A machine gun hung from his neck, resting just above his belly like an incredibly dangerous bib, the kind you’d never want your kid to wear. He stumbled over to our truck and began to greet me. His breath wreaked of alcohol.
After greeting me, the police officer wanted to greet everyone else in the car. His head filled the window as he clumsily forced his hand into my sister’s. He greeted Christie and the two girls, and then told me he wanted money.
I asked if I’d done something illegal, and if I was receiving a ticket. His response was that he just wanted a bit of money for a meal — not a lot, just 3000 shillings (a couple of bucks).
Being asked for money is nothing new to me. I’m approached by several people a day here who are begging. Neither am I surprised when police officers ask me for bribes or lunch money. No, none of that was different than any other day.
This officer, however — with machine gun in tow — was clearly drunk. And this was a first for me.
Now… I’ve made it a point to give to everyone who asks. Except when my giving would be at the prompting of an individual abusing his authority. In those instances I either play ignorant or attempt to respond with humor. I let it be clear that I don’t intend to pay a bribe, but I do so without saying, “No.”
But this time I was afraid. This guy was drunk and seemed a little crazy. And it was only 3000 shillings he was asking for. Am I risking my family’s safety by telling this guy no?
I wish I could tell you that my initial response to all of this was to pray. It wasn’t. Instead I tried to determine the best way for me to use my own knowledge and ability to get my family out of this situation. I began a response of ignorance. It quickly became clear the officer wasn’t in the mood for talking, but just wanted to be handed some cash.
But I didn’t want to give this guy a bribe. That would only encourage this behavior.
So I was carefully wording my refusal — all the while seriously contemplating driving away as fast as my truck could go — when Drunky McChinegunason interrupted me. Anger was evident in his face. He looked at me with crazy eyes and voiced a very firm “James!” [He was holding my license and had not yet lost his ability to read.]
I really thought he was going to reach for his gun. I think this was the only time in my life I’ve ever been afraid for my family. At this exact moment, though, a second police officer (whom I’d not noticed) strolled up. He interrupted our conversation in order to greet me, and then stood next to his inebriated partner in law enforcement. Officer number two was not carrying a gun.
The crazed look disappeared from Officer Bribery’s face, and he kindly told us to have a safe trip to Geita.
I don’t know exactly what happened, but it is my belief that the second officer knew what was going on and came over in order to help my family out of our difficult situation. And I can’t help but think that someone else might have been involved in his decision to do so.
Our family is safe and sound in Geita — and so happy to be home. Harper is growing like a weed, and Baylor’s a great big sister. Tomorrow my sister and I are having a joint birthday party; there will be red velvet cake (for Brett), chess pie (for Brittney), and live Avett Brothers music (played by our musically talented teammates and friends). And no one will carry a gun.