Thursday morning the team was heading to the city of Goma. We had two main objectives for our trip:
- Get updated on work colleagues are doing in two partner programs, AFEDEC (Congolese women’s health and development program) and Flamme d’Amour (orphanage)
- Visit Virungu National Park to see the Mountain Gorillas
The trip to Goma is by boat and our boat was leaving at 10:30am. The team had split up into two vehicles for the ride to the port to catch the boat. I had Jackie Campbell and my colleague Nancy Perrin (Senior Investigator at Kaiser Health Research) in my car and told my colleague Paul Ramazani to take the students on to the port and I will pick up our team member Ilene at her home and join them. As I was entering a main road in Bukavu – four policemen and women pulled my car over. This is not unusual – like my Congolese colleagues, I am often pulled over and asked for my driver’s license. It is true that the police are looking for an infraction and a little pay off under the table for the infraction. It is important to remember, the police may make $30 a month, so they supplement their salary by “taking care of themselves” as the former Dictator Marshall Mobutu always encouraged the population to do. When the police gave me my driver’s license back he said – you are not wearing your safety belt and that is an infraction. It was true I did not have my safety belt on (not good). I asked for his forgiveness but before I could blink his hand was in my window and unlocking the back door of the car – and 3 police jumped in the back seat. They told me I would have to go to the Police office to discuss the infraction. I told them I would not do that and I had to go as I was traveling. I asked how could we solve the matter without going to the police office. The three asked for $100 to resolve the infraction. We discussed but I did not have much time as the team was waiting at the port and the boat was going to leave without us. I ended up giving the three police $50 to get out of the car. I asked them for a receipt for the payment of the infraction (I was being sarcastic) and they looked at me as if I was crazy. As they left – they wished me a good day.
I was very frustrated with myself – firs, for not having the seat belt on – that is just an opening to be stopped for an “infraction” and then paying off the police. That is not something I would normally do – especially at the tune of $50. I drove on to the port to meet the team. On arrival, I told the story to my Congolese colleagues from PAIDEK microfinance and Foundation RamaLevina who were traveling with us to Goma. Although this happens all the time to them, they rarely pay as they try hard to resist this system of “taking care of yourself.” My colleague Mitima Remy (Director of PAIDEK microfinance) called over his son, Clovis and told him to take the car and drive back to the spot where the four police officers were located and ask for a receipt. Then he called the Bukavu police chief and told him what happened and that he expected a solution. The police chief called him back on our arrival in Goma and said the four police officers involved had disappeared from their post – which is also normal and the money would be impossible to return. Mitima Remy demanded a ticket to document the infraction and a receipt for the money from the police chief on return to Bukavu on Monday.
I discussed with Mitima Remy that the next time the police entered the car – I would drive them straight to his office and let him deal with them. Although, this sounds stressful for the most part we had a good laugh. For example, on arrival at the hotel in Goma – Mitima Remy was negotiating the hotel room fee and he called me over to say that he was sorry but he was not going to let me do the negotiation for the team because I am clearly not very skilled if I paid the police $50 dollars. We all had a good laugh. I think that is what makes DR Congo so unique and wonderful – even when things like this happens the Congolese have a way of finding humor in the situation – making a stressful situation less impactful and giving you the ability to move on with the work that needs to be done.