April 08, 2005


Our car must be cursed! The last policeman must have put some kind of Orthodox charm on it that alerts any police officer in the area to pay attention when it’s passing. I was dinged again last night. Fortunately, thanks to the benefits of corruption, I did not have to take a second hit to my license. (I already have one; at three, I have to go back to driving school which I’m sure would be a pain in the rear of the highest royalty).

It began when my wife and I were driving from our video store to the grocery store. Not wanting to drive all the way down the road we were on, I made a turn into a break in the divider in order to make a U-turn. There was a clearly visible sign indicating that U-turns weren’t allowed, but I thought I’d seen people do it before and besides, after running the red light, I’d been a very good driver.

As soon as I made the turn and started up the opposite side of the highway, I could see a police officer walking further and further into the intersection. Then, when we were about 100 meters away, his hand went up to signal us. Oh shucks, here we go again.

As we pulled to the side of the road, I quickly asked my wife what I should do. Knowing my driver’s license situation, she told me I should deny that I’d seen the sign and ask the officer to excuse me. I launched right into a plea the moment he was standing by our car. “I didn’t see the sign." “Please excuse me," and other choice phrases I repeated over and over again, but my lines were falling on deaf ears. After a minute or so of pleading, he asked me to pull the car off of the road and around the corner, as I was blocking traffic. As we drove around the corner, I asked my wife if the officer was likely to give me a break. Her response was “No," to which I asked if I could then stop the pleading. I mean, if it wasn’t going to deliver any results, why should I keep making myself look like a fool in front of the officer.

But our discussions weren’t over. Although he had my license in his hand, my wife noticed when he reached the car the second time that nothing had been written in his ticket book. To her, it was an obvious sign that he wanted to continue the discussions, hopefully with an outcome other than giving me a ticket. After all, if he gave me a ticket, he would have gotten nothing out of the deal and I would have been in worse shape. One, the ticket would have been far more expensive and two, I would have been that much closer to returning to Ethiopian driving school. Arggh.

But then something happened, and the officer handed me back my license. Clearly something had taken place. My wife explained that he wanted us to come back and “discuss” the situation further, but at that point there were too many people standing around for us to “discuss." My wife inquired what an appropriate penalty for my infraction would be, to which the officer responded, “whatever you think is appropriate”. (I think that’s what he said; it was the only part of the conversation I understood”.

We drove away and continued to the grocery store. I wanted my wife to immediately go back and set things straight with the officer. I was nervous. But we continued our shopping. We actually shopped in two stores. Then, we drove back to the intersection. The officer was waiting, walked right up to the car. We “shook hands” and that was it. The actual drop took about 15 seconds. The officer actually pointed out to me that one of my headlights was out and that I should use my high beams in order to avoid being stopped again. The irony.

That was it. All in all, we were both better off. I’m a careful driver since that first ticket, but I definitely blew it with last night’s infraction. The officer was kind enough to reprimand me in a way that wouldn’t cost me hugely, and I was grateful in my thanks to him. The big losers are probably the pedestrians and other drivers of Addis Ababa. The government would like to make sure that everyone drives appropriately. When this kind of intervention takes place, there’s not as strong of an incentive for the driver to improve. But, to be honest, I think I’ve learned my second lesson well enough that now I will probably be a pretty darn clean driver here.

I was remarking after the whole thing to my wife that in the U.S., being pulled over by a police officer, at least in my opinion, is a most unenjoyable experience. Police officers seem to have mastered the art of conveying guilt. Also, you have the burden of paying the ticket, which can be hefty, and if you are a repeat offender, losing your license. Most importantly, though, I noted to my wife that the strongest incentive not to get ticketed is the insurance cost, which is a completely moot point here. Approximately 10% of drivers have insurance and, what’s more, I doubt there would be much coordination between insurance companies and the traffic police to notify insurance in the event of a ticket.

So, a lame experience, but rectified.

In other news, the weather here continues to blaze. Afternoon naps are disturbed by serious sweat and a dry mouth (I’ve got some kind of nasal blockage that is causing me to breathe through my mouth right now). This is some short rainy season in that we’ve seen no rain for almost two weeks. I don’t know how this is affecting crops. Usually, farmers plant a set of spring crops to coincide with spring rains – corn, and others. I don’t know how the current weather will affect all that. Probably not well. Then again, we may be having an entirely normal “short rainy season”. People here seem to have different ways of calculating the weather. Probably some of the difficulties spring from the different calendars used by Ethiopia (Julian) and much of the rest of the world (Gregorian). That could create confusion on the actual timing of rainy seasons, etc. Who knows?


Blogger JustSomeGuy said...

Gee, thanks for contributing to the corruption that is really screwing up Ethiopia! Your bribe, though not the first or last, helps to perpetuate the culture of corruption that has done so much to hurt Ethiopia. The number of good projects derailed by corruption, the amount of resources that have gone to line people's pockets instead of helping folks in dire need, is mind-boggling. And it is just that culture of corruption that drives it (as even the ET government has recognized). The person that pays the bribe is what fuels it, just as people who buy ivory fuel the poaching of elephants. Yet you voluntarily bribed a cop, and brag about it, because you didn't want one more point on your driver's license? That's got to be the lamest reason ever! Talk about lack of respect/concern for Ethiopia, or for anyone other than yourself. Do you want to turn Addis cops into Mexico City cops?? Even at the small scale, how do you think that cop views the next ferengi who drives through his intersection? Do you think he'll be content to wait for one to actually and knowingly break the traffic law (as you did)? That next ferengi could be me. So, from me to you, no thanks.

11:48 AM  

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