For those of you who were reading this blog when we first arrived in Kenya, you may remember reading about our friend “David.” At the time, we wanted to give him anonymity, but we don’t think it’s a problem to share his real name now: Daniel. If you want to read his story, it is here: https://viandsfamily.aimsites.org/2012/10/26/david-an-original-black-african/
Over the past five years, Daniel has remained a good friend and an encouragement to us. His humor, wisdom, deep thirst for knowledge, and love for the Lord always shine through. We rejoiced with him when he finished his bachelor’s degree in communications at long last, and we rejoiced even more last year when he brought a special young lady from his Nairobi church to Machakos to meet us. A few months ago, he brought her to our home here at AIU to announce their engagement. Daniel and Janet asked us to be in their wedding on November 4th, and we were very excited (the joyous occasion was yesterday….more about that in the next post).
Last week, elections took place, and there was a lot of violence around the country, particularly in the area of Nairobi where Daniel lives as rival gangs took advantage of the tense atmosphere. One week before his wedding, Daniel nearly lost his life in a story that actually made the news. We thank God he was ok, and we were so encouraged by how he glorified God through his story in spite of losing his wallet, wedding rings, and important documents before fleeing on a passing motorbike: https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/ureport/story/2001258673/man-narrates-near-death-experience-during-kawangware-violence
Things have settled down a bit since last week, and the wedding was to go on as planned on November 4th. On Friday, the day before the wedding, I packed up the kiddos and headed to the church in Nairobi to pick up the clothes that Jamie and I were to wear. Daniel was there, making sure everyone got what they needed. After I left, I realized that my phone’s GPS wasn’t working, and getting lost in Nairobi is something I don’t savor. I tried to get off the busy highway I was on and go around the block back to the church to start over and see if I could get my GPS working again. Unfortunately, I turned down a one-way street, going the wrong way, without realizing it. My heart sped up a bit as I was waved over by some police, and a man and woman in uniform approached the car. They sternly asked why I would break a law like that, and I apologized profusely and said I was a little lost and hadn’t seen any signs. They assured me there were two signs, and I had no excuse. I told them I was very sorry and that I understood I was guilty. They told me I would need to pay 15,000 ($150) shillings right there or go to court and pay 50,000 ($500). Well, I knew that if I were to pay a the fee at the side of the road, it shouldn’t be more than $100, and I didn’t think I had the cash (later I realized that it was illegal for me to pay at the roadside anyway). I told them that if I paid anything there I would need a receipt. They bristled a bit and told me I would just need to go to court for what I had done. I was afraid I would have to go the next day, so told them I had a wedding the next day, and I pulled out the bridesmaid dress I had just picked up at the church for proof. They told me court would be Monday morning at 8 a.m. I asked them where the court house was, tears creeping into my eyes because I knew this would mean a long day, and a hefty fine. They told me where it was and asked me if I accepted my punishment and I said, “I do understand this is what I deserve…but can I beg you for mercy because I have small children?” I patted my pregnant belly as well and looked at them pleadingly. “I would so appreciate your mercy, if you would give it to me.”
They softened somewhat and they told me they are also parents and they understood my difficulty. Then the man leaned in a bit closer and said, “You can go to court, or we can settle this as friends.” I knew what that meant. I smiled a bit and told him I could not give a bribe. We know that in some places, the government is so corrupt that bribery may be the only way to survive–so this is not to judge those who have had to deal with incredible corruption. Here in Kenya, there is a fight against corruption that is going on, and we have decided that we will not give in to bribery attempts. He stiffened a bit and said, “This is not a bribe! Just buy us lunch. We will let you go.” The woman joined in, “We forgive you, we are letting you go…we are just saying you can buy us lunch as a friend.” In spite of their “forgiveness,” they had not given me back my driver’s license, and I was pretty sure this would still fall into the bribe category, as much as I wanted to just hand them a few hundred shillings (a few dollars) and get out of there. We were still discussing the matter when suddenly, who should walk up to the car but Daniel, the groom-to-be, who saw my car as he was walking to the bus station. I was so happy to see him! He came into the conversation and told the police that he was my friend. I told him what happened, and he told them they should have mercy on me. He said, “She has apologized, it was a mistake. Look, she is a foreigner, and you should have mercy on her.” At that the male officer’s face grew hard, “You mean to say she is not accountable to our laws because she is a foreigner? She doesn’t need to follow the rules? Ma’am, you will turn your car around and follow the motorbike to the station!” Then he and the policewoman walked stiffly away, motioning that I was to follow. I told Daniel to not worry about it and that I could go to court–I felt so bad that he was dealing with this on the day before his wedding, but he would have none of it. He went and talked to the officers while Eliya and I prayed. The kids had been so good, but Eliya was scared. She knows that encounters with the police are usually stressful. Just the day before I had been stopped in a routine roadside check. The officer came to my window and seeing my fishing through my purse for my license, said, “I thought you were going to give me money.” I responded, “Oh no, sir. I wouldn’t want anyone to think I would be giving you a bribe!” He said, “Just give me enought to get some coffee.” I replied, “Everyone is watching, and they will see if I give you money.” He said, “Who is watching us? No one is watching us!” I wish I had replied, “Mungu anakuona” (God sees you), but I wasn’t thinking fast enough. I just said again, “Everyone is watching us!” He took my resistance wtih a chuckle and let me go, much to my relief. Anyway, back to the story at hand. Daniel talked with the police, and about ten minutes later he came back to the car and handed me my license and told me I was free to go. “How did you manage that?” I asked incredulously. He told me that he had first wooed them with their common tribal background, and then said to them, “First, there are going to be no bribes, or this conversation is over!” Then he went on to chastise them for trying to take advantage of a pregnant mom with small kids (in Kenya, expectant mothers are treated with a lot of compassion and respect). Apparently, there are no signs that the road was one-way, and also if an infraction is made that is obviously a mistake, warnings are supposed to be given first. Also, Daniel told me it is illegal for them to take my license, and the $500 supposed court fine was just meant to scare me into giving them bribe money. He said the final straw was that he threatened to call the retired Inspector General of Kenya (who is an elder at Daniel’s church and also came as a special guest to his wedding the next day) and inform him of the misconduct of the police. That’s when the police retracted their demands and decided to let me go. They even told Daniel that they wanted to attend his wedding the next day. I laughed out loud in amazement and bemusement at Daniel’s boldness/smooth talking. He aspires to be an ambassador, and we would not be at all surprised if he indeed fulfils that dream. He then told me soberly, “You know, Dr. Jamie is really the one to blame for all this. I gave him a copy of the Kenyan Constitution that he should have read long ago. Then he could have informed you of your rights!” We laughed. Don’t worry Jamie, I don’t blame you.
I made it safely home without incident, and the next day we joyfully attended Daniel and Janet’s wedding. I’ll save that for the next post.