We’ve incurred our first unplanned expense this morning: a bribe paid to a Tanzanian customs official at Mt. Kilimanjaro International Airport.
Dr. Linda Miller had brought about ten thousand dollars’ worth of donated medicines with her, but the official demanded first a complete list of the medicines and then a document authorizing their entry, neither of which Linda had. Ten hours from San Francisco to London, eight hours in Heathrow, eight hours from London to Nairobi, three hours in the Nairobi airport, and one hour from Nairobi to Mt. Kilimanjaro had left all of us exhausted and we knew that several more hours of driving over terrible roads lay ahead of us. So the threat of losing all of Linda’s medicines came when we had little strength or presence of mind left to deal with it.
Joas Kahembe, Karimu’s Tanzanian Board member, who had met us at the airport, conversed in Swahili with the customs official as Linda stood nearby with Marianne. The man turned to walk toward his office and Linda spoke quietly to Joas: “Should I cry?”
“My dear,” Joas answered, “this good man is not interested in your tears. He is interested in your dollars.”
Joas followed the good man to his office, where he negotiated and paid a fee of eighty dollars. Having never asked any of Karimu’s donors to help pay off crooked government officials, Marianne and I later gave Joas eighty dollars of our own money.
Of course I know all about the strong correlation between poor countries and government corruption. Last year Transparency International, the international NGO which monitors corruption, rated New Zealand, Denmark, Singapore, and Sweden as the nations where corruption prevailed the least and Somalia, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sudan, and Iraq as those where it prevailed the most. Tanzania ranked as the fifty-fifth most corrupt nation out of the one hundred eighty given scores by Transparency International, a little worse than Vietnam or Bolivia and a little better than Lebanon or Libya; this places Tanzania much closer to Somalia than to New Zealand on the corruption spectrum. I know about the corruption but it has never before cost me personally–or at least openly–so I count myself lucky. Yet I also wonder if my luck is due to change and what else might go wrong during our upcoming two weeks here.
This little cloud passes quickly, however, and I ponder once again my great fortune. After all, I hold citizenship–which nobody seeing me would challenge by imputing Kenyan or Indonesian birth to me–in the world’s nineteenth least corrupt nation, meaning that back home I am a little more likely than a Brit and a little less likely than a Belgian to get screwed by a government official; that’s not bad. And although I don’t expect a warm shower to help my sleep tonight, I know the bribe I have paid will not trouble that sleep since Linda’s medicines will help a lot of sick people and maybe even save some lives.–Don Stoll