July 2, 2010

Service with a Smile.

As most of you know, we recently purchased a "new-to-us" car. It is old and is nothing spectacular. But we love it, if not for anything else, but the new found sense of freedom the car affords us. As I have described in a variety of posts, this is a very difficult city to transverse on foot, bike, or public transit (no matter how loosely defined and laughable that term may be in this setting), and being solely reliant on taxis or tuk tuk drivers, while offering an added layer of luxury and convenience, can be distressing given the need to bargain again and again and again for a fair price. 
While the car purchase mitigated a major source stress in our lives, it also opened a new fountain of stress. With the new car, we inherited a mess of paperwork, including registering and licensing the vehicle with the government, securing insurance for the vehicle, and securing proof we were capable drivers. As with most things in this country those tasks were quickly outsourced to a local who better knows how to navigate Tanzania's complicated, bureaucratic systems. A handful of shillings later, we received our vehicle license, registration, and insurance, as well as a drivers license for Andrei. Yes, we were even able to outsource the driving test (the various components of which he "passed" in a satisfactory manner). And with that we were free to hit the streets of Dar es Salaam behind the wheel of our new automobile.

Since that time we have had 4 chance encounters with Dar es Salaam police officials (ie: we are running an average of being pulled over twice per month). The perception that all wazungus (white people) are rich heightens chances of being "randomly" pulled over for a routine check shakedown exercise. Two of these instances have been less than noteworthy, two instances were so hilariously noteworthy that it motivated this blog entry. 

Basically when you are pulled over, the police are seeking to ensure that your car has all proper paperwork and documentation, and that you are prepared for an emergency in the form of two reflective emergency triangles and a fire extinguisher. Of course there is an associated charge with each of these infractions should anything be amiss. When all checks out, there is basically nothing more they can do, barring of course an actual traffic violation. The two times I have been pulled over, the officer ran through the list of necessary things noted above, and then sent me on my merry way. 

When Andrei was recently pulled over, the officer ran through this same list of essentials. Everything was in order, as with the first two police encounters. 

But this time, the officer demands, "Give me 10,000 Tsh." 

"But why?" Andrei asks. 

Her reply, "For my dinner tonight."

Stiffling his laughter, Andrei says, "Well, the problem officer is that I do not have 10,000 Tsh."

"5000 Tsh then." 

Andrei shakes his head no.

"3000 Tsh then."

Still shaking his head no, he says, "I don't have any money." 

She tells him to get out of there. 

You gotta appreciate the honesty and the unabashed attempt at corruption.

While these first three encounters have been largely shakedown attempts, the last run-in with a police officer was actually merited. We were driving through downtown at night, where the streets are poorly lit, there are no traffic signs, and there are directional rules that change depending on the hour of the day. It was no surprise then that we made a wrong turn. We were immediately alerted to our mistake when a very large police officer with an even larger gun steps in front of our car and motions for us to pull to the side.

Andrei muttered under his breathe, "Ok man with a super large gun, I will be pulling over wherever you indicate."

We came to a stop, rolled down the window, turned off the distracting music pumping out of our ipod (made possible through cassette player adapter). 

"Yes-sir," Andrei says.

Puffing his chest, the police officer asks, "Sir, do you know why I just pulled you over?"

"No, sir. Is everything ok?"

"You just committed a traffic violation. Do you see that turn back there? You were supposed to go this way around the turn, not this way."

"Ok, I am sorry, I did not realize that, but I see my mistake now."
"We can either deal with this at the police station, or we can help you out and you can pay us right here."

"So how much will it be?"

"Well since you have committed three violations, it will be 60,000 Tsh total."

"Three violations?!"

"Yes sir, one for making the wrong turn, and there are two of you."

"And the second and third violation?"

"Well you made the wrong turn, and then you ajfkshtiney, and then hgajain haianaina."

Scratching our heads, we are mulling over our best bargaining tactic, when suddenly a second police officer comes running over to our car, and says, "Let us do you a favor, you can pay us right here instead of us taking you down to the police station."

Andrei, "Ok we will let you do us a favor and pay you directly, but I do not have 60,000 Tsh."

Officer, "How much do you have?" 

Andrei relies on his system of haphazardly dividing his money among various pockets, and hopes that he has chosen the pocket containing the lesser amount of small change. Bingo, he opens a fistful of money to reveal that we in fact do not "have" 60,000 shillings. The officer suggests that will be sufficient. 

As we drive away, he requests, please do not tell anyone about this incident. Um, right. We still have no idea exactly how much we paid them, but what we do know is that the pocket with in excess of 100,000 Tsh was left perfectly in tact. And so it seems everyone wins.

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