Thursday, July 11, 2013

A funny* thing happened on the way to the club

(*and by funny, I mean sh*tty)

So, a couple of Saturdays ago, I got pulled over by the cops. Well, actually, it was a cop, and he didn’t so much pull me over as motion vigorously from the side of the road for me to stop. Had I not been paying attention, I would’ve driven right past him. And, in hindsight, that may not have been such a bad thing.

I was on my way to a planning meeting for my cousin’s wedding (he waited way too late to start the whole planning process, but that’s a complaint – uh, I mean blog posting, for another day), and, as it was only my second day ever driving into town, I was feeling both nervous and excited.

Nervous because driving in downtown Nairobi can be mad and because I wasn’t completely sure of where I was going. Excited because I was actually managing to drive in town and I wasn’t causing accidents or getting pulled over by the cops.

That is, until I got pulled over by a cop.

I’m not too sure why – I believe it is mostly due to its colonial past – but Kenya has a large number of private/members-only clubs, many of them scattered throughout Nairobi. My cousin (not the one getting married) is a member of one – the Public Service Club – and so he was able to secure use of the club’s facilities so we could hold our meeting. This was convenient for all parties involved except for me, as I live in the suburbs (sort of) and the PSC is far, far away. And also, I wasn’t too sure how to drive there.

Normally, when I have to go into town, I meet with one or two of my cousins at a designated spot and we carpool to whatever location we’re going to, leaving the other cars parked (somewhat) safely.

This time I was on my own as my one cousin was planning the meeting and had to get to the PSC early-ish and my other cousin had business meetings and town and would not be able to connect with me in a timely fashion.

I wasn’t too worried. I’ve been driving around locally since I came to Kenya and I’d been to the PSC once before, so I had a vague notion of where I was going and of how to get there.

Unfortunately, my notions were a bit vaguer than I thought.

I had a good recollection of the return route we’d taken on the way back home from my first visit to the PSC and I figured that backtracking along that route would be the best way.

And I was correct, except for the one half-block of a side street that was one-way only where I ended up going the wrong way.

That was where I ran into the cop.

If I recall correctly (and I may not, as I’ve tried to block out as much of the experience as I can) he was either standing or leaning out into the street and motioning for me to stop. I did (with a wee bit of a squeal in my tires as I was not going slowly and I stopped abruptly). When I stopped, he arrogantly swaggered over to my car and waited for me to roll down my passenger window.

He asked for my license, which I gave to him. I asked him why he stopped me/what I did wrong, but he didn’t answer. As a matter of fact, he never actually answered my question (though I asked repeatedly), preferring to take the tactic that I knew what I’d done wrong and that it was up to me to admit/own up to it.

After a few minutes of going back and forth and getting nowhere, I asked him what was supposed to happen next, as I had never been pulled over by the police in Kenya before and was unaware of the protocol.

Of course, in the back of my mind I knew that he probably wanted a bribe, but I had no idea how to navigate such a situation, so I continued on, asking him what I was supposed to do.

He said that we were to go to the nearest police station where I would be given a ticket and a time to show for court on Monday. He got in my car and we headed off to the station (I later learned that I should not have let him in my car, as he could have been a thug impersonating an officer).

Before we left, I called my cousin to let him know that I would be unable to make our meeting. He asked me to put the cop on the phone and, fortunately, was able to negotiate a suitable bribe so that the cop would release me without a ticket.

The cop, who was now all smiles, was supposed to ride with me to my destination (that was part of the deal my cousin had struck with him, to make sure I got to the club and didn’t get lost), but he had me pull over almost right away, giving me vague directions of how to get to the club.

He then hopped out of my car – without even a ‘thanks’ – and went on his way, most likely eagerly looking for his next traffic violator.

I continued on my journey – a little stressed out and a thousand shillings poorer – and eventually found my way to the PSC. Where, of course, I learned that the meeting had been cancelled because not enough people had shown up…

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