“Sir, could you step out of the car?”
These words never bode well. We weren’t expecting much when the officer asked Steve to come around the back of the car.
We were stopped at a police checkpoint on the way home from Nxai Pans. Police checkpoints are common in Botswana, though less so than in some other African countries. They serve as a spot for officers to check for drunk driving and the road-worthiness of the vehicle.
In this case, after waving us aside, the officer asked Steve for his license and then proceeded to walk around the car checking the registration. At the back of the car he paused and tapped on the window. And then he asked Steve to come and join him.
“Your rear windshield wiper is broken. That will be 200 pula.”
“What?” Steve was incredulous. “200 pula? For one broken wiper? Really?” He fixed the officer with a look that I think communicates, worldwide, “come on, man. Is this legit?”
The officer didn’t blink. “Yes, 200 pula. It could be 500, you know. Do you have money?”
“Yes, I have money, but are you serious? Some trucks don’t even have rear wipers!”
“But you’re does. And it isn’t in working order.”
Steve tried the standard way to figure out if you’re being bribed or not. “Can you write me a receipt?”
“Of course. Please come inside, sir.” Definitely not a bribe, which isn’t surprising given Botswana’s extremely low rate of corruption.
So off Steve went, into the hut by the side of the checkpoint. The woman behind the desk looked up calmly. “What is the violation, please?”
“I don’t really kn-”
“Defective wiper!” The officer shouted cheerfully, before walking outside to flag down other cars.
She nodded at Steve. “200 pula, please.”
“Could you show me, please, what statute I’m violating?”
The woman didn’t hesitate, turning around to grab a thick book of codes and statutes, opening it up to a section in the middle and pointing – yes indeed, there it was, something along the lines of “vehicles with wipers must have all equipment in working order.”
Steve sighed and handed over the 200 pula, getting a receipt in the process. “You have to replace the wipers in a certain amount of time, you know. It’s on the receipt,” she said.
He nodded and came back to the car. As we drove off three other vehicles had been flagged down, all of the passengers wearing the same looks of incredulity as we had.
“Well,” Steve said. “It is legit. Looks like they’re raking in some money on the holiday weekend.” It doesn’t matter where you go – some things are the same everywhere. Anyone who has driven I-90 on a holiday weekend, or who has driven through road-work zones in Missoula, knows how this works.
I slumped down in my seat, annoyed at the expense and the delay in travel time.
“There’s one other thing,” he said, looking sideways at me with a rueful expression.
“You’re not going to like it,” he chuckled.
“After I paid, the women told me how wonderful it is that I’m taking my wife touring through Botswana.”
“Yup. ‘Very sweet of you,’ she said.”
That plink-plink you might have heard was my eyeballs rolling out of my head and landing alongside the A1 outside of a checkpoint, somewhere in Botswana.