Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The lost files and living amongst corruption

Well, since my last post, those lost pictures of Thanksgiving have reappeared! Woohoo! (hidden is some strange system file that is never used...)
So here are some thanksgiving pictures of the kids and other things.

The Marineau family recently moved to Tillaberi, which is an hour outside of Niamey. This is a much less developed city, but they do still have running water and electricity! What their new little house didnt have was a kitchen. Alas before moving there they constructed a little adobe style cement room outside their home in their courtyard to use as a kitchen. This is a fabulous idea since it keeps the heat of the stove and oven out of the house! ANyhow, I loved their quaint little kitchen outside.

Just before leaving for Thanksgiving we had our house exterminated. We didnt have huge bug issues in the house thankfully, but we had lots and lots of bugs in the gardens and around the house, especially at night with the lights. So apparently it is pretty standard to have the yard sprayed twice a year to keep the ants, termites, etc to a minimum. I loved his contraption and little tiny mask on his face. And this guy was one the the more technologically advanced guys around! I would hate to see the other ones...

Did I mention we have lizards? I don't think I am exaggerating when I say we likely have between 30 and 50 lizards living in and around our yard. You walk beside one of the walls and a dozen or so scurry away on every wall. Thankfully only the odd one manages to make his way into the house, usually to be discovered by Bennett who comes yelling to let us know. He then bravely grabs the broom to chase them out, only to run in fear if they dart towards him.

Hitting the heavy traffic coming out of Tillaberi for the market. Donkey carts and people heading home from the market.

The African locust. He is sitting on some pumpkin plants. It is hard to get scale, but this locust in almost 3 inches long. This is the same type on insect that wiped out a large majority of Niger's crops in 2005 and set the country into a terrible famine. Thankfully there does not appear to be very many around this year and this plague goes in cycles. Can you imagine a sky turned black in mid-day with a huge cloud of these insects bearing down on you?

The kids at Thanksgiving

Living in a corrupt society.
In Niger, corruption is a very real thing that we deal with. It's not as bad here as it is in other places, but we don't fool ourselves to believe we can avoid it. Today was a good example of that. So far, I have found the police here to be quite corrupt. I don't know anything about their upper leadership, but I'm talking about the everyday average traffic cop. I have been pulled over three times since I got here. Once was just "random" to verify our paperwork. Random meaning that we were new, they didnt recognize the vehicle and they wanted to see if they could catch us on anything at all. Another time I was pulled over for failing to signal. Even though i know 100% that I did, and my passenger agreed. Again, we were new, they didnt recognize the vehicle and they wanted to see if they could catch us on anything at all. This time, we were missing some type of window sticker that proves we paid some kind of city tax. We knew nothing about it. So after he yelled at me lots, made me cry from stress (a horrible response to stress that i cant control. sigh) and threatened to impound our vehicle, Daniel came to our rescue and took care of it. As soon as a man was involved the cop was so much nicer rather than berating me. This was only two weeks after we arrived. Paul was pulled over once for having his temporary NGO ID# on with tape rather than paint. So this afternoon I was pulled over again, and yelled at some more. So i approached a traffic circle and did not have the right of way to enter. Another car was coming fast and i braked sharply to avoid entering the lane and giving him the right of way. There was no one behind me, no one beside me, no pedestrians, no stop light and i didnt hit the car in front of me, or even enter his lane. There were three cops at this intersection and one pulled me over. I knew I had done nothing wrong, hit no one, signaled properly. So why did he pull me over? I braked too fast. Why do they care if i brake fast or slow, as long as i stop properly, dont hit anyone, cause anyone to crash behind me? You get my point. Anyhow, i wasnt about the let them make me cry, and i was mad. So my nice passengers were agreeing quietly with the cop, and i was trying to defend my position. Cecilia has been here longer than me and knows that it does no good to argue with them. We went back and forth, him telling me how dangerous it was to brake fast like that. He makes it sound like i came in at warp speed or something and hit 4 goats which i killed instantly. Sheesh. Eventually i just said "whatever, write the ticket then and let me go". He came back with a 8000 CFA ticket (around $20), which i would pay tomorrow at the police station and they hold my papers until then. Then the other cop came over and said, well, if you give me the 8000 francs then i will just sign this for you and you don't have to go to the hassle tomorrow to get your papers back etc. He said it so nicely you would *almost* believe him if you didn't know better. He would pocket the money. I refused and he looked somewhat surprised and irritated We have decided that we will refuse to pay bribes here, even if it makes like difficult. So tomorrow I shall go and collect my papers, and maybe try to plead the insanity of the ticket once more.

I wonder what would happen if I had gotten really mad at the cop for his obvious staged "crime of fast braking". Would he wither under the shear shock of a woman raising their voice and standing firm against them? Or would he need to save face infront of the others and get even more indignant and charge me with some other trumped up charge, throw me in jail, threaten us in some other way? I guess Cecilia is right, that it is not worth the risk to find out. But each time it is frustrating to know that we are targeted, hassled and yelled at. I hate driving in some parts of town where there are always cops at the roundpoints. I know corruption is something we have to deal with here, and yet I want it to be something that doesn't bother me and stress me out. I guess you can pray for me for that. And be thankful for the honest policemen that we do have in North America.

Transparency International is the world's leader in tracking corruption. Here is a map showing degrees on corruption in the world. Yellow is the best, dark red/brown the worst. You can check out more if you are interested at


Follow the Yellow Brick Road said...

Bennett is becoming quite the stud!

Ellie said...

Glad to her you found your photos. It is awful to lose those.

About corruption... difficult issue. We've tried handling it many different ways, and the best way in the situation may vary. But where we live, we do not ever hand our paper work over. (It may not be an option where you are) It is stolen if we do. We show it to them with our hand firmly grasping it. If they want to keep it, they must go with us to the station, but we do not let go.

Once is quite enough to have a passport "disappear". We know the price of a passport in the black market, so any id is valuable. In fact, we drive without paperwork (again, an option here). If found without it, we could get sent to the station, and someone has to run get it and prove we have it - better than having it "kept for safe keeping" by local police.