The memory of busted glass and nails protruding from a wooden board lying in the middle of the road reminded me I was no longer in the Midwest. The sign read, “Police Checkpoint.” Armed officers stood off to the right of the road’s one open lane. I waved. They smiled. We passed. That was three years ago – the first time I made the journey to Uganda. My most recent trip to the small African country yielded a less forgiving encounter with the authorities.
Typically, I would maintain a permanent position in the front seat – a quick trick to avoid any interaction with the Ugandan police. The simple sight of my light skin showed my status as a visitor, which led to assumptions that my African husband was my tour guide. Unfortunately, on that particular day, we veered from the norm as I sat in the back seat with my son, not visible from the road.
As we began to approach the police checkpoint, the officer strained to see if Patrick was driving alone. When he thought he was, he flagged us down. In Uganda, when the police want you to pull over, they simply wave. A series of nine speed humps up the road force drivers to listen.
“Oh great,” I thought to myself, knowing Patrick didn't get an International Drivers License. The officer approached the car and peered through the window. “Oh hello,” he said with enthusiasm as soon as he saw me. “Hi. How are you,” I responded. He turned his attention to Patrick. “Can I see your license and registration?” After Patrick said he’d forgotten it at home, the officer responded, “You could have gotten an international license.” Yes, he could have.
The officer asked Patrick to get out of the car and follow him to the roadside. “What can I do to resolve this,” Patrick questioned. “You’re a Ugandan, correct” the officer responded. “Yes,” he said. “Then you know what to do.” Understanding the corruption of the police force, Patrick began to reach for his wallet.
“No, not here,” the officer immediately said stopping him. “Go into the car and prepare. Come back when you’re ready.” Patrick leaned in and updated me on the situation. He grabbed 10,000 shillings, the equivalent of $4.14. When he walked back, the officer's hand was extended under his clipboard, as to shield the exchange from his fellow officers. “Thank you and have a great day,” he said while taking the money.
When we reached Patrick’s grandmother’s house in the village, I reiterated the story of what happened. They laughed. “You gave him how much,” one of them asked. “Wow, you could have gotten away with much less.”