In my defense, I have tried a few times to write but the dog ate it. Ok. Obviously that excuse won’t fly. Unless the dog ate my computer. But I don’t have a dog. What I do have though, is poor, poor internet. And honest to goodness the 2 times I tried to write, I couldn’t even get the cursor off the Title line. And it was NOT a user error.
But it’s obviously working right now. So, where was I? Oh yes. Mr. Taximan and myself were pointing fingers – at each other.
One more look at the scene of the crime…
Keep in mind that this is a ‘circle’ and traffic comes and goes from 5 different directions and I’m quite sure vehicles were dropping in from above as well. There was much more activity going on than this picture lets on. Excuses, excuses. ANYway, after the ‘crunch’, I stay in my 4Runner while Mr. Taximan (henceforth known as ‘Mr. TM) stops, gets out, and walks to me. We just kind of stare at each other. Also keep in mind – I’m in a foreign country. And even though I’ve been here for 16+ years, in this situation, I’m definitely a foreigner-as will later become clear. Oh, and Mr. TM and I are trying to communicate in 3 different languages. That’s a dead giveaway to the foreignness of things.
While trying to blame him, I grab my phone and call Neal. Mr.TM grabs his phone and calls….well, I’m not sure who he calls. I am sure he doesn’t have a Neal. All while this exchange is going on, traffic is moving on around us – coming from every which way. There was even another tiny fender bender next to my vehicle while we were sitting there. Those people were smart and just kept going. Also, all the while, there was some traffic police standing at one of the ‘V’s in the circle. Mr. TM went to talk to them. They were not the police that deal with accidents, and according to them, they didn’t see anything anyway. They were kind enough to call the police that deal with accidents.
Neal showed up within 10 minutes of my call. He was on his way to teach at the Bible School and willingly detoured to come to my aid. He’s exactly the kind of guy you want to have around in this type of situation. Well, he’s quite nice to have around in lots of situations. He began talking with MR. TM using Hausa, and Mr. TM was responding in French. He finally got that we don’t speak French, so attempted to use Hausa as well (neither of our first languages).
After waiting about 15 minutes, the accident police come and start asking questions. They first ask me if I’ve been hurt (again in French but my Hausa response gets us on the same page – at least as far as language is concerned). I said no, that I was fine and thanks for asking. Then they stood with what I would call both suspicious and questioning looks on their faces. They extracted a tape measure from somewhere and measured the distance from my vehicle to Mr. TM’s. Which I thought was funny, since he did a U-turn around me and drover several yards before stopping. They didn’t bother with the skid marks on the right of my vehicle where the impact happened. Then they drew a picture (crudely) of where we were in the intersection and wrote their measurements down. After this, they directed us to move the vehicles out of the middle of the circle, which I was happy about, but which I’m quite sure didn’t make much of a difference to the traffic patterns. While we waited for 1 of the policemen to fill out the report – having taken all our car papers and drivers license – I chatted with the other policeman. We had quite an interesting conversation about how crazy the taxi drivers were and how they had no regard for anyone on the road but themselves. He was in full agreement.
The next step was to go to the police ‘station’, for lack of a better term. These two policemen would take our papers there, and it was there we would have to go to collect them and finish the process. Neal needed to get to class but didn’t want me to go alone, so he called Pastor Zabeyrou to come and go with me. I bid Neal goodbye and waited for Pastor Z. He arrived on his motorcycle pretty quickly, and I got in the vehicle to follow him. The actual distance from Point A to point B was probably about 4 miles. But it took us at least 20 minutes (you know, the traffic and all). As minor as the accident was, I felt a little shaky as I drove. That was kind of weird.
I hadn’t been to this police station before so didn’t know what to expect. Trying to park was interesting because there is what appears to be a perfectly roped off area right outside the wall of the station that looks like its for parking. Which I did. AFTER I locked the vehicle and got out, a police lady at the gate informed me that this was not for parking and I’d have to park on the OTHER side of the rope. She of course couldn’t have said that while she watched me park. But I could tell she was enjoying her job too much when I observed someone stepping over the rope to enter the police compound and she literally made them come back, step back over the rope, and go around. Pastor Z. and I entered (properly) and I was shocked to find inside literally hundreds of motorcycles piled up on top of each other. Hundreds! I was told these bikes were seized for one reason or another, and not reclaimed. Then I saw the same type of pile made out of bicycles. Mr. TM was there and kindly showed us where to go. We entered a building towards the back of the compound. There were several offices off to the right and left of a narrow hallway. ‘Our’ office was in the back on the left. I use the term ‘office’ loosely. We entered a crowded room, me being the only female (and foreigner for that matter). Desks surrounded the perimeter of the room, except for the metal bench that was to our immediate right on entering. That bench was full of people, as well as were the chairs that were scattered in the remaining space in the center of the room. We stood for a bit, until one of the policeman asked us to sit down. All the desks were occupied by policemen who appeared to be working quite diligently. The only seat available would be made if everyone sitting on the already full metal bench, well, squished. And squish they did. And sit down I did. Sort of. Pastor Z. and I chatted about everything and nothing while waiting to get my car papers back. I discovered the room was full of people who had all had accidents…that morning!
