Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TIA (This Is Africa)

It has been almost a year and half since Alfred wrote on the blog. It is a testament to how busy our lives became once Alfred starting working full time. Since May 2009, Bodie turned 4...and then 5. He moved from Little Scholars to the French School and can count to 20 in French but thinks his teacher is bossy. TechnoServe Tanzania has grown from seven employees in 2008 to 65 employees today. Cleo topped out at 100 lbs. and her bite is worse than her bark. Hillary’s bark is on par with her bite and Alfred is working on his bark.

We have returned to the blog for several reasons. First, it proved to be a great way to keep friends and family connected. Ok, really it kept Alfred’s mother connected, who was the most faithful reader. Secondly, we are embarking on a new journey and we thought the blog would be a good way to engage with friends along the way.

As many of you know, we have started the process of adopting a baby girl from Ethiopia. Today was a milestone in that process. A high point for entertainment but a low point for the future of Tanzania. The adoption process requires tons of paperwork. References and clearances and background checks. Nevermind that we are already parents and no one asked us for a single qualification the first time around.

One of the many documents that is required is a police background check. This is a document that says we have not been convicted of anything in Tanzania. To attain such a document, we naturally had to request it from the Tanzanian police. For those of you unfamiliar with Africa, the police of just about any African country are, generally speaking, not known for their integrity.

Case in point:

I asked the driver at our office to find out what was required to secure such a document from the police. He returned the next day to say that the fee was $50. Sounds reasonable. But then he tells me that there is an 'additional fee' of $350. Right. Duly incensed and filled with righteous indignation but cognizant of the way things work in Africa, I asked how low he thought the police would go.

Here is the point in the story where I need to pause and remind those who have never lived in Africa that, while we are in complete agreement that paying such a 'fee' is morally reprehensible and simply wrong, if you are white and you are standing in front of a Tanzanian police officer asking him for something, you will need to pay for it. Or you will not get it. It’s that simple.

So I get the policeman on the phone.

“The $50 fee is no problem,” I tell him. “But what’s the other fee for?” I figured I would at least test to see if the guy had a conscience at all.

“I am sorry, madam, but you are breaking up. I can’t hear you.” Yes, indeed. He tried the old “I am going through a tunnel” trick.

Thirty minutes and 3 counter-offers later, we had a deal.

On Monday morning, we show up at the police station with our documentation and were met by the police officer. It was 8:30 and he was drunk. Not stumbling around drunk but reeking of cheap gin drunk. He ushered us in to various rooms of the dingy police station where, it turns out, each person had received their cut in order to turn the wheels of justice. By 3 p.m. that afternoon, we had the papers.

As people say here, TIA. This is Africa.


Mahlers On Safari said...

Honey. Be so glad you have those papers in hand!

I'd like to know the final price you hangled them down to. But I'll get that from you in person :)

Dan said...

Congratulations! Bodie must be so excited to be getting a sister. Good luck with the rest of the process!

ULorenz said...

Dear Hillary, Alfred, and Bodie,
I was actually searching the net for infos on spending a weekend on Zanzibar and was fortunate enought to come over your blog. The last half hour was filled with your impressions of your life in Dar and it was a pleasure to read and think along. Thanks for sharing and warm regards from Berlin, Ulrike