Sunday, November 05, 2006


"So, um, I can pay that"

Why Yes! You Can Pay That ‘Fine’ Now...”

So there we are...

flying along on some paved road, about 50 klicks from the now-closed Zimbabwe frontier, with these incredible straight-up-out-of-the-ground-to-1000+-meters-high-in-the-sky mountains looming on the horizon. We’re heading back from a lovely lunch of goat meat and Amstels at some fat Brits’ farm/restaurant.

We’re heading back to town when two of Chimoio’s Finest flag us over for... speeding. Which we certainly were in the spunky little 2001 Ford Ranger. It’s double-cabbed and roll-barred with a Detroit Six Pack under the hood, 4x4’d with five forward and three reverse, six cup holders, but only a single disk CD player. Apparently these Rangers are the vehicle of choice for most of the NGOs operating here. Except, of course, the tall and tony Land Rovers, with snorkels and power whip antennas driven by the Blue Hats. I can’t bad mouth the UN folks here though, they put Radio Communtaria Gesom, the local community radio station, my client, on the air, with a promise of ten more stations nationwide. Go Big Blue!

My traveling companion, also tall and tony, is from DC and goes by the name “Charity.” This is her first ACDI assignment, but she has traveled extensively and describes herself as “fearless.” She speaks fluent Spanish, and therefore passable Portuguese.

The policeman, in a tattered white uniform shirt and frayed hat, informs me that I was speeding and would have to be “fined.” This did not need translating. He motions me to the other side of the road where his partner’s car was parked on the shoulder. He points to his radar gun, which looks more like an orange juice can spray painted black with a piece of wire shoved in the back. But sure enough, the little red LED is blinking “64.” It was a 30 zone. That would KPH, on the left side of the road, of course.

He wants to see my drivers license. “I don’t have it,” I cheerily respond “No?! Well, let me see your passport!” “I don’t have that either,” I tell him with a smile. “But, but, uh, well, where are they...?!” he sputters. “There at my hotel.” This apparently befuddles them both. After much back and forth, we’re informed that the “fine” will be “un mill Meticais.” Charity, apparently a stickler for details, begins to argue with the poor public servant, “Do you mean one THOUSAND Meticais or one MILLION?” The difference would be a $4 dollar, uh, fine, or a $40 one. I discretely pull out the ol’ money clip and start flipping through currencies. Rubles, nyet, Ukrainian Greivnas, no way! Let’s see, Moz Mets...a million?

Now, I have been on the ground here the Land of mOZ for a week, and had not yet been able to spend $50, despite considerable effort! My single Big Ben has changed into a fan of two point five million Meticais. (Which were, BTW, the most tattered currency I had ever seen. Worse than the Nicaraguan Hat Dollars of the Sandinista era, if you can imagine...)

Why, I would be GLAD to pay a $40 speeding ticket! Definitely cheaper than Houston! Friendlier cops too! Charity asks for a receipt. This seems to spook them, and I further compound it by offering him two crisp twenties, folded and cup-handed below the waist; the way I was always told to pay a, um, fine. His eyes widen and he breaks a sweat. His partner has already bailed and is looking down that long African road for the next speeder, when he sees another police vehicle approaching, fast. Unlike the rusting tin bucket with no back seat that these two officers were assigned, this police vehicle is another shiny Ford 4x4 Ranger (with the spiffy Sports Package, no less.) The policeman looks nervously as the police vehicle looms towards us, turns to me and says, “Go! You now go!”

And go now we do...with my two twenties still folded neatly in my sweaty palm.

just past the speed trap, maybe 40 klicks southwest of the Zim/Moz frontier
(now closed except for cattle rustlers...)

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