This weekend was a mandated home weekend for the learners, so the school was going to clear out. Three fellow volunteers and I decided to head to rent a car and head to Etosha National Park and go on safari for the weekend.
On the way to meet our friend in Tsumeb, two volunteers and I had our first experience with Namibian Police corruption.
I was driving along in our Toyota Corolla (on the right side of the car, and the left side of the road) and mostly adhering to the specified speed limits. However, we had some distance to cover before dark, and we were literally out in the middle of nowhere. I’m not kidding – nothing for miles. I figured going a little faster than the 120 km/hour speed limit wouldn’t make a difference to anyone, and there surely weren’t any police officers anywhere around. Needless to say, I was sorely mistaken.
I’m trucking along, and from out of the bush pops a person. I had never seen a police officer before, so my friends and I assumed it was a hitchhiker trying to get a ride. We kept driving along. About 10 minutes later, a police car drives up in front of me with its lights on. I start freaking out inside, knowing full well that I was speeding, and not knowing what the consequences could be.
The officer asks for my license, and then says, “Follow me to the bush!” angrily. Then he gets in his car (with my license) and drives off. I gather that I’m supposed to follow him, but I have no idea where we are going, and he is speeding off ahead of me. I lose sight of him for awhile, and then eventually see him at the side of the road. Once we stop, I am able to see that he had been operating a radar gun or camera of some kind, and that it was him, not a hiker, that had jumped out from the bush just a bit earlier, trying to flag me down.
He asks me to get out and I meet him over at his police car. He tells me he is going to write me tickets for speeding and for wasting government petrol. He says that I will have to pay the ticket in Tsumeb (about a 4-5 hour hike from Okahao) during business hours. Long conversation short, we get to talking about why I’m here, who I’m here with, how long I’m here, etc. I’m batting my eyes, and apologizing and explaining I’m here teaching voluntarily from the USA, I live very far from Tsumeb, I didn’t know he was a police officer, and it was my first time driving in Namibia. The conversation takes a turn for the better, and I have a feeling I’ve won him over. He says that he is starting to take pity on me and recognizes that it would be nearly impossible for me to get to Tsumeb during the week to pay the ticket. Ultimately, we come to an agreement that I will give him N$100 (about $14 USD) and he won’t write me a ticket! “This is just between you and me,” he says, in broken English. “I could get in a lot of trouble, so do not tell anyone. Warn your friends, too.” I run to the car to get the cash, return and trade him for my license. I bid him farewell in Oshivambo, and we’re on our way…my wallet a little lighter, a good story in tow, and definitely not driving faster than 120 km.
Police corruption aside, the experience at Etosha was amazing! The park is huge, and just chock-full of animals of every kind. It was a very different kind of safari than the one I went on in South Africa. This was all on your own, no guides, and you’re able to camp out at the protected rest camps in the park. We were able to see a lot more animals and in the ultimate African habitat. At Etosha you just drive around, looking for wildlife, and hope for the best. We saw herds of giraffes, elephants, zebras, wildebeests, springbok, impala, kudu, ostrich, oryx, rhino, lots of bird, and more. Throughout the weekend I did all of the driving – about 18 hours worth – and I was exhausted by the end. It was a relief to make it back to Okahao after a long weekend, and time to get ready for week two of teaching.