Home > Uncategorized > One trip–Two police stops

One trip–Two police stops

This past week I had the opportunity to travel to Macha.  Macha is a small village in the middle of nowhere in the southern province but was the site of a mission hospital many years ago.  Since then, several other projects have started in this remote village.  Most notably is the Macha Research Trust, which is the organization that I travelled to visit.

On the way down, I pulled up to a routine police check point and greeted the officer.  He returned the greeting and then asked how my passengers were.  I didn’t know quite what to say and then he informed me that two of my passengers “were not okay”.  The two young men in the back seat didn’t have a seat belt on.  I said that I know but that Zambian law doesn’t require the passengers in the back to wear seat belts.  He then said, “Then why do they put them in there.”  He asked me to pull off.  I was sure that it wasn’t a law and I jumped out of the truck eager to press my case.  Fortunately, the chaplain for the Macha hospital was sitting in the front and he got out also and offered to talk to them.  They told him that our passengers required seat belts and he told them that Zambian law does not require seatbelts.  At this point, the officers asked him if he had copy of the law and he said he does but it was at home.  They then said that they wouldn’t argue with him and that we could go.  I smiled and left thinking, “they need to come up with something better if they want to get money but at least they didn’t push it.

MRT Campus

I reached the Macha Research Trust (MRT) later that day and settled in.  The setting is more what most people think of when they think of rural Africa.  Flat, dry ground and small thorny trees.  A few mud brick houses but more made of local red bricks with tin roofs.  Despite it’s humble appearance, this area is known world round for the dramatic drop in malaria that the MRT has been able to achieve.  At one time, four or five people a day would die of malaria, now less than 10 in a year.  (For more on that, see http://magazine.jhsph.edu/2011/malaria/features/mission_man/page_1)  I was there to help them with some computer and internet issues and was thankful for the opportunity to help and get to know some of the staff.

I returned home on Friday morning accompanied by Dr. Thuma.  The drive lasted about 5 to 6 hours, but it was great having such an amazing man to talk with.  I was a bit disappointed when we reached Lusaka.  However, on our way to Lusaka, Dr. Thuma and I were talking and I was not watching my speed.  I looked over and saw a police officer with the only radar gun in the country, flagging me down.  I glanced at my speedometer and I was guilty.  I stopped and parked and walked over to the officer (that is what you do here, you go to them, not the other way around).  He showed me my speed on the radar gun and I agreed and said “Yep, I am guilty”.  He then directed me to the officer who writes up the tickets.  He smiled and asked me if I worked for an NGO as he thought he had seen me before.  I took this as a sign that he might not give me the ticket as they often use that as a face saving measure when they pulled you over and you really weren’t guilty, saying “you do good work in our country, you can go.”  No such luck as he proceeded to tell me the fine is 180,000 kwacha ($36 USD).  I knew the fine was only 67,500 ($13.50 USD) and told him so.  He proceeded to tell me that the fine had gone up and showed me other receipts for speeding tickets for 180,000 that he had written that day.  There was an attempt to raise the fine but it had never passed and I had recently confirmed this fact.  I told him I believed the fine was still 67,500 and he said “You don’t believe me?”.  At that point, I remembered that I only had 12,000 ($1.35) in my wallet as I had just filled up with petrol (fuel).  I told him that it didn’t matter what the fine was as I didn’t have the money to pay on the spot and showed him my nearly empty wallet.  He still insisted the fine was 180,000 and I said that he could write the ticket for 180,000 but that I would confirm it before making payment at the Central Police Station (you have 7 days to make payment).  I said I was guilty and I am happy to pay what was required.  He showed me another document that listed the fine as 180,000 and I told him that I had seen it before and that I still thought it was 67,500.  He then smiled and raised his hands and said “By the power vested in me by Zambia, you are free to go.”  I thanked him and joked with him for a few minutes and returned to my car.

There are three possible explanations that I can think of…

1.  It is common that police will not bother writing a ticket if you cannot pay on the spot.  They were ready to write the receipt so I felt it was legitimate but for some reason unknown to me, if they can’t get your cash there and then, they don’t want it.

2.  I was right about the amount of the fine and he didn’t want me asking questions at headquarters.

3.  He decided to be nice to me.  I know that may sound odd, but despite their efforts to get money, I have found the police to be very friendly.  If you can talk with them and especially if you can make them laugh, they sometimes let you off.

One thing I like about Zambia is that you never know what to expect.  In one case I hadn’t broken any laws and in the second case I was guilty but let off.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Joan
    October 8, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    You never cease to amaze me with your antics. But you better be on your best behavior when you come home. It won’t work on the police here. Have a great day!

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