2.   You Decide

By Paul Vanderveen

Copyright ©1999, 2003 by Paul Vanderveen

Meeting a number of Americans, Senegalese, other Africans and other foreigners in the international community, I told some of them of my adventure getting into the country with a computer. I wasn't bashful about it, and most of them found the story amusing and some had their own tales to tell. Two Westerners, a businessman and a missionary, however, expressed disappointment. They apparently wished to usher Senegal into the modern era and regarded bribe giving as retarding that process. I was sympathetic, but didn't see how sacrificing a huge sum to the Senegalese government (or an official in that government, anyway) would have helped accomplish it. Perhaps they would have preferred it if I had just bluffed my way through.
     Bribery and other forms of corruption, I quickly confirmed, were rampant in Senegal, a deeply ingrained habit, possibly a legacy of French colonialism, supported by a culture of asking for and giving gifts--and not likely to change in the near future. People in the Senegalese government surely knew the routine well, as it didn't take a newcomer very long to figure out the basics. There were tutors all over the place. Those getting pay-offs had a vested interest in keeping things the way they were and indoctrinating newcomers.
     One of our tutors, a policeman, gave us a personal lesson shortly after my arrival. He waved us over when we made an illegal left turn onto a downtown street.
     "What sign?," Jan asked in her intermediate French. She asked him to show her, which he gladly did, walking her back down to the intersection.
     "It's bent over, practically flat on the ground, and invisible to cars," she grumbled, as she got back into the driver's seat.  I had remained behind to protect our valuables.  "But it's there."
     He had his pad out to give her a ticket. While he was writing, she asked for directions to the police station, so we could pay the fine.
     He pointed as he described the way, but he was smiling, and we found his directions confusing. Finding the place and paying the fine, it seemed, would take time.
     While he continued writing, she wondered aloud, in innocent resignation, "How much will it be?"
     Those were the magic words.
     "You decide," he said.
     She looked at me, translating what he said for my benefit. We decided our own fine? We got the idea, though, and she gave him personally the equivalent of a few bucks for his trouble, and that was the end of that. We didn't need to find our way somewhere to pay the fine. He seemed amused by the whole thing, no doubt because we were such amateurs at it.

  1. First Bribe
  2. You Decide
  3. Acknowledging Others  < Next
  4. Passing Grade
  5. Two Foreign Cultures
  6. How Do You Say "Help" in Arabic?
  7. Risks in the Developing World
  8. Un, Deux, Trois
  9. Hello But No Cadeau