The police in Uganda are a smidge different from the police here in the States.
For example, their uniforms, in my opinion, make them look like spacemen hanging out on the side of their road. They wear white and they wear big astronaut helmets. (These helmets probably should not be actually used by real astronauts). I don’t have any pictures of it, but I’m borrowing this picture from Brad, who I’ve never met, but is a friend of a friend who is part of an awesome ministry in Jinja. Visit his blog by clicking here.
Secondly, as you may have picked up on from my previous paragraph, they don’t drive around and turn on their lights to pull you over, but rather they hang out on the side of the road at police checkpoints and just wave you over if they want to pull you over.
During my 2 months in Africa, our van was pulled over at least 4 times while I was in it. I’m guessing that having it packed super full with mzungus did nothing for our favor in passing police checkpoints. When they pull you over, they look desperately for something to give you a ticket for. Once, after carefully inspecting the van and finding nothing, they even told our driver, “Turn on your windshield wipers!” Sorry cop – they work and we have wiper fluid in there, so you are out of luck . We are legal today. I’ve heard lots of stories of police just wanting a bribe from you as well.
There are also lots of traffic control people out on the roads – especially at busy intersections (and it is urban Africa, so most intersections are crazy busy). One time we ended up kinda stuck in the middle of the road, potentially blocking other traffic I suppose, and the traffic cop guy was upset with us. Our driver told him that he wasn’t Ugandan. And the guy replied that he was and shared what tribe he was from. Our driver then replied that people from there are mean and he should leave us alone. Then our driver was shushed so we wouldn’t get in more trouble. It was pretty funny – mostly because everything was fine.
Another fine moment on the road was after picking up Rachel from the airport, we saw a police vehicle with lights on going through traffic – it was super confusing, because that isn’t something we’d seen at all. ever. We pulled over to let them by and then started driving again. Then suddenly there were more lights and sirens behind us. We quickly realized we had accidentally pulled into a motorcade that was escorting somebody important in their fancy vehicle with tinted windows. Oops! Sorry important person for getting in the middle of your escort detail.
Suffice it to say that the thought of driving in Africa terrifies me. Not only is it on the other side of the road, but traffic laws are not really abided by. We once saw a stop sign. But I don’t think that anyone has ever stopped at it. Sometimes being on the road is like a big game of chicken – two (or more) cars speeding towards one another down the middle of the road. Who will swerve first?
(and yes, I intentionally put up this post after I came home safely so that my mother would not read it while I was away… ;)