Monday, August 13, 2007

Pulled Over II

J has now been pulled over by the police four times. I’ve been there for three occasions. N. related this run-in back in May while I was in the States. The most recent stop occurred about a month ago on a Sunday evening. We had dropped P. off at her house and were on our way home via Kira Road. Kira Road has two lanes and we used this opportunity to pass some slower cars, including a pick-up truck loaded with policemen.

We took our next left onto Acacia Avenue and the police truck followed. Not having a siren, they pulled up beside us and motioned J to pull over. The truck pulled up in front of us and two guys got out while the rest watched from the back of the truck bed.

The first time we were pulled over we had two Ugandan real estate agents in the back of the car, driving around to show us apartments. When the cop came to the window, the two guys in back kept chiming in, reading the officer’s name badge and calling him by name. J and I were admittedly sort of pissing ourselves. Why had we been singled out on the busy road (though the answer to that is fairly obvious, I think)? Were all our papers in order? Were we supposed to bribe the guy?? But everything was in order and though the guy lingered we felt no need to line his pockets. Afterwards, the real estate agents told us that by calling the officers by their names lets them know we can report them if they ask for a bribe.

Since then, the officers who have pulled us over have had no visible name tags; the one trick we’ve learned has been useless. The second time we were pulled over we don’t even know if they were actually officers. Two guys on the side of the road with uniforms on, of sorts. Plain khaki trousers, plain khaki shirts. Their vehicle had no identification either. Just two dudes waving people down—were they going to murder us? But it was the middle of the day and we were on a fairly active street in a very nice neighborhood and we were surrounded by embassies. One guy walked the circumference of the car, looking in all the windows. The other guy stood by J’s open window, all smiles, very chatty. How were we today, were we enjoying the Kampala roads, had we been driving in the country long, did we want to buy him some airtime (for his cell phone)? No, J told him, we did not want to. That answer seemed to confound the poor man. Were we sure we did not want to? We were quite sure. He seemed to be asking us with his eyes: you know I’m asking you for a bribe, right? Oh, we did! Okay, then, he let us go.

So on this Sunday evening last month, an officer comes up to the window, again all smiles. We know they have seen a car full of white people and they want to see if they can get any money out of us. We also know that we will never give them any money unless threatened with our lives. That night was misty and the officers wore ponchos over their uniforms, so once again we could not see if any of them wore a nametag for us to use to our advantage.

The officer wanted to be friends! This was just a friendly pullover, he told us. Just wanted to make sure everything was okay. Is everything okay? Oh yes, everything is okay. All four of us waved and smiled and assured him that we appreciated such a thoughtful reason for pulling us over. We waited for the bribe request, whether in the form of airtime or dinner or something new we had never heard before, but it never came. Eventually he just let us go.

We drove up the hill in the falling darkness.

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