“What are we waiting for?”
“We must wait for another policeman – they have no measuring tape and no paper on which to write”.
A crowd had gathered to survey the spectacle.
A moustached police officer arrived on the back of a motor cycle taxi. He questioned everyone and made a series of odd and arbitrary measurements with his tape. Everything was laboriously recorded on blank sheets of paper.
A woman had stepped out from behind a parked car and had been knocked to the ground by my companion’s car before I had arrived. There were no skid marks and no damage to the front of the car – speed and contact must have been minimal.
“Where is the woman?”
“She has been taken for treatment; I don’t know where”.
The moustached policeman waved at us and climbed onto the back of the motor cycle. We followed, leaving the main road and driving through a dirt- streeted village of shacks. Stopping at concrete building, we spotted the woman. The back of her head had been dressed and she sat looking glum on a bench outside the clinic.
My companion went in to speak to the doctor. Coming out, he asked for some money. A wad of notes was handed to someone in the clinic to pay for the woman’s treatment.
The policeman joined us in the car.
“Where are we taking him?”
“To the next town, he has no vehicle”.
Five minutes later, my companion hands a wad of notes to the policeman.
“What’s the money for?”
“To pay for his hire of the motor cycle taxi”.
“Funny way to run a police force”.
Reaching the town, the policeman mutters something. More cash is handed over.
“What’s he need money for now?”
“He says the hire cost him more than he thought”.
The delay has meant darkness is falling as a town still an hour short of the destination is reached. There is a curfew – soldiers have blockaded the road.
“What will happen?”
“We will see.”
Suddenly a barrier is lifted. A pick up with an armed policeman standing in the back shoots off, followed by a shiny jeep. Three vehicles follow, ours is the last of the line of five.
“We must stay with this convoy.”
The car slides around wide sweeping bends.
“Why are they going so fast?”
“This is bandit country – but they will not trouble us”.
“What would happen if the barrier had not been lifted?”
“We would have gone to a guest house in the mountains run by German missionaries”.
“What if there was not that option?”
“People have to decide what is cheapest – to pay for somewhere to stay or to pay the policeman to lift the barrier”.
The next day there is checkpoint after checkpoint, but only the buses are pulled in.
“What is the point of the checks?”
“They check the bus for defects – there are always defects – and the driver pays them to let him proceed. It is a kind of tax the drivers are used to”.
Tempted to make some comment about police corruption; I refrain. When every level of society above the humble village policeman is corrupt, they would make too easy a target. My companion seems almost sympathetic to them, “Were it not for the bus ‘fines’, they might receive no pay at all”.