Tuesday, February 16, 2010
A Ticket and Jail Time
I have been driving for eleven years. I have never gotten a ticket . . . until now.
I have a healthy respect for the law. I have never been in an African jail . . . until now.
There were three of us girls headed down the road in a 4x4 truck. Our plan was to experience the famous Lake Tritriva in a nearby volcano. The obstacle: road checks. You see, while traversing through Madagascar there are routine police stops. You generally get waved over, get your papers checked, smile, and go on your way. This time, however, was an exception . . .
“Salama tompoko!” I said with a wide grin as I rolled down my window for the policeman at a usual police stop. A look of surprise and delight came over his face as I continued with some typical Malagasy greetings. “Taratasy, azafady,” he motioned, and Heather reached into our glove compartment for the official papers. Handing them to him one at a time, he lackadaisically perused through. Registration – check. Insurance – check. Title – check. Control technique . . . oh dear, that expired two weeks ago? My apologies, officer! “License, azafady,” came the dejected reply. I handed over my international driver’s license and kept chatting gaily away in Malaglish, hoping he wouldn’t ask for my American license or passport and would send us on our merry way. Malaglish is what Heather has named my form of speaking Malagasy supplemented with English words when I don’t know the right Malagasy one! :) Well, apparently the control technique is a big deal, because although swayed by my charm, he had to take my license and papers and write me a ticket.
“Mety, mety,” I said, smiling and resigned. Okay. At first he told us that we could not drive anywhere until the control technique was updated, but relented when we told him of our ardent desire to see Antsirabe’s renowned lake. “Mirary soa,” have a nice day, I called out while driving away toward the mountains.
The obstacle was overcome, we saw the beautiful volcano lake (pics will be up on Facebook as soon as I can get to any reliable internet source), and we had a simply delightful time.
My tale now brings me to the part where I go to jail. Knowing we were required to pay the ticket to ransom the papers from the police station, Heather and I went on a search for the control technique place, since one would think you would need to prove to the police that you got the problem fixed. Dodging potholes and children we made our way down the hill to the place where you renew your control technique. Upon arriving, we were ushered into the manager’s office. He quickly motioned for us to make ourselves comfortable in the hard back chairs. Again with the Malaglish we made our intentions known to him and heard some not-so-startling news: we needed to go to the police station and get our papers before they could do any updates. “Misotra betsaka,” thank you very much we said as we walked back to our truck, chuckling at life in Africa.
Not knowing how to get to the police station from this part of town, I rolled the car to a stop on the side of the road while Heather leaned out the window and asked, “Azafady, aiza no police station?” Beaming, the man gestured that the police were close! Just down the way we see a policeman at the local jail. Again I pull over and Heather and I hop out and jaunt across the thoroughfare. The lone officer was inside the gate at the prison, so ignoring the looks of “you girls are crazy (adaladala izy),” we walked briskly through the gate over to him and showed him our ticket. Discerning that we did not know much Malagasy or French, the man leaned down and wrote in the sand, er, on a piece of paper. Using broad strokes, he drew a map of where the correct police station to solve this problem was, and handed it to us with flair. We thanked him, turned, and laughed heartily once we were in our truck.
After circling around town on this scavenger hunt of ours, we arrived at the blue and white police station only to find out that the place we sought was a block away. No worries, it’s a beautiful, sunny day, we replied and headed over to yet another building.
Curious stares and amiable greetings awaited us at every turn. Stepping into the building, we nearly made it to the registration counter when a man eagerly stopped us wanting to practice his three English phrases: how are you, hold me close, and kiss me. Not really wanting to know why these were the only expressions he knew in our mother tongue, Heather and I inched closer and closer to an older policeman at registration . . . an interesting chap who was moderately inebriated, but able to tell us that we needed to go to window 18 . . . outside. Rapping on the window pane facilitated nothing, for there was no one in No. 18. Peering in, I spied only linoleum and a single wooden chair. Noting that we needed Mister 18, we were informed that he had been telephoned in and we were to wait right here. An hour passed. We had many opportunities to tell people why we were here, and prayed with a woman about her mentally ill daughter. Another hour passed. A policeman persistently told Heather she had a beautiful face and, before speeding away on his moped, called out to invite her to ride off into the sunset with him. Amazingly, she declined.
No. 18 showed up. Opened the window and told us the damage report: 33,000 ariary (about $16 US). After trying unsuccessfully to haggle the price down, I paid and he sprinted out of the building, across the street, and up a flight of stairs. Heather and I looked at each other quizzically and shrugged. After a minute he came back down the stairs, passed us two on his way back into the station, and from the other side of window 18 had me sign a French document, which I believe gave him the rights to name my firstborn child. Handing me my change, he said “Vita!” Finished! We bid all of our new police friends a fond farewell and proceeded home (via the control technique place which was, of course, closed). *big grin*