Unfortunately Lars and Kjersti “lost” a very expensive camera. One evening Kjersti asked Lars to bring the camera to dinner at one of the restaurants in Mtoni Marine where they were staying. Lars isn’t usually the shutterbug so he inadvertently forgot it at the table. By the time they realized the mistake, it was long gone. Lars reported it to the hotel management. They “looked” for it for a day and then told Lars he should report it to the Police. They sent Lars to the main police station in Stone Town about 4 miles away.
I missed all this action. But I offered to accompany Lars to the Police Station since my Swahili is better than his. So on Easter Sunday after church we had our taxi driver drop us at the main police station while the others went back to the hotel.
I am so thankful to have learned a few things, if not some Swahili. Handshakes and greetings will open doors and make friends of strangers. I have found that everyone is more inclined to be helpful even in business dealings if you first ask them how their day is going or how business is or how’s the fam. It’s sometimes amazing how a face will just light up because they don’t expect to be greeted by a mzungu. I think I usually get a better price in the market if I start by asking about the person before their product.
So this is how we started in the police station. Lars and I met a one officer outside who then took up into the station reception. There we greeted two gentlemen (watching tv) who told us to wait a bit and in a few minutes we were ushered into another man’s office. After greeting him and a third attempt to explain our problem this police officer switched into English and began to explain how hard it would be to help us. After all it is Easter Sunday. But moreover, this is not the right police station for Mtoni Marine. Technically we should go to another police station. The officer was kind enough to write the name down and we were back out on the street looking for a taxi. This was a bit more of a challenge to bargain for since we didn’t know exactly how far we were going or how rural it would be. I think we bargained for one price and the drive would stay and take us back to the hotel when we finished there.
Our next stop was the island version of Mayberry RFD. We walked in to a counter in front of us and off to the left a staircase up to what I assume were offices. We greeted the two young people behind the counter that looked as if we had disturbed their afternoon nap. Again I started with an explanation of problem in Swahili. The uninterested looks gave me a brief moment of insecurity about my language skills. That was quickly shattered when a voice from the shadows under the stairs asked in English, “Where was the camera taken from?” Lars and I glanced over, our eyes now adjusting from the brightness outside and there were two or three ‘prisoners’ peering through the bars of the holding cell. They were more than eager to assist in the investigation. Lars and I looked at each other and started laughing.
We lowered our voices and tried again to explain that all Lars needed at this point was a copy of a police report to turn into his insurance. One man visiting, who spoke English said he was a pilot and helped explain what we needed, another came and left on his small motorcycle. Eventually we got them to record the incident in their log book. And I asked to take a photo. They obliged. I hoped that would serve as Lars’ report. We were asked to wait a bit. They first said there was not authority present that could make the report – then it changed to we don’t have the right form to fill out.
If you come to Africa without patience you will get it if you stay for any length of time. I had no desire to spend my Easter Sunday afternoon at a Tanzanian police station, but I knew from years of living here, waiting is all part life. After some time the man with the motorcycle returned and explained that all the forms are at the airport (probably 10-12 miles from us) and that none of the police stations have the forms right now. There was some discussion about getting the report in the morning, as opposed to ‘right away’. But if we could put gas in the motorcycle he could get the forms we needed.
When corruption starts, I begin to lose patience. I kept asking Lars if he thought the photo I had taken was enough. He tried phoning Norway but everyone was in church still. Lars reasoned that he was a tourist this weekend and it might be okay to pay a little something in that case. But he wouldn’t do that as a missionary. I wasn’t about to tell him he couldn’t do that, but I told him I wouldn’t do it. Eventually the man requesting the ‘little something’ decided he should come with us to the hotel for further investigation. I told Lars, this is the best option. If something needed to be ‘paid’ let the hotel do.
In the end, Lars didn’t pay anything, and he got a police report the next morning. The hotel desk was not very happy with us. We don’t recommend this hotel.