Visit to a Police Station

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
A lucky escape after being arrested.

Submitted: July 20, 2016

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Submitted: July 20, 2016




Larry’s hobby, nay his passion, was to collect the shells of land and aquatic snails. Whenever we were together, he would always find an opportunity to hunt for snails and usually managed to suck us into joining him. Not that I minded, because I found it an enjoyable pastime and looking under logs, rocks or leaves was sort of a busman’s holiday for me – albeit risking snake and spider bites.

We hired a Suzuki 4x4 for a couple of days to explore the small island that is Zanzibar and just outside the Stonetown boundary, we found an area of forest that interested Larry for his snails, and me for my trees. We decided to visit the area the next morning and parked beside a sign that said it was national forest and no firewood was to be taken. It did not say, anything about no entry. There was no fence.

Larry quickly found rich pickings so Jo and Mags joined him while I walked further afield trying to identify the tall trees and at the same time picking up a few random snails. There was not much undergrowth because the canopy was quite dense and the topography was easy so I quickly reached the gulley bottom.

I heard a vehicle screech to a stop, at about the same area as we had parked the Suzuki, and shortly after there was a voice.

‘What are you going?’ it said gruffly, in English.

‘What does it look like?’ Larry retorted. He was on his hands and knees, bum up, ferreting through the duff.

‘What are you doing?’ repeated the voice.

‘I’m just looking under these leaves.’ Larry replied.

‘You are to come with us.’ Ordered another voice,

So there were at least two of them.

It sounded like trouble so I dropped my snails and hurried out towards the voices to find Larry walking between the two men, and secretly handing a number of snails back to Mags, who quickly, and foolishly put them in her bag.

The men seemed agitated and upset and said they were taking Larry to the police station! Trying to understand the situation, I asked them what the problem was but they refused to discuss the matter, just replying that they were taking him in their vehicle and we should follow in ours.

They had no ID and were not in any sort of uniform, but Larry acquiesced by getting into their vehicle, which I thought a mite risky!

They drove fast through busy traffic to a village police station and we had difficulty keeping up but kept their car in sight!

The situation could easily escalate dramatically, which made Jo agitated because Larry was not able to speak very much Swahili, and was inclined to argue without considering the implications. There was also the worry that the police have a reputation for being corrupt, and prisons places to avoid.

I volunteered to go into the station to keep an eye on proceedings and translate as best I could. As I walked in, there was Larry, standing between the two men who were speaking aggressively to the desk sergeant. A tactic to ‘encourage the officer to do as they wanted.

They were claiming that Larry was in the forest without authority and they wanted him formally arrested. So they were not policemen! And why pick on him and not the rest of us? I had thought that they might be plain-clothes policemen.

Realizing the need for careful negotiation, I spoke quietly telling the sergeant that there were no signs that banned entry to the forest and that these guys had taken Larry illegally and without warning, and that we meant no harm.

The sergeant told us to be quiet and to sit down until the men had told him their side of the story.

I listened to the two guys and my assumption was correct, they were not policemen but said they knew some forestry people. They were not forestry people either!

I could not fathom exactly who they were and why they did not like us entering the forest. Nor to what authority, if any, they belonged.

While one ear was on the conversation, I encouraged Larry not to get growly, in fact say nothing! At the same time I worked out roughly how I was going to try to defend him. The two men were told to sit down and the sergeant waved us up to the desk.

I used the humblest Swahili I could muster and took my letter of introduction out of my money belt.

This letter sat with my passport and was from the Agency to the Tanzania Department of Forestry and Beekeeping and fortunately both the Agency and the Department had put their stamp it.

I told the sergeant that as a forester, through professional curiosity, I was simply interested in the trees but the other three were not interested so Larry was just fossicking around in the leaves while they were waiting for me, doing no harm. It was cooler in the forest than waiting outside on the road edge.

To the consternation of the other two, the sergeant returned the letter and said we were free to go.

After politely thanking him, we did!

*It is wrong to expect corruption everywhere, and after all I didn’t tell the whole truth!




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