When you go through a red light and get stopped for it in a foreign country, you should always pretend that in your home country red means ‘Go!’ Then gesture wildly with your hands and speak jibberish in your native language.
Unless your native tongue is English and you’re in Uganda, where pretty well everyone, because of British imperialism and all that, speaks English, or at least a form of it, at least in Kampala.
The next best move, when the cop, in this case a lady in white, saunters up to your window (they always go to the passenger side here) , is to have your kids with you in the back seat. But you don’t want the kids to cry. I tried that once and, quite honestly, it doesn’t work.
It was different this time on this return school run that included a different route. When the lady officer spoke to me, I just said truthfully that it was all confusing because in my home country the lights run vertically, not horizontally like in Uganda. And I somehow missed this red light. Didn’t see it. And I was sorry.
Then, with the kids quiet and looking on and hearing Their Old Man actually say he was SORRY!, I handed over my license.
This was actually my Ontario license. Because while I’ve been driving in Uganda for eight years, and am somehow still alive, I haven’t yet managed to get my Ugandan license.
Well, actually I gave the nice officer a photocopy of my Ontario license. Because you never, ever give your real license, lest it’s never returned.
Now, in my defense, for some years Ugandan officials foolishly considered a Canadian license rather acceptable as a sort of verification that you can manage Ugandan roads. But about five years ago the government needed more money for military jets and donuts in Parliamentary committees, so it made all foreigners get a Ugandan license. That’s when my Good Wife got hers.
This means paying at a local license office. But things at that office can get so absurd, even the bravest among us can fall into a sort of fetal position and cry “Mama! Mama!” under the nearest table.
(Still, in all honesty, when this fine lady officer stopped me, I had already, after all these years, with the help of an agent (trying to avoid that fetal position), started the whole process at that license office. But who would believe me?)
So I just handed this traffic officer this little thin piece of paper, my so-called license, this black and white photocopy of my Ontario license. And I just knew that I would now be put in the next cargo plane out of Uganda.
But then this cop looked at the kids. And they didn’t cry. No, they were solid in every way. I mean, I had them trained by now, better than our new dog, really. And I said again, I was sorry.
And the officer looked at the kids again. And they still stayed solid, giving just a certain sad but clueless look.
And then the nice lady gave my, uh, license back to me. And she didn’t say anything else. Except that I could go. So I drove off so very thankful that Uganda’s confusing traffic light was now behind me.
And on another day, I’ll share more about that fetal position thing at the Ugandan driver’s license office.
And if you want something from the vault on my very first Ugandan police experience, from the files of the Hamilton Spectator, you can see here.