*This post is long! I wanted to jot down my whole experience for my remembrance and for those who are curious. Be warned!*
As the police officer shouted at me in his motorcycle, waving his right arm, I began to pull over. I quickly told my friend I would call her back and that I was being pulled over. I was sure that it was because I wasn't technically talking on my cell phone "hands free". I had the cell phone clutched in my left hand but on speaker mode. The officer approached the car as I remained calm, preparing myself to be asked for a bribe. The officer spoke sternly to me telling me I have offended the law and speaker phone use was strictly forbidden while driving. Without asking for anything he told me to follow him to the police station and that I was "under arrest". Being under arrest is different here. It's more of like a command to go speak to the office to pay a bail fee to ensure you will be in court the following day or to be jailed until the hearing. The fee was steep. About $125. I followed the officer to the police station, parked my car and followed him inside the building. He looked at me and said, "This is the jail." I felt like he was trying to intimidate me since he didn't point out any other offices. So, this wasn't a tour.....
I climbed the steps to the 2nd floor and met a chubby woman in uniform and a slender woman who sat at a nearby window, looking out at the street. She asked me to sit and asked me about my offense. I'm sure she already knew since she had communicated with the officer who escorted me in. I confirmed my accusation and she said, "So you pay 10,000 shillings now." I assured her I didn't have the amount in my purse and that I would be glad to go to the bank and get it for the bail fee. She told me that I couldn't. This is kind of a game. I was prepared. Like a bargaining strategy. Kind of like if you've ever haggled for a price for a souvenier in a foreign country and the seller firmly tells you a price. They'll walk away and come down in price or make some kind of negotiation after a few minutes. It became clear after a few minutes that she wanted a bribe, asking me to put on the table all the money I had. I took the 1700 (about $20) out of my purse and laid it on the table. She told me to pick up my keys and go home. I asked her if I've been forgiven and if I could take my money back. She told me to just go. I told her that I couldn't leave the money because I am a Christian and wouldn't do that. She spoke back and forth in Kiswahili with the woman at the window. The woman at the window wasn't in uniform and for all I knew, could've been her sister. I was careful not to call the money on the table a bribe. I didn't want to make her defensive and possibly angry. She was kind and told me to take my money back and go to the ATM for the bail fee and that she couldn't ask me to do something I was uncomfortable with.
I left the office, got in my car, leaving my driver's license inside the office to ensure my return and went to the ATM. After I withdrew the money at a local mall and picked up a few miscellaneous items on my shopping list(I know, it's a little funny) , I was on my way back to the station, determined to share the gospel with this woman.
Upon return the women were no longer there and instead was a kind gentleman in the office who wrote me a receipt and ticket, advising me to appear in Kibera court by 8 AM the next day. He left his phone number in case I ran into trouble. He was very kind and I said nothing about the women before.
I got to Kibera court by 8 AM only to discover that they don't let people in until 9. So we waited. Yes, we. Jonathan came and I was insistent on bringing Benny. My thought process was, "maybe if I bring Benny, he will cause a disturbance. The judge will see how small my offense was and just tell me to go home." I was told by a friend who was at Kibera Court a week before that I could be sitting there for over 8 hours! I was desperate. When 9 AM came there was a large crowd trying to get through security screening and once I passed through, I was directed to a court room for traffic offenses. Shortly after sitting in that room, the traffic offenders were told that the room had been changed. Upon entering the next courtroom the wooden benches filled up quickly and soon, we resembled a can of sardines. We rose when the judge entered the room and sat when he did. Soon a line of men, cuffed to each other also entered the room. My section was told to get up and shift so the cuffed men can sit. I began to get panicky. I ended up sitting next to two of the men. What in the world were cuffed men doing with the traffic offenders? Two of the men sat next to me, they smiled at Benny, who was sitting on my lap playing Angry Birds on my phone. The guy next to me opened a file and I saw he accused of stealing from a church. 72 chairs, a couple of tables and a church banner. I wonder what he did with the church banner. The guy he was cuffed to was bring accused of rape of a child.
I sat in the courtroom as the lawyers with stacks of files called out names, some rose when they were called, many were absent. One guy answered when called to which a female lawyer stood and replied, "This man is not such and such...." The judge said, "What is your name?" to the man. He looked sheepishly at the judge and gave the man the same name they had just called. He slowly walked towards the back of the room and shimmied on out the door in plain view of everyone. No one went after him. I'm still not sure what happened there.
The man who was accused of robbing a church was called, stood up, and confirmed his name. The pastor of that church came to testify against him. They tried him right then and there. I can't tell you the outcome because it was in Kiswahili. It was fascinating to me. The church was named, "Miracles and Wonders Revelation (at that point I began thinking, "How long is the name of this church?" So I can't tell you the rest of the name).
Finally they began to call the traffic offenders around 10 AM. I was the 2nd called. I stood before the court as the judge said, "You are accused of talking on your phone while driving. Is it true?" I confirmed. The lawyer said, "Please speak for yourself." At this point, all Kenyan eyes were on me. I was one of two white people in the courtroom and I felt small. Knowing how silly excuses sounded before the court I quickly said, "Yes I was talking on my phone but I didn't know that speaking on the speaker mode was an offense. So I...." I couldn't think of anything else to say. I stopped in mid sentence with the lawyers looking at me, the judge writing something in my file. I didn't try to recover my sentence because I desperately wanted to sit down and hoped that they would just make a decision. The judge said, "10,000 shilling fine or 40 days in jail." They excused me and I sat on bench that had been cleared for us. Feeling relieved that I was our of the "hot seat" I watched onto the next case in amusement and curiosity. The man called after me had committed the same offense and said, "I didn't know talking on the speakerphone was against the law." The judge replied firmly, "Ignorance is no excuse for offending the law!" I could tell that that response was meant for me too and I couldn't agree more.
