I did neglect to mention I spent a few days kicking back in Zanzibar after climbing Kilimanjaro. My good amigo David Pennington and I rented scooter motorbikes which I found a little challenging as we wound through the narrow streets of Stonetown sometimes cutting out in the narrow lanes and always putting my feet on the ground to avoid hitting the market people on the streets. As with many African vehicles the speedometer always reads "0" and the fuel tank is always at empty but somehow it works.
Policeman: "Licence and insurance papers please"
Me: "Eh, let me get it from my bag...(frantic searching)...oh my God ! we must have been robbed at the last beach by that rasta guy"
David: "Yeah all my papers were in your bag too"
Policeman: "This is a very serious offence"
Me: "I know, we're going to report this at Stonetown"
Policeman: "This is a very serious offence, give me the keys to your bikes and come in. I need to write a report"
The truth is we didn't have money or id. David had a drivers licence but it wasn't valid in Zanzibar. The policeman told us of his report and the consequences : court tomorrow, prison tonight and all the unpleasant potential memories that go with. Zanzibar is famous for beautiful beaches, prisons don't feature on the tourist map. He had convinced me, I indulged in offering a bribe.
Me:“Surely there is a way we can both benefit ?”
Did he just throw me a life line ? Did he actually hear my sentence or is he playing hard to bribe. He has a cold stare, a straight mouth and a thick, disapproving, crumpled up brow. He's a young cop and I know he must be struggling for a decent wage. There are many things to deal in Zanzibar. Weed mostly, but there more lucrative things. This young man could be honest or he could be too naive to be involved in dirty dealings on a small island: content to serve and protect. But no young officer however content could pass up easy money from 2 tourists who were in the wrong: no licence - no insurance - no chance. I changed the direction of the bribe. Gave it a bit more padding so I could reinterpret my statement in a Zanzibarian court of law, if necessary. I put the ball in his side of the court.
Me:"We are in a hurry to report our stolen things and I also don't want to waste your time making a report. So maybe there is a way we can both benefit"
I was sweating- could this be the only straight cop south of the equator ? (no offence to my law enforcing readers)After a brief pause and a menacing stare he scratched the back of his head and gently uttered :
So silent it was that I didn’t think he even spoke but I remembered seeing his lips move. Not much of a talker he pushed me the pen and paper. I scribbled down the equivalent of $30 to be delivered outside the Florida Hotel at 1am when he would finish work.David seemed disappointed I had offered so much. There were raised eyebrows and strange stares between us, clearly we needed to confer on the price of freedom. But unfortunately the only language me and David share is English which our unlawful enforcer also possessed. If David could speak the Irish language it would have been a different story. We could have conversed, agreed to a price then we would have referred to the officer as a dick-ceann.
“This is good”
the dick-ceann smiled. The same innocent smile that creeps across a soccer players face when he kicks the ball by accident and hits an opponent in the nuts. David finally broke and told me to call the guy we rented the bikes from. I did so and let him speak to the corrupt cop.
Having very basic level of Swahili their phone conversation was lost on me. However they turned out to be friends and the only extortion earned was to the value of US$5 of phone credit. We also had the obliging officer write us a note (in Swahili) saying we were robbed so that we couldn't produce any licenses to the next scammer wearing the uniform of Zanzibar's finest. Although, in truth we were as bad. We had no license, passports, money, shirts or shoes on us at the time in a conservative Islamic Island. We were in the wrong. If our recently earned friend had any brains he could have taken us to the cleaners. But as we left the tiny roadside checkpoint both sides were smiling !
It was never about the destination but always the journey