Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Traffic Ticket - Burkina-Style

I had just dropped the Kusassi men and their baggage off at the bus station, and pulled out onto the main road to head back home when it happened. Eyes intent on the people and traffic all around me (the area around one of Ouaga’s main bus stations is an absolute zoo!), I wasn’t at all expecting the policeman who stepped out into the busy street almost directly in front of me and motioned for me to pull over. Must be a routine check, I thought. Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t. To my surprise and dismay, he told me that I’d just run a red light!

I have a lot of appreciation for the men and women of Ouaga’s police force. Not only do they make an effort to bring some order to the haphazard driving habits of many of the city’s inhabitants, thus making it safer for everyone, but they also do it while standing out on hot pavement in the blazing sun for hours at a time. I’ve often wished that I had some cold drinks along with me that I could give them.

After checking my vehicle papers, which were all in order, he wrote out a quick ticket (they’re nothing like the complicated forms we have in Canada!), and told me that I needed to pay the 12,000 franc fine (about $20) at a nearby police station. In the meantime, he’d keep my vehicle registration card and I could pick it up at the police station next week. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that much money on me, so I told him that I’d have to go home first to get it. I also told him that I couldn’t drive the truck without the registration card. If I was stopped again, I’d be fined again for not having that vital piece of paper!

He told me that all I had to do was show my ticket. That would be ample proof to any other policeman of why I was driving without my vehicle registration. But what about after I pay my ticket, I asked? I can’t drive around for an entire long weekend (Easter) without proper papers! He thought about that for a while. Then he told me to drop by after I’d gone home to get the money and before going on to the police station. He’d explain to me how to get my registration card back quickly.

Half an hour later, I was back. It was the policeman’s turn to look surprised. “You’re back!” he exclaimed with a big smile. “I don’t believe it!” He turned to one of his comrades standing and watching traffic nearby. “Hey, look who’s back!” he called out. The other policeman came walking over to shake my hand. “This is a real straight guy,” said my policeman. “Nobody ever comes back like this! Where are you from?” We ended up talking for several minutes, exchanging information about where we were from and what we did for a living.

Then, taking me by the arm, he led me towards my truck, saying that we could easily get this ticket business straightened out. Motioning me to get in, he went around to the passenger side, opened the door, placed my vehicle registration card on the passenger seat, and took the ticket that was there. I looked at him with puzzlement. “So what should I do now?” I asked. “Just go,” he replied. “Well, what about my ticket?” I queried. “It no longer exists,” he said. “You don’t need to do that,” I continued. “I ran a red light and I’ll go and pay the ticket.” “It’s okay,” he said. “We know you’re a stranger here and we can make allowances so that you won’t think Burkinab√® aren’t a friendly and welcoming people.” I laughed. “There’s no danger of that,” I said. “Burkinab√® have the reputation of being the friendliest people in all of West Africa!”

All of a sudden, an idea popped into my head. “Hey, how many of you are there here watching traffic?” He told me there were six of them. “I’ll be right back,” I said, driving off. Just a bit down the road, I’d seen a gas station. Pulling up there, I went in and bought six cans of ice cold Coke... You should have seen the smiles on their faces!


Laura Dun said...

Nice one! Reminds me of a time I was coming back from the Schifra medical centre and ran a red light - the sun was really awkward, it was very hard to tell if the light was red or green and nothing was coming. Got stopped by a policeman who in the sweetest possible way informed his "grande soeur" that she'd run a red light. I was duly apologetic, but when he told me where to go to deal with the paperwork, I genuinely didn't have a clue where it was and he let me go! :-)

Mike Steinborn said...

That's the beauty of living in a country where the law is seen as serving the people rather than vice versa as it is often regarded in our home countries. Mind you, this has some drawbacks as you well know, but it's wonderful that law enforcement officers here see the law as flexible, especially in cases like ours where it was not our intention to break it.