During my stay, Todd, one of Tom and Lauralee’s sons, came to visit for a couple months. It was great to have him around, we played a lot of ping pong and hung out with some of the other expats in the country together. I did not see Nate and Scott much on a regular basis, so it was nice to have Todd there to hang out with and talk to.
One late night, after leaving a friends house, we were driving home. Todd was a experienced “missionary kid.” Though now over 30, he had grown up in Africa, mostly in Swaziland and Kenya. His experience in foreign relations was vastly greater than mine; I had only youthful ignorance. Todd was also about 6’2″ 230 pounds.
At nights in Tana, groups of soldiers/gendarme would gather at street corners, in order to check people’s and car’s papers… and also to drink beer. Three Horses Beer was the beer of choice for most Malagasy. I am not sure the level of authority of these soldiers, but they carry AK-47s, and some level of authority comes with that.
As we approached a street corner that night, a group of soldiers were there, waving us to the side of the road with their flashlight. At the moment, I had the option, to just blow through and see what happened, or to pull over. Without much thought I pulled over. As we were coming to a stop Todd said to me, “I don’t have my passport with me.” When you’re doing everything right, it’s easy to talk your way out of a situation. When you’ve actually made a mistake, getting through it is much more difficult.
The chief of the soldiers walked up to my open window and asked for our papers. I gave him my identity card that I carried everywhere and substituted for my passport, and the truck registration. I also told him that Todd did not have his passport.
The chief’s eyes lit up with the possibilities of profit that the situation opened for him. “Well,” he said (I can’t remember if in French or English), “We will have to take your friend with us. However, you could give me a cadeau and go on your way.”
With bribery there is a great deal of moral and ethical dilemmas, and debate as to appropriate situations, or defintions. I had previously decided that I would not give bribes. Perhaps this was a great moral victory, or perhaps it was just youthful exuberance, but nonetheless, on this night, I carried out my decision.
“No, I’m not going to give you a gift”
“Then I will have to take your friend”
“No, you don’t need to take my friend”
“He does not have his papers, I must take him in”
Thinking that Todd could handle himself, “Ok, you can take him”
“No, no, no, just a small gift and you can go on your way.”
The group of AK-47 carrying soldiers surrounding the vehicle looked anxious. This conversation went on for probably 15 minutes, him asking for a gift, me refusing, him telling me he was going to take my friend. Eventually the point came when someone’s bluff would be called.
“We will have to take your friend”
“Ok, Todd, jump out, don’t go anywhere and I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Todd opened the door, and started to step out. Seeing that his bluff had been called (and probably not wanting to show up back at HQ, drunk, and with a huge American) the chief quickly handed me back my papers, “No, no, no, just go.” Todd closed his door and we quickly sped off.