I’m the kind of person who usually likes to barter with people in the markets. It was a totally unique experience for me a couple of days ago, however, when the person we were bartering with was a policeman – who was expecting us to settle the issue “as friends” so that my friend did not need to formally get a ticket or pay a fine.
So – here is the story…
My friend was driving me somewhere when she evidently violated some obscure Ugandan traffic law because she was signaled to pull over by the policeofficer standing in the middle of the street. With theatrical flare the police officer told her what she had done, that the excuse of not knowing the rule was no good in Ugandan courts, that she would owe 300,000 Ugandan Shillings (about $188 USD) and get 30 demerit points on her license, and that we needed to now leave the vehicle and go to the court – only to return to the vehicle sometime the next day.
Having lived in Uganda for a while, she offered him 20,000 to settle it “as friends.” His demeanor then kind of changed and his counter offer “as friends” was 100,000.
Since our normal appeals didn’t work (didn’t know this law, the fine was too expensive, etc…), I started to try a new approach. Once I got past the initial gut reaction of thinking using police authority for personal bribes was sick and wrong, I kind of got into the action too and imagined myself in a street market with a vendor.
I had some left-over pizza in a bag, and I told him that we would offer him the very nice pizza and 15,000. He didn’t look too interested in that, so I pulled the pizza out, had him smell its appealing aroma, examine the slices individually, and tried to convince him of the superior nature of this pizza – it was such a tasty treat we should probably only have given him 5,000 or 10,000 and the pizza. Then since perhaps we were going down in our offer instead of up, he went over to discuss the issue with his colleague who was on the police motorbike watching. I’m pretty sure that broke the ice enough, because he came back and settled with my friend at 30,000 USH (about $18 US), since we were “friends”, after all.
As we drove away, the bizarre nature of that experience for me just made me want to “laugh and cry at the same time” (so to speak).
My only regret was that since we were friends and left on such good terms, I wish I would have asked to have my picture taken with him. The next day I saw a police officer and asked him if I could get my picture taken with him (so you could see what they look like), and he asked why. I told him “for fun” and he said something like– “That is not fun. Why would you want to have fun?”
A few minutes later, I saw another officer, so I took a picture of him as I was walking past. I didn’t think he noticed, until he kind of shouted at me –
“You! Come here.”
“Yeah?” (thinking to myself – ‘uh-oh, here we go again’)
“What did you just take? Can you show me the picture you just took?”
So I showed him, and he was not happy about it. He walked me to his colleague on a bike to discuss the matter. They asked me a lot of harsh and pointed questions about why I was in Uganda, and looked through all my bags. I had just bought some books, and the policeman on the bike really liked one of them and asked if he could have it. I told him, “no way, I just bought that” – and he seemed to understand. Somehow through the conversation, we laughed a couple of times, and then everyone felt a little more at ease. I offered to delete the picture so we could all leave as friends, and they agreed to that. I then thanked them for their time and kindness in wanting to meet me, and told them I needed to go because I was late for something.
They told me in a strict manner not to take pictures of anyone without permission, and I agreed that was probably the polite thing to do. As I started to leave, I took a couple steps and then stopped. I turned around back to them and asked them if I could get my picture taken with them, and they said they would really like that! So here it is. ?
The first picture of us together was taken by a random Ugandan guy that was walking past. When that didn’t work as well as I hoped, I just took the next one by holding my arms out and clicking.
The picture earlier in this blog entry is of a policeman actually doing something very useful here(directing traffic). There are too many crazy traffic jams, and at those times, you are grateful to see the police try to bring some order to the choas.
• Anyone else have any experiences while traveling where they felt like they were expected to bribe someone?
• Or, if you come from a country where bribes to government officials, teachers, police, and so on is the normal thing – what do you think about it? If you think it should be changed, any ideas on how?
And this picture of the Kampala city clock is just in case you were wondering…