We're Jason, Beth, Lee Anna, Sawyer, and Sarah Claire, a family of five living, learning, and laughing lots in Northern Africa.
We hope you can learn a little (and maybe laugh a little too) as you read about our latest adventures.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Not bribery, just greasing the skids a little

This evening we went to another part of town to meet a friend at our favorite hamburger café (McD’s) in her neighborhood. It was our first opportunity to drive ourselves there, but we’d ridden there in taxis tons of times, so we didn’t have much trouble finding it. In a taxi, however, one doesn’t concern himself with locating empty places in which to park his car. But after three trips around the big grassy round-about, we noticed a spot on a little side-street that seemed to be wide enough for two or three parking spaces. There were some people standing next to it, and we fully expected them to tell us that that was a private spot reserved for someone more special than us. But they didn’t, so we assumed it was okay to park there.

We returned an hour and a half later to find our shiny new Garnet-colored Toyota with a shiny Gold (okay, yellow) parking boot on the front left wheel. Now what? I asked a guy in a nearby parking lot, and he said it would only cost 20 pounds (4 dollars), and to go to the little police stand on the corner for help. So I went to the stand and found it deserted. I started thinking we might get to take a taxi home tonight. Finally I saw a policeman standing near my car, smoking a cigarette. He told me this was a no-parking space. I replied that I could see that now, but I didn’t know two hours ago. I asked him what it would cost me, he said the fine was 20 pounds, but we’d also have to do something with my license, and I’d probably have to go to the traffic department and spend all day doing something. But he didn’t start writing anything up. I got out some money to pay him, and he kept talking about the license and asked “What should we do?” Now American traffic police don’t really like to give you lots of options, so I was a little confused at first. But he kept asking what we should do, and looking at my money. I had already given him the 20, and I offered 5 or 6 more, but that didn’t seem to do the trick. I didn’t have any “medium-sized” bills. Either one-pound notes or a hundred. When I handed him the hundred (20 USDs), he immediately signaled to the guy with the key, and my car was released and we were on our way.

“On our way to where?” is a whole different question. As I mentioned, we’d never driven there before, so we weren’t real sure how to navigate the one-way streets and bridges to get ourselves back home. We followed our friend’s directions for a few blocks, but then we couldn’t find a place to turn around like we thought we should. Within five minutes we found ourselves in a shabby little village area by a little canal. We were riding down an extremely crowded dirt road in a part of town that’s not accustomed to seeing lots of foreigners, judging by the stares. Once I had to stop for a flock of goats to clear a path for us. We saw live chickens and rabbits for sale among all the vegetables (so close to our car that Beth could have reached out of the window and grabbed a chicken if she wanted to). In place of taxis, there were these little three-wheeled deals called tuk-tuks. They have room for the driver and two or three passengers. The deeper we got into this neighborhood, the less certain I was that we were actually going to get home tonight. I felt like we were headed toward the river at first, but I was wrong. Fifteen minutes later, we saw the lights of the big city again, and turned one last corner that took us to a bridge back to civilization.

I called a friend on the way home to tell him about the police encounter and he said it was money well spent for me not to have to spend a day or two at the traffic department.

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