It was Friday after all, the first part of the itinerary had been the same since I’d arrived back on these East African shores. Exactly almost a century after my granddad had landed only a few hundred miles up the coast on a dhow boat in search of a better life. What a difference a 100 years made. Business class, three-course meals and 14 hours of TV later. Whatever Apu ‘thank you come again’ jokes you have about Indians, we are some resourceful motherfuckers man. You just need to take a glance at the rich lists from this part of the world to see.
Aptly I was just heading into Kisutu aka little India to grab a mouthful of a vegetarian buffet. Nothing could replace mum’s food, but this was as close as it got. Apart from the Hindu temple and the Hindi signs adorning the shops guarded by brown shopkeepers it was the sight and sound of a young man redistributing his red tobacco-stained phlegm into the street that most indicated we were arriving into our chosen destination. I said resourceful, not hygienic.
Although the sign said vegetarian on the front, you would be forgiven for thinking I’d also eaten the other humans sat beside me based on the waddle I was sporting. Aside from the physical exertions being placed on my trouser buttons, my mind was also AWOL. Hardly a new sensation, it had been sporadically taking sabbaticals on ad hoc basis’ for the last three decades. On this occasion it could be forgiven, autopilot had been long activated. Lunch, meet a client, drink, get back to the office, drink, write my weekly report, drink, play Bingo. drink, go to Triniti bar, drink, find after-party, drink. You get the drift.
After a few failed attempts at using these shitty wax things masquerading as matches, one decided to work without snapping. Hoo-fucking-ray. Walking downstream to the designated meeting spot, the refuel of nicotine, carbon monoxide, and tar was most welcome. A few long glorious puffs of the Camel Light was all I could manage before two shady looking motherfuckers jumped out from some rubble behind a derelict building site they had been casually lurking behind. Fucking scared the life out of me. I let out a little scream almost losing the contents of my smaller intestines a little earlier than planned on a Friday night. After quick dust down, they hastily introduced themselves as immigration producing some stained toilet paper that also doubled up as his handwritten I.D. Here we fucking go.
‘Have you got your passport and work permit?’ The male part of the duo asked with authority.
‘I’m really sorry sir, they are in the office, I just came out for lunch. You can come to the office if you like’ I tentatively replied trying to remain calm.
‘No we are not going anywhere, not having your legal papers is a highly punishable offence, you are coming with us’. He snorted with hostility.
For fuck sake.
I’d lived in this part of the world for long enough to know they just wanted money. Bribe. Chai, as they call it in Tanzania, unfortunately, there was no way in fucking hell I was going to hand over my hard-earned(for argument’s sake if any of my work colleagues are reading) money. Not today fuckers, not on this motherfucking Friday. Unbeknown to them, I’d been waiting for my driver, as he slowly pulled in to the parking bay nearby, sensing this was my only opportunity, I pointed at an imaginary event behind the ‘officers’. It fucking worked. .
As they turned, I did my best Usain Bolt x Circus impression. Running then launching myself through the open car window. With the bottom half of my torso hanging out of the slowly moving car and the top half in the passenger’s foot-well, I tried to yell at a very startled Lloyd to drive. No time to ask fucking questions or stare at me blankly. Please just put your foot on the accelerator. No, no, no. Whatever you do don’t come to a standstill. Fucking drive, please just drive. Too late Lloyd, too late. I loved Lloyd but he was probably the worst getaway driver of all time. Now they had time to mobilise in front of the car stopping me from making my great escape.
‘Fuuuuuuck’ I shrieked in frustration.
‘You have now also sworn at an immigration officer, we are now going to take you to the cell’ He said as I grappled with my seat.
Fucking brilliant. They had smelt blood, and the fucking vultures had pounced before I could haul myself upright, they were both in the car with us and directing Lloyd where to go. Wonderful. Things had taken a turn for the worse. As an adult, I was relatively new to Africa, nobody had yet told me the golden rules when dealing with government officials to minimise the financial damage. Number 1, to stay patient and number 2, not to let them into your car. Too bloody late for that.
What I did know was it was never too late to offer a bribe, there is just a particular way of approaching it which will minimize the fucker’s chances of then accusing you of trying to bribe him so he can demand an even bigger bribe. If that makes any sense. The saying roughly translates as ‘is there an on the spot fine for this?’. However, no one had sent me rule number 3 either.
‘How much money does he want?’ I said in petulance to Lloyd.
Bloody fucking tremendous, now to add to my predicament, a charge of bribery to add to the already abusing and evading a government official and not carrying my official documents. Still consoling myself with the fact that I owned a beautiful maroon British passport. Thank you colonialism, and had a valid visa. Although at the office it was at least legitimate(not always been the case). It was like this bastard read my fucking mind.
‘Even if your papers are correct you will still spend the weekend in jail until you can have a court date on Monday’ he said.
I hoped(prayed) that was just a threat to get me to pay more, so kind of went with the flow it but as we drove up to the big gates of immigration centre my bravado had quickly begun to evaporate. The fear of a dark dingy cell filled with 30 men all with penis’ bigger than my arm was getting all too real. I immediately concluded they probably wouldn’t even wait for me to drop the soap. Fuck. I’m British don’t you know. But they didn’t give a shit. Didn’t even use the front fucking door. Was I going to the torture chamber? Please help. Call the SAS.
I was hauled into what can only be described as a glorified cupboard with just enough room for the five chairs for the committee that decided my existence. As they conversed in Swahili periodically shaking their heads and pointing in unison dread was filling the skull that contained my equally least well-endowed asset. What a fucking idiot I am? Did they just have the trial without me? What is going on? Have I been sentenced to 10 years of hard labour? What the fuck have I just done?!
After some extra deliberation and additional vigorous finger-wagging, they left me to dwell on the life choices that had bought me to this point. To be honest I just wanted to be back in the comfort the embryo. Freddie Mercury’s voice belting out sometimes wish id never been born at all seemed to be stuck on a loop. Not such a big man now, are you?! Having been allowed to make one call under supervision, it was to my immense relief, three self-loathing hours later, Stephen, a work colleague was escorted into my cell.
He whispered ‘you are in big trouble but don’t worry’.
What the fuck do you mean “don’t worry”? I’m too pretty for a lifetime in an African jail. It wasn’t meant to be like this. After a few minutes of timidly explaining what had happened ignoring some key details. The ring leader of the interrogation committee walks in, suddenly it was all smiles and laughs as the two long lost brothers shared an embrace. They were from the same village and they went to the very same school. What were the fucking chances? Either that or Stephen worked for the secret service. I had my doubts but I wasn’t complaining.. Feeling the vibe had changed I tried to join in the conversation. Okay fine. ill shut up and keep out. Incredibly, ten minutes later with some release forms filled out, they granted my freeeeedom. William Wallace. I waved goodbye to the jury and they waved back through heavily clenched teeth.
Stephen later informed me the bribe would have been around $2000.
It’s not what you know.
You will ALSO be happy to know Triniti saw the most uncoordinated two-step this side of the equator.