Saturday, March 28, 2009

Traffic control, Khartoum style

Policing in Sudan covers many interesting areas, most of which we cannot cover here. But today’s snippet is concerned with your common or garden variety, the Khartoum traffic police. Dressed in spanking white uniforms, they are ubiquitous on the streets of Khartoum. There are two distinct species – the poor sheepdogs braving the mad onrush of buses, taxis, amgeds (kombis/matatus), motorcycles, 4x4s, Mercedes with blacked out windows and old pick-up trucks, gloriously but vainly trying to direct and channel the attacking hordes, sometimes disappearing between them only to rise again waving hands and blowing whistles. Somehow, they also find the time to slap the hands of friends in cars as they charge past.

Then there is the altogether more languid breed, blue trousers with yellow stripes setting off their daz-ultra shirts. They loll on benches at junctions like lizards on a rock in the summer’s heat. Then, when recharged, they launch into action. Car after car is whistled to the side, documents checked, broken headlights condemned and small fortunes collected in fines. My wallet is lighter after being found without a valid driving licence on me. That the Ministry of Interior had been holding it for the last 3 months while vainly promising to issue a Sudanese one didn’t seem an acceptable excuse.

But my sympathy has been restored after a heroic episode this week. Driving home one evening, I was following a red saloon through a junction. A blue and yellow lizard waved it over. For fear of a penalty, deserved or not we will never know, the red saloon charged through. Which brought up a thought – if half the lizards have no transport and the other half are far from their machines, why doesn’t everyone do this?

Continuing with this thought behind the now smug saloon boy, I was overtaken by a decrepit but undeniably classic vespa, its little engine buzzing like an angry wasp. On it, beneath the fluorescent jacket, I could make out a flash of blue and yellow. Noticing late in the game, saloon boy weaved across the road to shake off the angry wasp-lizard combo. But this one wasn’t for shaking.

Risking a good squashing, it managed to draw level beside the swaying car and a tad suicidally in my opinion, bore down on the car’s front wing, forcing it to the side of the road. Changing tactics and wisely deciding not to add to his crimes by running over a policeman, the red car braked suddenly and pulled a screeching right into an unlit side road. A brilliant and unexpected move, leaving the two-stroke wheezing uselessly along the main road. No doubt breathing easier now, he eased slowly into the dark. But little did he know that the tenacious vespa had slipped into the next turning and was tracking along a parallel road…

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