Friday, June 6, 2008

Let the Comeuppance Continue

Our car was finally received, less the radio, which mysteriously was listed as “not included” in the papers from the Dar Port Authority. My take is that some higher power is suggesting that rather than drumming and swaying to African music on the road, we should pay attention to swaying cars, buses, roaming goats, bicycles, carts, chickens, etc.

While the car is here, it doesn’t have plates, registration papers, or insurance yet. Getting these essential things entails another dive into the muck of local bureaucracy.

So, knowing full well that it is stupid, I have been driving around when I need to. I don’t know what Tanzanian prison is like. I’ve seen plenty of movies with South American prisons and Turkish prisons holding drug mules, and can only guess that those might look like a Four Seasons in comparison. But my thinking is, most of the police here are on foot. What are they gonna do? Run after me? Or call on their radio (which I’m pretty sure they don’t even have) for someone with a car to go after a car with plates… oh wait, there are no plates. I’m sure there are significant disadvantages to having a police force so under funded that they don’t have vehicles, but in this one instance…

Bodie is still surfacing from his bout with stomach flu almost a week ago, and has eaten very little. Getting him plump had been a fervent mission of our housekeeper and our nanny, Judith and Grace. Grace had a prepared a weekly menu of high-carb mush – potatoes with carrots and leeks, or some variation. Each afternoon, they’d each wield a spoon as he’d go racing around. It was almost like a lacrosse game, with each holding a spoon, and Bodie’s mouth the net. And it worked. He got rounder and fuller.

But all the nice rolling little neck jowls and rounded belly that Judith and Grace were so proud to put on him disappeared over the last week. He has become, like his cousins, (and his parents until relatively recently) skinny. He has refused virtually all food for a week. And if anything were ever going to turn me into my food-pushing Jewish mother, this was it. Here Bodie, try this special sandwich I made you, here is chocolate for breakfast, how about this yummy cookie with jelly…

Yesterday, I threw out the idea of pancakes and, for the first time in a week, he showed real excitement. I drove our cute little unlicensed, unregistered, uninsured car up to Slipway with Bodie singing ‘pancakes, pancakes” in back. As only my mother's voice deep in my head could say, he doesn't need to go to school, he's going to eat!"

So focused on pancakes and food actually going in Bodie, I forgot that that’s where Barclays bank is. And where a bank is, police are. As soon as we pulled up, a policeman, rifle slung over his shoulder, beige uniform, black boots and beret, came over. “Where are your plates?” he demanded. I told him they were coming later in the day and I just drove down the road to feed my son. I thought some element of that worked, because we walked away and he seemed satisfied.

After pancakes, and playing at a playground, and looking at boats, so a good hour and a half later, Bodie and I went back to the car. The policeman was still right where we’d left him, standing by the driver’s door. He said, “in this country, this is a serious matter.” I was thinking of saying I was an ambassador, but was unshaven and in shorts, so instead said I’d take the car straight home and not drive. He stared at me for a while, then gazed off in the distance, mulling his options.

Thoughts of how I wished I’d paid better attention to Swahili class to navigate Tanzanian prison danced through my mind. I wondered, who is going to take Bodie to school in the morning. I wondered if I’d be able to blog from prison. After what seemed like many minutes, he said, “I want a soda.”

“I’m sorry?” I said, thinking that I completely misheard him.

“Give me money”, he responded.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a crumpled 1,000 shilling note (about $1) and he shook it off like a pitcher shaking off a catcher. I handed him a 10,000 shillings note (about $10). He smiled, took it, cautioned again that I shouldn’t be driving, and walked away.

I knew I had been playing a dangerous game, but got out of it for a simple $10. I was no fool.

It was only later, with the retelling of the story to Hillary, and her, compassionate response, “he was a security guard, not police”, with the unsaid, “you idiot”, that I realized while I thought he was mulling his options, he was trying to assess whether I’d be dumb enough to think he had some real standing. He had correctly sized me up.

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