29 December 2010

No Seatbelt

They say you haven't really been initiated into the Congo until you've been pulled over by the traffic police here. It took me 3 and a half months but I am finally apart of the club!

The traffic police here in Lubumbashi can be very humorous and very annoying at the same time. It is not what you think if you come from the US. There are no police cars that pull you over with lights and sirens. No. The traffic police here stand in groups of 2-4 on the side of the road in their bright yellow uniforms and whistles (no guns, just whistles). They often will walk into the road and block the path of oncoming cars so they can do an inspection of documents and vehicle safety. It seems like we get pulled over by about once a week in our work van. Luckily I am never driving so I don't have to deal with these individuals. That was up until a couple weeks ago.

I have helping every once in awhile on a project my roommate is working on. They are working on taking homeless/abandoned kids off the street and giving them shelter and education. They are some building projects that are going for the project and this day I was driving a out to the project to do some painting. As we're driving out there a team of traffic police step in the road to pull us over. I recognize the main police guy because he has pulled our work van over several times. After giving me a good stare down for about 15 seconds he asks for my drivers license. That is good so he has nothing on me there. Then he asks for all the paperwork for the car. That is all in order so he has got nothing on me there. He then asks for something which I couldn't understand because it was I word I didn't know in french. He then proceeds to try and pull over another car so he can show me what it is. I finally figure out he is looking for our fire extinguisher (which is required in every vehicle). We have that so no infraction there. He then finds that one of the side mirror is cracked and that I am not wearing a seat belt because it is broken. Well now he has got something on me. $50 infraction and trip to the police station he says. Going to the police station is never a good thing so I try talking more with him. He doesn't seem very satisfied with my french and then begins talking with my boss' daughter, who speaks a little Lingala (language spoken mostly in another part of DRC) and he can communicate better with her. We finally get bailed out by a friend who comes to our rescue and is able to work out the problem by paying an $11 fine. That was a waste of an hour and again the officer says something insulting, which I didn't quite understand as I leave. I'm doing a great job of insulting all the authorities here. Haha.

These are some of the people here that it is hard to love sometimes. These men that are born into a system of greed and corruption who stop me because I look like an easy target to get money out of. I don't really know anything about these guys, whether they are just doing what they have to help their family survive or what. And even though it is hard to do the work I came here to do with distractions and headaches like these, these situations remind me of the reality of the country and there is need here and plenty of opportunities to show people love.

Beep Beep Beep

I've had some unfortunate experiences with the authorities and traffic laws lately. Here is my first story.

I had just come back from a flight with work and headed straight to a Christmas party. It was a good time and then some of decide to head back to my house to watch the big soccer game. I first had to drop off some friends who teach at the Belgium school here. After dropping them off I head home. The president of DRC has a house here in Lubumbashi, but he is currently living in the capital of Kinshasa. The street that passes his house in guarded on both sides by the military. My way home is via this street, which is not unusual because it is a main street in town. As I approach the last barricade two soldiers walk in the road and stop my car. Oh great. I ask one of them what the problem is and he won't give me an answer but tells me to pull over to the side of the road. While I'm talking to him another soldier jumps in the passenger seat. Oh great. Now I'm in for a battle. These are soldiers by the way, not traffic police. They have guns, big guns. After pulling over we start talking. By this time 3 of these guys are at my window. None of them speak english so it is all up to my french. They tell me that on this road passing the president's house (who is not currently there) I need to honk my horn 3 times out of respect...ugh. I knew right then that this would not go well because he just made up that rule and now he is going to ask for money. I begin to protest and then realize I shouldn't be too insulting, especially since it is an infraction agains the president and because these guys all have big guns and one is sitting next to me and because it is dark, I am alone, and there are not too many other cars out. He tells me it is a $50 fine, which I at first refuse to pay at all. After awhile of arguing they threaten to search me so I decide to give them some money and get out of here. I end up paying them about $10 total. They then insult me for not knowing a lot of french and let me go. As I drive away I give them the thumbs up and honk three times. Beep beep beep.

03 December 2010

Josue Manda

A friend of mine died this week in a swimming accident. His name was Josue Manda. He was just a year younger than me. I had only known him for a mere 3 months. He was a fun individual and I enjoyed the conversations and times we had together. He welcomed me as a friend the second day I had been in the Congo. He loved life and always had a smile to give. I respected the willingness he had to serve others. His life has blessed me.