The Apprentice: Bribing a cop and living courageously
By Kizzy Katawonga
It was just another ordinary day, actually a great day. I had been on the unpleasant side of an empty wallet for the last so many days and had just gotten paid by one of my clients.
I was returning into town when I got a call from a cousin asking me to wait for him somewhere so we could meet. Exhausted, I needed a place to sit with some shade from the brutal sun where I could enjoy a cool breeze and my bottle of water.
So I figured I'd go to the gardens of one of the famous hotels in the city like many of the city's denizens usually do. Unbeknownst to me, the place is now closed to the public with a $100 fine for trespassing. Now, there isn't any signage anywhere indicating this and I didn't even sit because I realized the blatant absence of idlers was telling.
I was shortly arrested by hotel security agents. After explaining this simple misunderstanding for over forty minutes to the chief police officer on duty, he encouraged me to resolve the issue in the 'Ugandan way so that we could all move on. Terrified since I'd never been arrested before, this sounded like an excellent proposition.
But…I'm the one who's always preaching integrity and honor. You can probably imagine the wrestling in my mind. Well, if this was a test of my strength of character, I failed miserably. After checking that there were no candid cameras recording events, lest I become the poster child for the governments less than convincing fight against corruption, I left the cop with a little less than $5 and he let me go without further ado.
The exchange was quite professional, like they, we, had done this several times before. The officer left the room and then a local hotel security agent came in to make the exchange; a roll of money deftly swapped in an inconspicuous hand shake between 'friends'.
I ran out of there as fast as I could but in the process I felt like I had left all of my integrity back in that metal box of a room. I have since forgiven myself but even now the intense feelings of shame still linger.
When I ask myself why I couldn't take the high road, several answers come to mind, many of them good ones too. Like, my family needs me and going to jail over a failed fine payment would be irresponsible to say the least or the obvious fact that I didn't have the fine money to begin with.
However, when I think about it all, I realise the truth is I was a coward.
That incident showed me that no matter how strongly you believe in something, a principle or some path in life, you will always need courage and faith to see it through. In that moment I needed courage to stand and face the injustice; the faith that God would see me walk out of there scot-free and only have the ability to endure the consequences even if I didn't get out of it.
The point is character is what you do all the time, not just when it's convenient or easy. As a matter of fact, character's true test is when it's super hard, inconvenient and costly. Circumstance should ideally not matter when it comes to character. Our God went through the humbling experience of becoming one of His own creations and then suffering the indignity of a terrible death in order to save us. I mean think about it. He's God, He could have easily changed the rules at the snap of His fingers. I know I would have. But he didn't because of His integrity and character.
If we claim to be people of integrity and character, then we too have to do the same no matter the cost, and irrespective of popular opinion. When I look back on that incident, I realize that if I had been courageous enough to walk in my integrity, not only would I have gotten away without paying anything but I could have also gotten the hotel management to post clear signs so that others are not so unwittingly trapped.
Listen. Courage is the glue that binds our beliefs, values and principles with the rest of our life. Without it, all we have is empty talk and nice intentions. Courage isn't the absence of fear but rather it is feeling the fear and doing the right thing anyway. We all have fear but conversely we all have the courage to overcome it.
The more we live courageously the more we give permission to those around us to do the same.