Okay, so recently, both Dave and I have been bragging that we have yet to pay our first bribe in Africa – and cockily surmising that, perhaps, we can make it through our travels without contributing directly to the corruption we’ve seen so much of.

 

Not so lucky.

 

Scene: third night in Yaoundé, the night before we should be able to go and hopefully, finally have our visas extended. We have spent a lovely day out in the rainforest visiting chimps and gorillas, getting sunburned, and thoroughly enjoying. We’ve shared an early evening meet-up with a GHAPE board member, talking politics and microfinance. As we prepare to go out for dinner – a bit late at 8:00 PM for Yaoundé – Dave says:

 

“Megan, leave our passports here; I don’t want to be out in the city with them.”

 

“But, Dave, we are required to carry IDs with us – do you have another form of ID?” (We’ve just read this in our guidebook two days ago, ironically,)

 

“Megan, they never check!”

 

Fast-forward two hours, feed Dave and I a fine Italian meal in a setting worthy of Casablanca, and put us in a cab heading home at 9:20 PM (happy that we are in time to see Jimmy Carter on Larry King Live on cable CNN – a city luxury for us.) We round a corner, pass city hall, and POOF! Five policemen are blocking the whole road. The cab driver, sighing, pulls over and provides two heavily endorsed and legalized documents. I look at Dave and Dave looks at me. The policeman then requests our identification. I pull out the copy of our passports I am carrying where our passports normally are, and explain that, for “surété,” we have left our passports in our hotel. We get the speech that I’m expecting, that if we have just copies, the copies must be “legalizés” – meaning we pay 1000 CFA ($2.50) for a stamp on the copy.

 

We wait for the bluster to pass, hoping, and I explain that we are “nouveaus” here and didn’t know. No dice – we are told to “descendez.” We walk around behind the vehicle, feeling as criminal on the dark street under bright headlights as if being filmed for “Bad Boys.” The officer explains the rule again and tells us the fine for traveling without documentation is 37,000 CFA (almost $100 with the falling U.S. dollar exchange rate). I say, “Combien?” doing my best to look wide-eyed and incredulous. He repeats the shocking figure. I look overwhelmed and say, “Mais, nous n’avons pas l’argent. Nous avons laissé l’argent et les passportes dans l’hotel pour le surété.” The policeman asks how we are going to settle this now. I repeat the above, adding, “Je ne sais pas.”

 

Then comes point-blank: “Vous-avez combien?” I say 5,000 (which is true). The policeman says, “10,000.” I pull out the 5,000 I have, to see it this will suffice. The policeman repeats, “10,000.” I turn to Dave, in English, “You have 5,000?” “Is that what it’s going to take to settle this,” Dave looks incredulous. But, he pulls out another 5,000, the policeman accepts our $25 – at least a day’s salary here, if not a month’s for a good number of the folks we work with every day in Bamenda. We thank him (really, this is what is expected) and that’s that. Deed done.

 

And, because we’ve been watching so much CNN these few days in Yaounde:

This is Davis Shuey and I approve of this message – though, I did not say, Merci!