The judge listened to the excuses of the traffic offenders one after the other, never dismissing any. One guy was speeding and claimed he had been a driver for over 25 years and never had a ticket. This circumstance he had to speed because his employer was in labor with her 6th child and she and the baby were dying. He went through the dramatic story and I was moved deeply, feeling sorry that there really is no 911 emergency, no one equipped to meet someone at their home for this kind of emergency. She would've died and the baby too. After the story nearly concluded, the defendant had a big smile on his face and said, "I am happy to report that we made it to the hospital in time and both baby and mother are doing well." He was fined 3,000 shillings (about $35-$40). He seemed happy with the outcome.
During our walk to wherever they were leading us, I was texting Jonathan rapidly in broken texts to "hurry!" and that I thought they were taking me to jail. They were. We were marched out the front, hand-in-hand as Kenyans outside were staring at us, trying to get a glimpse of the criminals. I realized then, I am the only woman in the group. I hoped that there would be a separate women's jail I would go to. The guards with AK47s opened the gates around the back and gave me one look, laughed and said, "Welcome to jail!" I knew they were trying to intimidate me but I felt such a peace from God and honestly, this was probably the funniest experience so far. It seemed VERY dramatic. I was becoming aware that things could get a little scarier once they put me in jail. Still I remained unmoved, sure that I would get an opportunity to share the gospel with someone and at complete peace with whatever were to come my way. We were escorted into the cell where I saw a sea of black male faces. "Are you serious?" I thought. I can't go in there. I'm the only white woman. The officers began to shove us back and I stayed as close to the front as possible, not asking for special treatment but hoped the officers would see that I needed to stay in view of the guards. As we came into the cell, two officers held a crate of Tuskers (beer) which were unopened and a keg and were trying to get it through the crowd and moved outside the cells. I was shocked at the openness of it. They weren't trying to hide it at all.
One of the guards saw me and said,"I have spoke to your husband and he is paying your bail now. Here, sit right here." He allowed me to sit next to the security officers and I felt grateful. I looked as another line of prisoners formed and I could see outside the gates, family members came to get a glimpse of their loved ones behind the concrete wall with a small window. They looked like they would all march by the window and they even got a few minutes with those waiting on the other side. In this line of prisoners I saw women. Some looked at me in curiosity and some giggled, smiled and waved. A man came up to me and asked me for a job. There are no words for that kind of humor.
One of the guards called all of us traffic offenders together and had us sign a form. It was here, I realized that we were getting back our bail money (the 10,000 shilling I had paid the day before). "Wow!" I thought. "I never expected to get BACK the money. I thought it was gone forever!" But why in the world would they give us back so much money IN jail? Were they crazy? This was a mugging waiting to happen! One of the traffic offenders next to me commented, "Now I have all this money from the bail given back to me but my fine is less than this. It's silly that I have to wait till my brother gets here so he can take money to pay the fine. I have it in my hands." How strange. It really was a matter of these guys needing to get someone to walk the money to an office. How frustrating. Later we found out that the office was telling people they had to go to another bank down the road to deposit the fine money. Then they said that that bank couldn't take the money and made them go to another bank, much further away.
After about 25 minutes, an officer came to retrieve me, informing me that my fine had been paid! I was so glad to get out of there. As the officer approached he asked what kind of work I do. I told him I am a missionary and pastor's wife. "HEY!" He shouted in an excited tone. "A woman of God! A REAL woman of GOD!" I began to get embarrassed as the other prisoners began to look at me. I kept thinking, "Hey, keep it down! I'm still in jail!"
As I walked out, a free woman, the officer said, "I can tell that there is something different about you. I have seen you this whole time and there you are, smiling and not worried." I replied, "I would've been okay, even if I did stay the night because I know my God is with me." I saw Benny and Jonathan walking up when Benny sprang into a run, jumped into my arms and said, "YAAAY! Mommy's out of jail!"
We walked out of the parking lot, relieved to be done, when a man yelled out to Jonathan (who Jonathan explained had been crossing paths with him during the whole "bail out" process as he was trying to bail out his son. He was the father of the Indian man I had held hands with) said, "HEY! Do you have a machine gun?!? This country is ridiculous! I hate it here! I can't take it anymore!" We decided together that a good rule of thumb is:
A civilian should never yell, "HEY! Do you have a machine gun?" in front of a jail.
Apparently that man had been told to go to several different places to pay bail, when he went to the places, they would send him somewhere else. At the moment he was shouting to us, they told him to go to a mall that was pretty far away. With all the running around and especially in Nairobi traffic, it's enough to make ANYONE crazy.
We decided to use some "jail bird" money my grandmother sent to us for a nice lunch where Jonathan and I laughed as we recounted different parts of his story and mine.
After a morning of "busting out of the joint" I attended my home school meeting where we would be discussing curriculum.