I got a ticket. A speeding ticket. I have NEVER gotten a speeding ticket before in my entire life, in any country, ever. I actually like obeying the speed limit! But if I had to get a ticket, I’d much rather get one in Malawi than in America. The traffic cops pull drivers over all the time here, so I’m used to being pulled over here. Almost every time I drive. Not that they have cars or sirens or anything – they just stand in the street and wave you to the side of the road. Usually they just want to check your license and registration tags, but not this time. I got caught in a speed trap.
But this speed trap was not supposed to be there. I was about 2 kilometers (1 mile) outside of town. The traffic laws say that you must drive 50kph (30mph) in town or in a market area, but 100kph (60mph) on the open road. [But realistically, you can’t ever get up enough momentum to drive faster than about 80kph (50mph) while you try to avoid hitting people, bicycles, goats, cows, pigs, children, pot holes, etc.]
The traffic cop pulled me over and told me I was clocked going 71kph (43mph). Not possible. I was following a slow, small truck packed with about 15 people in the back, so I was hanging back to make sure I didn’t hit anyone who fell out. I was matching the small truck’s speed and keeping my distance, but the cops didn’t pulled over the truck I was following – just me. I felt like I was getting a ticket because I was white, since many white people here just pay whatever as long as the cops will leave them alone. This made me sad, and a little upset at seeing sinfulness and corruption multiply in this country I love. I realized that sitting in my car being charged with speeding was not the place to argue with sinfulness and corruption, so I just left it. Besides, there was another issue at play here. I was on the open road, outside of town, and not near a market. Thus, the speed limit should be 100kph.
Oh no, he informed me. Just last month the city had moved the boundaries of town. Now, town extended all the way to a corner 9 kilometers “outside of town.” I was in the “new part of town” that looked like open road and was still sign-posted as being outside of town. I looked at him for a couple of seconds, not really believing this was happening. And then I remembered I was in Africa. I’m not normally so bold, but to my surprise I blurted out “You can’t give people tickets if you haven’t changed the road signs. That’s cheating!”
“That’s cheating! That’s cheating! That’s cheating Abi!” says Abi, the little myna bird in the back seat.
Oh dear. Thankfully, the officer laughed with me.
I did pay the ticket and go on my way. However, I will tell you that everything above this current paragraph was written back in January when this incident actually happened. I wrote it and set it aside, because I was still frustrated by the whole incident. I felt like I couldn’t post this on the blog while I was still dealing with it in my heart. My American sense of justice was irked by the obvious inconsistency and corruption I experienced that day. But as a believer, I needed to step back and consider what my role really is at times like these. When I have opportunity, I should do justice (Micah 6:8, Proverbs 21:3). I am also called to submit to the authority God has placed over me (Romans 13:1-2), including policemen who aren’t practicing justice. Doing justice feels good. Submitting to corrupt authority doesn’t feel good. But I am called to do both. That’s what I needed to work out in my heart – how to submit to authority, even if they are not treating me justly (as long as they’re not forcing me to sin). And that’s what I need to remember as I live in a context that frequently puts this dilemma before me.
It’s good for my heart to live here. Situations like this help me translate my formal theology into godly behavior.