Worst Case Abroad: Arrested in Africa
The first installment in a series of personal travel memoirs, recounting the worst case scenarios I have experienced around the globe.
Every day, millions of people around the world travel internationally.
Many will do so without experiencing anything worse than a minor inconvenience — perhaps a delayed flight or a lost bag.
But what about when s**t hits the fan? What about those ‘worst case scenarios’, the ones that can never quite be predicted, blindsiding you and leaving you defenseless in a foreign land?
I am fortunate to have travelled to some of the most fascinating and unique destinations in the world, creating adventures everywhere I went. Along the way, however, I lived through multiple worst case scenarios, in countries as diverse as Vietnam, Tanzania and Latvia. To collect these stories in one place and to share my misfortunes with the world, I have decided to start a series on Medium. For the first memoir, I have decided to recount my experience of getting arrested in Zanzibar, Tanzania this past June.
It was a beautiful and sunny Saturday in the resort town of Nungwi, Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous Tanzanian island known for its spice trade and historic slave trade. I was connecting through Zanzibar for three days after a six-day safari in northern Tanzania. With a flight early the next morning, I decided I should take advantage of my last day by renting a moped, so I found a company on Facebook and they delivered a bike.
Soon after I was on the road, en route to Stone Town, the island’s main city. Muddy dirt roads and dry dirt roads each presented unique obstacles, and multiple detours around construction lead me on makeshift paths through the forest. On some stretches of road, the smell of spices from nearby farms emanated throughout the air — a mouthwatering scent when combined with the roadside barbecues. School children laughed and waved at me as I skirted past. As though the ride could not get more exciting, a local motorcyclist who appeared to be in his early twenties challenged me to a race. Keeping up was a challenge, but exhilarating nonetheless. We continued for about fifteen minutes before parting ways. After about two hours on the road, I was finally in Stone Town.
After parking the bike I had a nice lunch from a roadside vendor, then walked around the market for a bit. Moving on, I decided to explore the port area and take a tour of the sultan’s former residence.
Finally, I drove toward the port, which was a mistake considering the fact a new ferry had just arrived from mainland. Traffic backed up for miles, which only meant I had to be creative with the bike. After weaving in between dozens of cars, I was finally free and heading back up to Nungwi.
The first 45 minutes of the ride went well — the roads were paved for the most part, and I was keeping up a good pace. Soon after, though, I was stopped at my first police checkpoint of many. The officer checked my temporary license which was given to me with the rental, then checked the registration of the bike and my driver license. After careful contemplation, he finally spoke. “You’re American. Do you know Ja Rule?”
Stunned, I responded happily, “Of course I know Ja Rule.”
He smiled, thought for a bit longer, then sent me on my way.
About twenty minutes later I found myself riding behind a large freight truck on a dirt road, kicking up blinding quantities of dust. My sunglasses were ineffective in keeping my vision clear, so I decided to speed up and overtake it. I couldn’t have had worse timing, though, as right after I succeeded another police stop entered my vision just down the road. An officer waved me down, and I pulled over. Four of them stood around an unmarked minivan, one of them armed with a radar gun.
“You were going twenty over the limit.”
“I’m sorry officer, I was just passing the truck because I couldn’t see, and I thought the speed limit was eighty in this area.”
“Now you are arguing with me? You’re under arrest, stand in front of the car.”
At this moment, I became stuck in an entranced state; a calm yet scared complexion. I walked over to the front of the car, where the officer told me that I would have a court date the next morning to pay the $75 fine, and that I’d be going to jail for the night. This was starting to look really bad… Not only would I be spending a night in jail, I would also end up missing my flight back to America. So I asked him if there was any way I could just pay the fine on the spot. That was the wrong question.
“You and I, we’re all gentlemen here. Right?”
“Would a gentleman think it’s okay to pay an officer? You can’t come here and just wave your money around to get out of it.”
I stood there, defenseless as he yelled at me. Finally, he told me to get in the car, and I reluctantly approached the back seat afraid of the near future. As I opened the door, he spoke up, offering another option.
“Leave something for me in the cupholder.”
Counting the cash in my wallet, I found about $14 worth of local currency and stuffed it in the center console cupholder. Without saying a word, I got out of the car, went to my bike, and left. Still shaking from the adrenaline rush of being so powerless, stuck in a corrupt officer’s trap, I proceeded the rest of the way home at a cautious speed below the limit. I ended up being stopped once more at another checkpoint, but I made it through with ease. Finally back in Nungwi, I treated myself to an extra strong rum and coke and enjoyed the sunset at the beach. Another adventure in the books.