When I first arrived in Africa, I was terrified whenever a policeman waved me to the side of the road. This was especially true in the wild west country called South Sudan.
When they saw my Toyota Land Cruiser approaching, they licked their chops. I called it D.W.W.: Driving While White.
The reasons for being detained were myriad: mud on my headlights, no working fire extinguisher, carrying luggage on the back seat (that was my favorite. “That is illegal. You can only carry passengers on the seats.”)
All of these infractions had one common denominator: a bribe. The policeman wanted a bribe.
(I’ll share about bribes later in this blog.)
I learned to disarm a bribe shakedown with, “I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?”
It was the magical eight words. In African culture, you cannot ignore an apology, especially from an elder with gray in his beard.
I observed many reactions from the magical eight words. Shock, resignation, humor, and sighs in multiple languages.
But the result was the same: the policeman would wave me on after making me promise not to repeat this serious offense.
I am sorry. Will you please forgive me?
I want to be honest. I have a Southern rebel soul, and those eight magical words don’t come easy, especially when I haven’t done a dadgum thing wrong.
But it didn’t hurt me to say the eight words. In fact, it’s made it much easier to say the eight words when I’ve offended someone in the good ol’ U.S. of A.
I’d advise you to stand in front of a mirror and practice the eight magical words. They’ll come much easier the next time you really need them.
However, a word of caution: avoid the ‘hand grenade’ ninth word: “But”
“But” has ruined many perfectly good apologies.
But . . .
I wrote last year about my friend Warren Morris’s term from Skip Bertman: T.O.B. “Transfer of Blame.”
That’s when the hand grenade explodes. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me, but . . .”
T.O.B. Transfer of Blame. It’s human nature to want to blame someone else. It goes back to the Garden, but that doesn’t make it right.
While practicing the eight magic words before the mirror, be sure to put a silent period at the end of the magical eight, and don’t follow it with a comma followed by the deadly hand grenade.
I.A.S.W.Y.P.F.M. I am sorry. Will you please forgive me? PERIOD
Not T.O.B. Transfer of Blame. STOP IT
* * *
I promised a mini-dissertation on African bribes.
On most police stops, there was the expectation of a bribe. They ranged from the subtle (at a barricade: “What do you have for the gate today?”) to the bald-faced. (If you do not pay the fine now, I will take you to the station,”)
My initial response was truthful, “My company does not allow the payment of cash or bribes. If I do that, I could lose my job. You don’t want that, do you?”
This would often work, but it wouldn’t deter the real professionals. They’d stand at the car window with an open palm, asking “for tea money.”
DeDe and I came up with a novel plan. We carried three things in our vehicle: bottles of water, DeDe’s homemade banana bread, and Bibles in different tribal languages.
I always enjoyed the surprised look of a policeman when I placed a loaf of banana bread in his outstretched hand. It’s another part of African culture: you cannot refuse a gift.
He had his bribe, and I was on my way north.
As they say in Swahili, Kwaheri.