Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Police brutality

As far as I am aware, the policewoman behind the counter is speaking to me in Oshiwambo. Usually people speak to me in Afrikaans, but whatever the language, I cannot work out what she is saying.

“I’m sorry?” I say, a confused look wandering across my face.

“What date did the accident happen?”. She’s not speaking Oshiwambo at all. She’s just speaking English very, very fast.

“28 April.” I ran into the back of someone’s car. It was very minor, but promises to be a royal pain in the arse in terms of insurance, and the fact that the people who own the car don’t have any.

“What?” Clearly she is having trouble understanding me too.

“28 April.”

She writes it down on an official looking form.

“What date did it happen?”

I stare at her, convinced that she could not have just asked me that question again, and say, very slowly, “28 April.”

”NO! NO! I mean the day, the day. What day did it happen.” I realize that we are both speaking to one another as if to small and very stupid children. This could be a long process, as there are 500 more boxes on the form to fill in. In triplicate.

“Friday”, I say slowly.

“Where did it happen?”

“Near Maerua Mall. On Centaurus.”

She looks at me with undisguised contempt, and starts rapping her pen against the bars separating us. I’m starting to understand why they are there. “Where? Where? Centaurus is a school, not a street.”

I start to feel a bit teary. I cannot believe that this woman is haranguing me for not knowing the street name of the place where I had my accident. This is a country where no-one knows even major street names, not even taxi drivers. If you want directions you actually have to know where things are, which can be very problematic, if you are, say, a bewildered tourist, and are looking for directions. The conversations tend to be circular:

“Hello. Can you tell me where the museum is?”

“Ah. It is near the government house. You know government house?”

“No.”

“Ah. It is on the road near the Kristuskirche.”

“Um. How do I get to Kristuskirche?”

“You know where is the court house??”

“No.”

Ad nauseam.

We manage to finish filling out the accident report form without it resulting in my arrest, despite a minor altercation over my British driving license.

I ask for a copy of the report and am told this will cost me N$30, and that I must queue up for it round the corner in a different department, even though she is holding all the existing copies in her hand. I decide the insurance company doesn’t need one after all.

I can tell this one is going to run and run.
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