Myspace Mood: Confused
We live in the capital city of Guinea Bissau, which is Bissau. At last count, I think there are 400,000 people living in the city. It is interesting though, because it doesn't feel like a city we would expect. There is a downtown that has a few multi-story buildings and lots of stores, and also several other markets spread out through town. The 400,000 though is mainly made up of what I think of as "African Suburbs". The town feels much more like a bunch of seperate little villages all shoved right beside each other surrounding the downtown than one unit. Our street zig-zags from the main road, and kind of forms our own little village in Zone 7 of the city. I feel like I belong much more to my neighborhood than the city as a whole.
We had an interesting experience at the end of last week downtown. Our teammate drove us downtown to a few different stores to stock our kitchen. At one of the stops she stopped the truck by the curb and immediately a police woman came over and angrily demanded her documents. Our teammate pulled them out of the glove compartment and handed them to her at which point the police woman stormed across the street. A friend of our teammate's was walking by and told her to pull forward into the next "parking spot" which had just been vacated. The story should be prefaced by saying that there are no parking signs, markings, or even generally accepted rules for parking downtown. I've seen cars parked two rows deep at the curb.
Anyway, the woman came back and yelled at our teammate for a few minutes before telling her that if she wanted her documents back she'd have to come across the street to discuss it. Our teammate sent us into the grocery store and went over. The police woman had a partner there and they proceded to take turns arguing with and yelling at our teammate for the next 30 minutes. They asked here where she took driving school, how anyone could be dumb enough to park that close to the corner, etc. In the middle of the arguing our teammate's friend from earlier came over and told her she should give the lady a few thousand cfa ($5 or so) to take care of things. So during the next round of arguing our teammate told the police woman "A friend of mine tells me I should give you some money to clear this up, but that's not right!" The woman was totally indignant and yelled for the next several minutes about hwo she would never do something like that. She told our teammate that the ticket was going to cost about $70 (obviously not possible, it would be equivalent to a $1500 parking ticket in terms of the U.S. economy.) When police take your documents they have to give you a temporary license form in case you get stopped before you pay your ticket and get your license back.
So, at this point Em and I come back from the store and try not to stand close enough to aggrivate the police woman anymore. The problem is, the police woman is obviously asking for a bribe by saying the ticket is so much and our teammate should pay her right there. On the other side, if she doesn't pay and goes through the proper procedure of going to the station to pay the ticket and get her license back, odds are good that her license is not going to have been turned in by the officer because that would expose her as trying to get a bribe from our teammate. So, we pay an unfair bribe or our teammate never gets her license back - nice, huh? Our teammate's solution was to demand that the police woman get in our truck right then and there to go to the station and pay the ticket together. After some deliberating with her partner the police woman was understandably unwilling to go to the station so her "compromise" was that she would give our teammate back her documents, but if she did that she would need to be compensated for the "temporary license" form she had already written out. She tried to tell our teammate that each police officer was personally responsible for photocopying blank forms and that our teammate would need to pay $4 (still a decent amount of money here) to pay for photocopying the half sheet piece of paper! The woman had yelled for five minutes about how she would never accept a bribe 15 minutes before and now asked for two different ones in the space of 10 minutes!! Finally our teammate just refused to leave without her documents or a trip to the station with the officer, and the officer eventually gave up on getting anything out of us, gave back our teammate's license, and let us go.
Thus began our downtown experience! Exciting!
Thing I like about the States #1: Honest (or at least well managed) police force!