Disclaimer: this post is an anecdotal post about incidents I’ve experienced in countries where corruption abounds. I certainly do not feel all cops are these way and I consider them, overall great guardians of peace and justice on most occasions.
There is beautiful chaos that characterizes countries on the Equator line. I say beautiful because it’s in chaos I learned to thrive; order in every aspect of life suffocates me. As Venezuelans we always joked how the equator line and the great weather we enjoyed year round was one of our biggest curses; it’s believed by some that the the lack of harsh winters not having to “save up” for a particular harsh season has only aggregated to the chaos and the “developing” status of some countries that enjoy sunshine all year long. The lines between wrong and right can become a bit blurry and so you learn to make the best of it, trying to avoid incurring in moral predicaments. I like to believe however that the lack of winters and the excess of blurred lines has also given all us who share this life weather, a warm heart, a comical sense of reality and a the ability to hit the ground running.
It was a recent conversation with a friend that reminded that perhaps one of the biggest traits we share across Equatorian countries is the ability to deal with adversity in a comical way too. There is a stubbornness of wanting to improve our reality to higher levels, while maneuvering around our cultural surroundings and their – sometimes – dubious ways.
“Hang on. I cannot remember what the name is. Imma ask Faith”.
“Faith, what’s pap called in Kenya?”
….. Faith is busy trying to dominate the world, and in order to give her space and time to do so, I went deeper into Google for the answer that should have come to mind earlier.
“Ugali, never mind!”
About an hour later Faith replied:
I have struggled with the English language lately – I attribute this to my brain rebelling to foreign lands and becoming increasingly homesick. I didn’t know if this was some sort of expression in English that perhaps meant something else.
Just in case, I asked: “You?! Arrested?!”
“Corrup Kenya Police” – she answered.
You can tell a lot about a person by the way the text. Faith normally doesn’t text in telegram form which got me worried (millennial insight guys!).
“Do you need help? Who do I phone?”
“Hahaha – it’s getting sorted” (why on Earth is she laughing so much?!)
“They’re trying to get a bribe from me because I refused to let them into my car”.
Ah. Equatorial line similarity. I have been in this position in my home (and other countries) before too. I can clearly see the palpable tension, the grin on the officers face while being stopped at a make shift roadblock by corrupt policemen looking for an excuse (or generally a made up reason) to get something out of this exchange (one time it was a packet of chewing gum).
“Ok, well let me know if there’s anything I can do for you” – in my mind, I was working all my 007 connections across countries and making a plan to contact family members if I had to.
“Why on Earth do they want to get into your car for?” – I pressed.
“To ask for a bribe because I wasn’t displaying my insurance properly” – if you’ve ever faced this type of scenario, with this type of policeman, you know in what tone you should read this message.
“Good on you for not letting them in. Are you in jail now? Who’s coming to rescue you?” – couldn’t have been prouder of her not letting men walk all over her and sticking up for what’s right. If you’ve ever met Faith you know she’s a rock and a powerhouse. There ain’t no bullying this woman.
“No. – I’ve stubbornly stayed at my car. I told them I’m happy to go in the cell once they tell me what I’m being detained for” – perfect strategy. Using legal jargon against cops who use words like “arrest” and “detained” to scare people off, especially if you don’t know your rights.
“But you haven’t replied to me. Is someone coming to help you or are you fighting them solo?” – I asked.
“I’m waiting for them to get tired of wasting my time” – Faith replied.
“You have way more patience than me.”
“I’m actually fuming, but can’t let them get the satisfaction. If they want to waste my time I can waste their time too”. (See why she’s a powerhouse?)
“It’s a good plan, but a have a backup strategy just in case”.
An hour later I got a message from Faith: “I’m free. Phone on 2%”.
There was much relief as I imagined her driving away into the sunset and back home.
The following day we picked up our conversation again.
“I’m proud of you, but I was a bit worried too as some cops can be nasty”
“They were so frustrated with me because I wouldn’t give in to corruption. What made them do it is the cop wanted to get in my car to ask for a bribe and I told him he wasn’t allowed.” – Faith explained.
“Little did they know who they were up against!”
“Yep – he basically just wanted a bribe to let me go. He calls over 2 other cops so they’re staring me down. But I was like: “No – you still can’t get in my car. It’s against the law. Then he’s like: “Madam, the law even allows me to drive your car.”
I shook my head and sarcastically added: “Yeah, show me the warrant and then we can talk” – I added.
“I was like: “Haha, no. I know my rights.” “They take advantage when they see that you’re scared. I was stubborn because I knew I was dealing with low level traffic cops”.
“I was stubborn because I knew I was dealing with low level traffic cops” – I repeated out loud, knowing what she meant and knowing that the situation could have turned out differently.
“Do you think this is a normal conversation to have between girls? -How to deal when stopped for bribes 101 – this should be the title of our roadside story”
“If I was dealing with the more senior guys that carry guns I wouldn’t have been stubborn. Because those guys will put you in their van, take you to a remote location, rape and then shoot you”.
“Yeah. You can’t pull this off with any policeman. I got kidnapped by who we think were cops when I was younger too. You have to seize them up”
“Have I never told you that story?”
Being on the roadside in certain parts of the world has certainly kept adding a repertoire of anecdotes and survival strategies to my fireside chats. I grew up not thinking much of some officers in my home country but I remember feeling safe when coming across police cops in other parts of the world that didn’t sit on the Equator line. and that realization hit home. In Venezuela we learned to respect them because of the authority they command, but not necessarily because of their actions. You learn to push your luck when you can, and admit defeat when can’t – even if you’ve done nothing wrong.
The seriousness and immediate comprehension of the situation and how it could have been different under different circumstances, made me think of how much two countries oceans apart have in common. It made me wonder deeply if this common denominator stem from years and year of political corruption or if it’s caused by our inherent nature of being creatures blessed by the sun.
If you’re wondering what the Equator line is, click here