In over 24 years of travel, I'd never been shaken down by bad cops. Yet here I was, on the B1 highway heading into Windhoek, driving an aging Toyota Hilux with my family, trying to suddenly figure out how much cash I had in my pocket.
Nobody had warned me about this in Namibia. There were rumours in central Cambodia about cops pulling over foreigners on motorbikes to issue random “tickets”. There was the ominous warning from a friend about the lone policeman stationed at the Zimbabwe border who was known for taking whatever the border agents had left you with. Heck, my adrenaline spiked every time I passed a police car hidden amongst the wildflowers while I sped down the highways of southern Spain.
But Namibia wasn’t on my radar.
My family and I had rented a 4x4 for a 5000km adventure. We were Road Warriors, seeking out the red, Namib sand dunes, the golden sunsets of Sossusvlei and the clear, cold rock pools of the Naukluft Mountains. And, suddenly, we found ourselves waved aside at a police checkpoint on our way into Windhoek.
Strange. We were usually waved through.
I rolled down my window, and the tall, pot-bellied officer sidled over and demanded my license.
I handed him my Canadian ID and he didn't even look at it. Only at me. He never broke eye contact.
Namibia had seemed so safe, so familiar, so friendly. Strangers had offered advice on the best tire pressure to avoid getting stuck in the sand dunes (note: 15 PSI). But, here was this cop, looming over me, giving me the stare down, and I wasn’t prepared.
"Do you have a spoon?"
What did he ask?
"Do you have a spoon?"
Another long pause.
Was it a euphemism? Was it a joke? What the $#% do I do?
"Do you have a PLASTIC spoon?"
Emphasis was his. He was getting frustrated.
Thankfully, we did. Plus some leftover carrot sticks (we were always prepared, like Boy Scouts).
My wife slowly reached into her daypack and, in the Ziploc bag full of wet naps, condiments, and the aforementioned carrot sticks, she sourced a plastic spoon.
I handed it to the officer. He took it.
His tone changed immediately. "Thanks, brother! My partner needs to take her medicine."
He handed me my license and waved me through.
I put the truck into drive, and, as I pulled forward, I noticed his partner, sitting in the shade, holding a bottle of cough syrup, waving at me and mouthing the words "thank you."
It was my first shakedown and the last thing I expected was that the cop would take plastic instead of cash.