After about 30 minutes or so, we decided to inquire on the status of my papers. The policeman was nice enough and looked through the stack he had. Nope. Not there. So he went the extra mile and called the police from the scene. He was speaking Hausa so I could understand when he told the man to bring my papers – that we were waiting. I was actually a bit surprised. Some more time passed and I finally saw the officer from the scene enter the small, crammed room. He passed off the papers then immediately left with no conversation and the man at corner desk began working on them. More time passed and he finally indicated for me to come forward. Pastor Z and I did and he explained that I would now have to go to the insurance and show them the accident report and get their stamp. I would then return to the police station where they would return to me my car papers, but would keep my drivers license. Hold the phone. Keep my license?
“Why”? I inquire.
And this pleasant man who I had been chatting with looked at me with a big smile on his face and said, “Well, because it’s your fault”.
Now take note. This man was basing this on a piece of paper he received with no other communication. On this paper was a pencil ‘drawing’ of the intersection and the two vehicles. Not sure what else, since it was in French. But Mr. Pleasant was the one to make the judgment about who was at fault based on this piece of paper. I know. Didn’t make sense to me either.
I said, “You’re saying it’s my fault because I’m an American”. All he did is smile at me.
By this time, Neal was on his way back from his class, and Pastor Z. had other things he needed to do. I made my way back through town and met Neal at our insurance office. Noon traffic was horrendous. I finally made it. It was 12:35. We walked in to the large room and everyone was sitting behind their counters but didn’t look like they were interested in helping us. We were finally told that they closed at 12:30 and would re-open at 2:30. WHAAAAT???? We were not happy campers. Going home would be downright foolish. Even though the distance was probably about 6 miles, it could easily take an hour to get there. It had just taken us 15 minutes to drive 200 yards. We hadn’t had lunch and we had a 2 hour wait. But we didn’t want to drive. So in spite of the fact that it was close to 100 degrees, we decided to walk rather then drive to a place to have lunch. We passed our time staring at each other and discussing how ridiculous it was that Mr. Pleasant said he would take my license. We made it back to the insurance office by 2:30. Two-thirty is really just a suggested time for re-opening. But re-open they did. Finally.
Now insurance around here is a waste, but very important to have. What I mean is if you don’t have it, you go to jail. Having it provides nothing, even in case of an accident.
The insurance people proceeded to fill out their report, based on the report we gave them from the police. This took some time. They asked me what happened and I explained it to them. And told them it was not my fault. Then I told them the police were threatening to take away my license. I didn’t know why. What I did know, is that if they really did get my license, the process of getting it back would be long and hard. And maybe expensive. But even the not-so-concerned-about-customer-service insurance people thought that sounded odd.
Having obtained the coveted stamp on the police report, it was time to take it back to them and collect our car papers. Driving without them can be risky if/when you are stopped. We were in 2 vehicles and it would be downright idiotic to intentionally drive 2 vehicles across town. So we stashed one (at a restaurant) and I jumped in with Neal, happy to NOT be driving.
Armed with knowledge this time I could accurately direct Neal where to park and instruct him not to step over the rope but to go around it. Then I got to see his awe over all the stacked up moto’s. Wisely, Neal knew it would be better to have a national with us – so as not to look like dumb Americans. We call Habibu, our primary school director and he comes to our aid right away. The 3 of us walk back in to the office I’m feeling pretty familiar with now, determined to walk out with my license in hand. Mr. Pleasant was there, and his face brightened when he saw me walk in. (‘Time for my pay-off’ I suspect he was thinking). I handed him the stamped report and he said, “And your license”.
“No. I’m not giving you my license.”
“You have to turn in your license until the case is judged.”
As I’m getting more and more agitated my husband steps up and says, “Well where is the taximan’s license then?” Habibu is also standing there.
“We only need your license because you were the one at fault”.
My husband: “OH, then that means you HAVE already judged the case.”
Me: “Grrrr. Ugghhh. Sheesh. Etc.”
What followed is Neal and Habibu arguing (almost good-naturedly) with the man, while I grabbed my phone and said (In English), “I’m calling the embassy.”
I had recently been to the embassy and talked with the security officer. He gave quite a positive report and explained how they are in close contact with police – specific to security issues. He also explained that the head hancho was not a friend of bribes and wanted to know of any issues that may come up. I put the embassy guy’s number in my phone.
I was serious about calling the Embassy, as I was totally frazzled from the day’s events and wanted to be done. Neal told me to put my phone down and Mr. Pleasant pleasantly laughed and said: “In America you have your laws and do things a certain way. In Niger, we do things a certain way. But what you don’t understand is that we’re just playing. You can keep your license.” Then he proceeded to find a staple remover and carefully remove all my car papers from his report. He handed them over and he and Neal continued chatting – saying how next time they met each other it wouldn’t be because of an accident. I mumbled and murmured things I probably don’t want to remember as we extricated ourselves from the police station.
We made our way home – yes through much traffic, arriving sometime after 4. I left the house at 7. It’s not at all how I planned my day. I was frustrated and felt totally worn out. Dealing with what feels so unjust, in a foreign language, in extreme heat and awful traffic left me frazzled.
After all that, can you believe that I’ve yet to get to the part about the lessons learned? But again, I’ve gone on much too long. Not really. This is my blog and the place where I can be as wordy and detailed as I like.
That Thursday morning I didn’t do my Bible reading or have my tea. I’m following a read the Bible in a year plan. After arriving home I decided that would be a good time to not be around anyone (for their sake) and do the reading.
I was looking to find some comfort in the day’s scheduled reading, and find it I did. For a second. But then I read on…