Wednesday, May 28, 2014

“A Police Officer is a Statue Standing by the Side of the Road”

Last week when my friends Amanda and Ashleigh came to visit we spent a lot of time in the car driving across Botswana.  The fun part is that we got to see lots of interesting places and saw animals all over.  The not so fun part of the trip was my constant interaction with Botswana’s finest.  That’s right, the police.

On the first day of our trip I was pulled over for speeding.  Here in Botswana the speed limit drops quickly within a short distance. Many times you have to practically slam on the brakes in order to slow down in time.  The speed will often go from 120 to 80 to 40 within 50-100 feet.  I knew I had not dropped my speed quickly enough, but most of the other people on the road hadn’t either.  However, I was the person who got caught.  I tried to sweet talk my way out of it and it almost worked.  My officer was very nice.  But his partner (who was writing the ticket) definitely got up on the wrong side of the bed.  There was no way I was getting out of that ticket.  So I accepted the ticket and off I went.  Oh, hey! Silver lining!  If I get deported I CAN’T pay my ticket! Ha!  Who’s the winner now?  (Not really.)

Day 2: We wake up and depart Elephant Sands, excited for a short three hour trip to Chobe.  About twenty miles from Elephant Sands there is a check point.  There is a police officer standing at the checkpoint looking at me.  I look at him.  (Side note: there are check points ALL OVER Africa.  You ALWAYS get stopped at checkpoints in Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone.  I have NEVER been stopped at a check point in Botswana.  They see me coming and just waive me right through.) I slow down, but expect to get the waive through, so I didn’t prepare to stop until the last minute when I see him indicate I must stop.  (Additional important information: there was a stop sign next to where the policeman was standing, but there was also an earlier stop sign about 10 feet in front of where he was standing.)  The officer asks for my license and then quizzes me about why I didn’t stop at the first stop sign.  I told him I was looking at him and expecting him to waive me through because that’s what always happens at Botswana checkpoints, “That’s why I LOVE living in Botswana and am SO THANKFUL I don’t live somewhere like Zim.”  This did not win him over.  “Don’t look at me! A police officer is a statue standing on the side of the road!  Ignoring a stop sign is a 1,000 Pula fine!”  It took every ounce of strength I had not to say, “That’s funny, because your statue friend yesterday had a very different opinion of the role of police officers.”  The officer made fun of me for a few minutes and said I looked like I was about to cry and then told me not to run a stop sign again.  Verdict: No ticket.

The remainder of our trip was very slow and stop-and-go, but we made it through without another police incident, sort of.  As we were driving back from Khama Rhino a speeding bus nearly ran us off the road while he was trying to overtake.  The almost-running off the road situation occurred because he tried to pass while another bus was approaching in the opposing lane.  Apparently there was a police officer right behind him and he came speeding up and pulled him over.  But he didn’t pull me over!

And then I kind of offered to pull myself over as we were driving to Johannesburg.  I must have a guilty conscience or something. That was actually pretty comical.  An officer came running out into the street and pointed one hand towards me and another towards the side of the road, indicating to pull over.  But the officer didn’t appear to be looking at me.  It looked like he was looking past me.  But I wasn’t sure.  So I slowed down, even though I knew I wasn’t speeding, stared at him intently, pointed at myself and kept shouting (inside the car, with the windows rolled up no less), “Me? Is it me? Am I in trouble?”  At that point Amanda reminded me, “He can’t hear you.”  Thankfully he wasn’t pointing to me, but to the vehicle behind me.

Overall it was a fun road trip.  I now feel as if I have met ALL the police officers across the country in one capacity or another.  And aside from my $60 ticket, which I probably won’t pay anyway since I’m about to get deported, it was uneventful.  Here’s my souvenir:

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