But these are the enlightened ones for those who are yet to be enlightened see a continent of wasted resources, corruption, crime, wars and nothing. I did not frown at the vision of the world cup in Africa with the advertisement campaigns of Messi and crew getting lost in our “wilderness”. It did not baffle me and neither did it surprise me. This was the Africa that was better than the other. The only other option they had was to show a traffic policeman taking a bribe, or an AIDS infected region or better still they could have an advertisement featuring my favorite Togetherness Tshabalala, the demon taxi driver racing across and in between the cars of Johannesburg.
Africa is not such a bad place. We look at a situation that seems beyond belief but I see a little more than that when I look at the Mama Land. I see even more when I look at tiny Gambia with its countless potential and young self-belief. When I look at this part of the world, I see a third world, “developing” country with people earning less than fifty (50) dollars a month and having to take care of a possible three (3) wives and fifteen (15) children.
Today I am the traffic policeman who earns that fifty (50) dollars standing under the Gambian heat for an average six (6) hours as cars costing at least a hundred (100) times my salary criss-cross the tarred terrain I call my office. I do not hate them for the wealth they possess or the loud music they play in their air conditioned vehicles for I have been made to say an oath I never really believed in. No! I certainly do envy them and wish for a day I could relax in the shining armor of a car and relax as the driver takes me to wonders I have not yet seen.
As I day dream about the luxury of a life I might never enjoy and wonder if my children will ever be able to complete their schooling and buy me one of those shiny things that pass me by, he passes by me with an “unacknowledging gaze almost as if to look down on me and throw me a dribble of spit. He drives a shiny black sedan with one of those S signs at the back and wait! No number plate. What was I doing to miss that? I wonder to myself. He will surely cross this way again. So for the next three (3) hours I stare at the horizon praying to God he comes by me again. For the ensuing three (3) hours, I do not care to identify those with the broken windshields and the bad brake lights. I must wait for my “S” man with his gloatingly, stupid, egoistic nonsense.
Just when I am about to close my shift, I see him from a distance and my heart begins to thump and growl and the adrenaline rushes through my veins. Even from two hundred (200) meters away I am pointing my crooked finger at him and asking him to park at the side. I smack my lips at the thought of the awesome dinner I would make of his big fat head. I smile as I walk slowly towards him forgetting my traffic duties. This is the moment I have been waiting for for over three (3) hours and I just have to enjoy every single second of it.
I ask him to lower his window as I ask him for his documents. Lucky bast%^d! He has his insurance and driver’s license. I ask him for his brake lights as I patiently wait for the grand finale. Everything is set it seems. Then I pretend to let him go and as he starts to move forward I scream at him. “You Stupid man…did I tell you to go?” I can feel him trembling at the sound of my voice as he stammers “Bbbbuu…”. “But shut up!” I scream at him…”where is your car number plate?” he starts this long tale ending no time soon and says something that sounds like the rubbish music I heard from his car when he drove past me the first time. But I do not rush at him. I have him just where I want him to be. As the young man tried to explain about his father who was supposedly a United Nations employee working in New York, I could only marvel at the kinds of stories my job had exposed me too. Now this was only going to get interesting. As we reach the climax of our negotiation, I knew I had two options; I could either take him with me to the station where he would probably have his car impounded and end up paying a hefty fine for driving without a car number plate, or maybe, my boss could be “sympathetic” to his explanation and let him go with a warning or even better for him, he could be one of those young men with connections and would be let off without even getting to see my boss.
As I try to make up my mind, this stupid young man reaches for his phone and starts to scroll through his phone book. As I think of my hungry children at home, and my empty stomach, I say the first thing that comes to mind; “negne wahtaan rek (let’s just talk)”. Finally I notice a small smile on his face as we start to discuss the pros and cons of being a traffic policeman and how much he pities the amount of trouble my job puts me through every day.
As he finally drives off, I have a smile on my face as my conscience hits at me over and over again. My pocket is two hundred (200) dalasis heavier but my soul has lost a bit of its fire. The words of my oath seem to pull at me as the “S” on his car disappears into the horizon. This was not really a bribe. This was just a conversation between friends that led to a peaceful arrangement. I mean, what harm could a non-existent number plate do? So I go home to my twelve children and two hundred extra dalasis for myself looking forward to another day when I could give the state its due.
That was three (3) years ago and I have made even more “friends” on the traffic. All of a sudden, these same people who always want to make “friends” with me on the traffic are pointing fingers at me and calling me corrupt. Meanwhile, I am making new friends every day and going home with a little less than my monthly salary. I say we both leave the scene unaltered and untouched and that is what I call a fair business arrangement where no party loses.
That is my life as the traffic policeman. It was a job I entered to protect and safeguard the security of my people and I believe I have done just that, whilst still going home a few hundred dalasis richer.
Tomorrow I will be someone else in this African story…but until then…I hope you get the message….Much love people!