TIA Tales – Stop Police!
(Note the deliberate lack of comma between the two title words!)
As many of you who ‘liked’ my status only a couple of weeks ago on FB (about a policeman threatening to deal with me ‘perpendicularly’!) might have figured out, getting stopped by police is a pretty common thing around here. Whilst I am not here to write about corruption and scary stuff (I prefer to keep my visa!) some of the stories make for hilarious anecdotes in the classic TIA Tales style that you guys have come to know. A couple of recent experiences triggered memories of others, and I couldn’t help but want to bring them all together just for you!
I think my all-time favourite story has to be the time a few of us were coming back in the early hours of the morning from a nightclub in Nakuru, Kenya. It was during the time when the road from Nairobi to Nakuru was still being built, and as we headed out for the evening we had noticed some large rocks strategically placed to divert traffic off the parts they were working on but we didn’t think much of it. There were no signs of course.
So… it’s now around 3am, we have found a random taxi driver who doesn’t exactly know where we live, but there are four of us so we decide it’s not a problem. One of us has had quite a lot to drink so we put him in the front – we’ll call him A!
As we get out of town we find that the road looks nothing like it did. Further work has been done and the stones on the road have beenmoved to create a new diversion through some fields. It’s all over the place and we quickly realise we no longer know how to rejoin the road. The taxi driver is getting stressed and wanting to go back to town. The three of us in the back are insisting he continues on, A is just swaying quietly to himself!
Just at the point where we have all accepted that we are definitely lost and the car has slowed to almost a complete standstill, the darkness is illuminated. Boom. The lights are so bright it’s like daylight and we are all squinting to see what on earth just happened. As our eyes adjust we see silhouettes of headless men (not really, just that we could only see to the height of the car) carrying AK47s go past. At this point the three of us in the back and the taxi driver realise we are in serious danger. A, however… is sick!
He’s sick in a way I have never seen in my whole life. It projectiles onto the windscreen in front of him and the force is so great that it bounces, in a giant splash, back into the car. It is now dripping from the nose and eyelashes of the driver and is all over the three of us (I was directly behind him so was afforded some protection from his seat thank goodness). The smell is incredible. The taxi driver says nothing. He doesn’t even move!
A tumbles out of the car and onto his knees, where he pukes all over the boots of a gun toting man in uniform. We are all holding our breath (fear and the smell make this an instinctive move. A, on the other hand, looks up and manages to croak one word. ‘Malaria’.
I cannot believe they fall for this, but their demeanor changes instantly. They explain that they are protecting the property which we effectively pulled up outside, they don’t consider us a threat (no shit!), they are very sorry for A’s illness and will escort us to the road! Amazing! I would like to say we all breathed a little easier, but the smell was pretty overwhelming.
Our poor taxi driver drove us home without a word, he still had not wiped his face. We paid him all the money we had to get his car cleaned and he left in shocked silence!
So that time the police were brilliant and we loved them and laughed for days over the craziness of the whole event. Other times they have been less brilliant, but equally funny!
I was once stopped for not wearing my seatbelt just outside Nairobi.
“But I am wearing it officer. Look!”
“You are not wearing your seat belt.”
“I am! Look!”
“This is ridiculous. I am clearly wearing my seat belt.”
The officer puts his head in through the window and talks so close to my face that I can smell his breath. ”Eh!” he says crossly, “I am the law maker… and you are the law breaker.”
I laugh so hard the policeman doesn’t know what to do and let’s me go!
Actually laughing at a policeman can be a pretty dangerous game. In truth what works best is crying. I learned this from my friend at Greensteds who had taught his young daughter to cry if a policeman looked as though he was going to fine her dad or make them go to the police station. She executed this job perfectly and every time would get a response along these lines:
Policeman to child: “why are you crying?”
Dad: “oh she is afraid of you, she thinks you’ll take her daddy to jail.”
Policeman to child: “Oh no, no. It’s ok. Smile. We are just taking care of business.”
Child: cries harder
Policeman: “Just go!”
I was stopped years later in Mwanza turning the wrong way down a one way street – again no sign posts – and I remembered this tactic (to be honest I was having a crap day and was pretty close to tears anyway!). In fact I applied a combination. “I’m so sorry,” I say, welling up, “I didn’t know. My husband has malaria and I am rushing to get to him.” Instant release!
Of course being able to bend the rules isn’t always a good thing. When we were stopped for overtaking in a restricted area my friend admitted his mistake instantly and agreed that he deserved to pay a fine.
“I have been a policeman for 15 years,” responds the officer proudly. “Today I am training this new recruit.”
“Oh” we say, “well… congratulations.” He nods his acceptance and sends the boy to get the fine book. At this point my friend pulls out his bag to get some money (he’ll need around Tsh60,000 or $40 for the official fine). As he opens his bag a bundle of Tanzanian notes is revealed. “Ah but…” exclaims the officer, clocking the cash. “we are friends. Perhaps we do not need to make a fine…” We offer him Tsh30,000 at which he smiles and waves us on, having effectively just taught his new junior exactly how to go about initiating a bribe without actually asking! We paid the fine and insisted on a receipt on principle, much to his annoyance.
But that takes us into a whole other selection of ‘chini chini’ activities (chini literally means down but the phrase indicates ‘under the counter’ dealings) so I guess I’d better stop there for this week! Please do share if you have amusing tales of being stopped by the police – we’d love to hear them!
I’m off to the bush now on a writing assignment (in fact I’m back at the airport again!) so, no question as to what next week’s update will be about! Until then.