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Fun with Police

November 17, 2012

Today we had the classic, unpleasant run-in with the roulage, the Congolese traffic cops.  We were on our way downtown to pick up an adoptive couple to spend the day with them and get them out of their hotel.  We were rarely go out as a family, we rarely go out on a Saturday, and we’ve never had a horrible experience with the cops without someone who speaks fluent French.

Thus, today was our turn.  We were stopped at a traffic light (yes, there are a few downtown) and noticed a group of roulage harassing the cars ahead of us stopped at the light.  One of them came our direction and we smiled waved and handed him a tip, offering a friendly greeting about how hot it was through an open window.  In order to avoid the rest of the group (standing in the middle of the road with green light), though, Matthew had a gap to move right (they had already eyed us) and began to move, when suddenly a car from two lanes over decide to move left in front of us and caused us to stop hard.  The group of three of them came running over, with one planting himself in front of our vehicle, which was now diagonal between two lanes.  The one on the driver’s side immediately became aggressive, and wouldn’t tell us why we were stopped.

The culture here is that the cops are underpaid, and while many are friendly and just getting through their workday, some use their given power to get money out of people.  This guy wouldn’t even let Matthew move off the road!  His companion, who had planted himself on the passenger’s side, noticed me in the back with the two hot little ones and tried to talk his friend out of the exchange, but the first guy was out to get us.

When Matthew kept on asking him why we were stopped or why we couldn’t move out of the way, he wouldn’t answer and just demanded our documents.  With those in hand, he could demand money from us to give them back. It is never recommended to give them your documents.  It is also recommended to keep your doors locked, which ours were.

However, with a move so smooth it makes butter look chunky, He reached down through the cracked window and unlocked and opened the door.  It actually seemed like he wanted to sit on Matthew’s lap, but really he just wanted more control.

A few minutes in to this adventure, a taxi van full of people pulled up and several of them began to scold the cop for blocking traffic.  However, they noticed me and the kids in the backseat and then began hounding him to let us go for the sake of the children!  At that point, this guy realized the taxi was blocking traffic and he turned around to get it moving again. Matthew took advantage of his distraction and shoved his arm out of the truck. The guy’s hand was clinging on for dear life, but Matthew felt his choice was either close the door regardless of his hand, or risk his continued advances by leaving the door open.  He gave his hand one last shove and slammed the door, locking it and putting his arm over the lock.

More yelling by this guy and more calm questions by Matthew (he stayed so calm, ya’ll have no idea) and we were finally given the green light to at least move out of the way of traffic.  We slowly eased to the side of the road to continue the discussion.

The cop wanted our documents before he would tell us our violation, Matthew saw it the other way around.  Matthew had rolled up his window, minus an inch, while pulling over and showed him the proper paperwork through the closed window, but he wouldn’t even look at it.

The moment we realized it was serious was when they pulled out this little tool. It looked like an oversized hairpin. Matthew said to me, “they’re going to open our valve stem!” To have a flat tire would be truly a horrific situation, so Matthew asked what they really wanted.

Out of nowhere, our friend showed up – the first cop we had tipped and said hello to.  He knew he couldn’t leave his buddies in the dust, but he was going to save our day.  He asked for $100.  I chimed in with a smile and said, “Papa, nous sommes missionarres!  No argent!”. (Sir, we are missionaries! No money!) He smiled at us, I might even remember a wink, and I pulled out a $5.  Matthew took it and gave it to them.  Of course they asked for more.  We told them we had nothing more, except 1000fc – about $1. They took it and let us go. 

A smile, a friendly hello, and a heavy heart for those who are an injustice to others, they can go a long way.  Are we mad?  No!  The one guy was unpleasant and a little scary, but most of the roulage we see are very friendly.  Are we scared?  No!  But we did take a different road home…not scared, but also not stupid. 

See?  Done with that experience and home to tell about it.

Other exciting news?  The adoptive couple we went to see had brought us our shiny new MacBook Pro.  We made the plunge since we kept hitting walls trying to fix our old one, and found a great deal in the Apple refurbished store.  Our old MacBook Pro we bought used off eBay before Levi was born.  It’s time for a newer model!  See?  The day seems better already!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 17, 2012 0829

    how scary for you all! Kudos to Matthew! Are the kiddos ok or still scared?

    • November 17, 2012 0829

      I suppose I didn’t mention the kids much because they were so chill about it all! Amelia got so hot the sweat dropped into her eyes (the vehicle did not have a/c) and that made her a little pouty, but otherwise they just watched and looked hot. They are very comfortable around Congolese and the language, so I doubt they noticed anything was wrong! Ha! Good question, though.

  2. Debby Spann permalink
    November 17, 2012 0829

    What is an “adoptive couple” and how did they get the MacBook Pro to bring to you? Were you driving the Frey’s vehicle?

  3. November 18, 2012 0829

    The Congo version of “good cop/bad cop.” Sorry you had to endure it in the heat but glad it was all good in the end. They must have more pity for small kids than they do for sick women. They stopped us once when I was dealing with a migraine and David told them I was sick but they wouldn’t let us go til we paid $20. Oh the stories you’ll have to tell your future grandchildren!

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