We drive economical Chinese motorcycles for our work. I don’t want to glorify this in your mind; this image of us flying around the bush on a 125 cc Chinese motorcycle. How cool, how quaint, how adventurous.
No, it is dirty, and hard on the body. The five-inch deep powdery pits, with the consistency of baby powder, are dangerous to drive through because we lose all steering. Motorcycle drivers understand what I mean when I say, this is a butt cheek cinching experience. It is all one can do to keep the bike upright sometimes, having had too many close calls. Your body gets slammed around on the holes, protruding rocks, and washout crevasses from the rainy season. The adventure soon wears off when you drive hundreds of kilometers each week in the bush. It takes a toll. After the round tip to the bush and the subsequent day’s work, I return totally exhausted. It is humbling to be reminded of your limits. I used to think I was tough.
Today I was humbled several times in town as well. I almost had an accident on the moto in Sikasso today. A kid was driving a donkey cart towards me on my side of the road, half on the road, half on the shoulder. Not a problem until the donkey suddenly turned and started cutting across in front of me. I slammed on the back brakes, and was about to lock the front brakes for extra stopping power. I quickly realized I was not going to get stopped without slamming into them, so I let off the brakes, threw the bike over and made a swerve around him, just barely missing the protruding cart pole by the donkey’s head. That was too close.
This humbled me up for the day, reminding me to slow down even more when driving in town. I was not going fast, but even 40 km per/hr is too fast if something goes wrong. Don’t assume anyone is sticking to their path, especially a donkey.
That humbling experience occurred while I was crossing to the far side of town past Sanabougou 1, on the road to Bobo-Dioulasso. The road is closed; it is, surprisingly, being repaved. So I took the back road deviation they have set up. From the deviation road, I keep looking over to spot where my store was on the parallel main road. Once I spotted it, I cut down a path and the main road to my store.
The road is coming along well. I was surprised to see it all paved with the first coat, no barriers were erected, no machines to be seen anywhere. I was surprised to see people were going up and down the road, because the upper end, way down in the town is closed to traffic. I thought to myself that this end of the road must be open part way in to town now. Great!
After getting my needed supplies, I started down the paved road like everyone else. Big mistake. I only advanced a little way and I came across a police officer who was there to make money. He spotted my big white head, came running out on the road, and pulled me over, while everyone else in front of me just drove on by him.
He said, “I have to take your bike.”
“Why”, I asked,
“The road is closed, can’t you see?, He said very snottily.
“No, I cannot see it; there were no signs by the store, people were going, and there are no barriers.
I explained that I did use the deviation coming out, but everyone else is going down the road, so I thought a section must be open on this end. He informed me it was not open, and that he was taking my bike to the police station.
I said, “Fine, I will work it out with the Police Chief; I know him.”
“Oh you know the Chief of Police do you,” he said very snarly.
I did not say it as a power play, just to indicate I was not going to get worked up over this; take it, I’ll pay my ticket and get my bike back. I’m not going to sit here and argue with a police officer. In all cultures, the result will be the same. The issue is they won’t just write you a ticket- they can’t, because they don’t have any ticket books. So you have to endure this awkward power play. The exchange ends is one of three possibilities; You are let go after sufficient groveling for forgiveness, you let the officer pocket some of your handed over cash and drive away, or they seize your property so that the Police Station can issue the fine when you come looking to retrieve your property.
Anyway, as the motos whizzed by, I said, “I am sorry, please forgive me. I was mistaken. If you indicate where I should exit, I will immediately get off the road.”
“It’s too late, I have to take your bike” he said, not so nicely, again.
Like any policeman in the world, they don’t like it when you come across cocky. I wanted him to understand I was accepting whatever he said, with no argument. So I appealed to his authority, saying,
“You are the chief here, it is not my place to argue with you. I am not here to argue with people. I came here to help the population. Please forgive me, you have the power to forgive me, or not. If not, take the bike, I am not going to argue about it. I’ll work it out at the police station tomorrow.”
He forgave me, of course, but not kindly. Only because he realized I had no intention of giving him any money, and he had no intention of dealing with the bike, making sure it got to the police station safely, securely locked up, and the station personnel properly informed about the issue at the end of the day.
Why line his crooked pocket there on the road? It was highly annoying, and he intended it to be so. They count on you giving a little something now, so that you can avoid further pain the next day at the station. We should respect the police and law, but his kind make it difficult.
Anyway, this was a first for me in Mali. But I do not have any experience driving all over the country. But, I suspect you are treated very differently when driving a big important 4*4 vehicle with an NGO agency logo sign stamped on the door, versus circulating with a poor man’s cheap motorcycle. This sort of thing happened all the time in Ivory Coast. You could see the police guys start to smile and drool when they realized they might be able to get you on something. This guy was the same slimy thing.
The reason there are revolts and wars in Africa is the poor get tired of being oppressed (abused) by the power who do not give a hoot about their humanity.
Anyway, things go fine for us here as long as we keep our nose clean. But you can’t always, it’s life. But that is the first time in three years I had a police officer treat me like that in Mali.
Truthfully, it really bothered me, but not because I think I have a right for him to just let me go. Who appreciates the bullish nature of a person in a position of authority from an institution, sensing his power over you, and treating you like a stupid piece of crap?
Both encounters were a good wake-up call.
It reminded me to seek humility, too. Slow down, keep things squeaky clean, remember my place here, be kind, be gentle, be humble, don’t come across as important, but do not whitewash corruption, injustice, or behavior that diminishes the human dignity of a person.
Years ago, I was grumping about police bribes in Ivory Coast to my seasoned mentor, Lew Cass; complaining about how they abuse the people. Somewhere along the line I commented that I should not be so angry. He said to me,
“If you ever get to the place when you are not angry at abuse and corruption, go home, because you will be of no more use to these people. Corruption should always make you angry.” (Lew Cass)
I don’t appreciate it when people treat me like dirt. I need to assure that I am not causing others to feel this way too.
I had two encounters with two “Asses” today, and it reminded me to safeguard myself against being an Ass too.
I wanted to title my story, “Encountering Two Asses”, but there is a side of me that does not like to throw language like that around.
- In Mali, How Difficult Can It Be To Procure A Motorcycle Licence Plate, Vignette And Insurance? (theinvisiblehumanitarian.com)
- Sikasso Sunday Night Market Fallout. More Than A Walk In The Park (theinvisiblehumanitarian.com)
- It’s Sikasso But…..Ground Beef Should Actually Be “Ground” right? (theinvisiblehumanitarian.com)