and orderliness.

Within 15 minutes upon our return to Tanzania, en route home from the airport, the conversation went something like this:

Andrei, "Holy sh*t, Matty, I think that there is a huge fight going on over there."

Matty, "Oh really?" [pauses to glance in the direction indicated]

Matty, "Wait, no, actually I think those people are just boarding the dala-dala. Its always a mob scene like that."

Andrei, "Oh right, there is a nice reminder of what we have returned back to."

For better or worse, right?

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