Thursday, July 12, 2012

No Left Turn

I do plan to write a June/July update soon, but this isn't it. This is a story. Quite often (pretty much daily!), I think to myself, "Wow, I really should share that story on the blog." But, life happens and I don't take the time. Something happened to me (Shay) yesterday however, that I really wanted to share. I had my first - well, technically second - run in with a Bolivian police officer. Here's the whole story in a nutshell:

Aidan and I had gone down to La Cancha to get haircuts from our favorite stylist in the afternoon. You don't realize it, but this simple "errand" takes a lot of planning here. First, you must think about the right time to go (after 3 pm when siesta time is over), next you must think about how to get there - in a taxi? a trufi? a micro? your own car? Well, my first thought was to take a trufi. Trufis are like taxis, only slightly larger vehicles (typically a mini van) and have a fixed route - meaning they only go certain directions/ways/streets/locations, etc... We have a trufi line that goes right by our house and goes down to La Cancha, so it's quite convenient. Plus, they are really cheap. However, any time I think about taking a trufi, honestly, I groan and whine inside. They are usually slow, jam packed, dirty, and stinky. On the other hand, taking our own car was risky because it is extremely difficult to find a parking spot anywhere downtown or in La Cancha. Well, after deciding to take the car, we made our way down and ended up finding a decent spot that was only a few blocks away from the hair salon. We got our haircuts and left the scene. Here's where the story really begins. You really can't understand this unless you've lived here and know the area that we were in, but it is a very, very busy, crazy, chaotic, area where the streets are all either one way or you are forbidden to make left turns, etc. I have actually only personally driven down there once before. I have ridden with Lowell a couple of times and been in a taxi or trufi once or twice. All that to say, I really (really!) don't know all the traffic rules down there or which way the streets go or where you can turn and not turn. It's all so crazy...and much like a lot of stuff here, doesn't make any sense to me. The first main street we came to,  I couldn't turn left on, second main street, I wasn't sure...didn't see a no turn left sign so I thought I'd go for it because no cars were coming. BAD IDEA. Problem was, if I kept going straight, I'd go deeper and deeper into La Cancha. Believe me, you do not want to get stuck in the depths of LC in your car. So, I made a lightening fast decision to turn when I had the chance. Whoa. Two police officers started blowing their whistles at me and yelling something at me and pointing over to the right. Of course, I had no idea what they were saying except for, "you can't turn left here!". So, I stop and try to back up into the lane to go straight. Another bad idea. I was so flustered and I had no idea what he was saying, so I just went ahead and went straight (for Cbba residents, what I did was turn left onto San Martin from Aroma - f.y.i = don't ever do it!!!). So...I drive along for several blocks, not thinking there was any problem when a po-po comes up beside me on his moto telling me to pull over. Oh, STINK. I immediately started praying for God to intervene and help me! I was scared to death. I acted totally dumb and asked him what the problem was. It would be impossible to tell you how our "conversation" went from that point, but basically it was very hard and stressful to try and communicate with him. I was almost in tears. When he saw that my license was expired, I tried to explain to him that I couldn't renew it until I received my new 2 year visa and that we had payed for those already and they were in process. I showed him my receipt for that, as my lawyer had advised us to do in case of any trouble like this, but he wasn't accepting it. He wanted to take me to transito (the police station, basically) right then. You see, the Bolivian process of paying fines for traffic violations is completely different than what we are used to in the states! They do not issue a ticket, then you go pay it on your own time. No, they take you in right then and there and you pay the fines at the office. Well, this scared me to no end and I argued with him that I could not go to transito right then and eventually told him I would go, but not without my husband. So, he asked where my husband was, where our house was, and said, "Ok, let's go to your house and get him!!!" What?!! I was like, um...ok, that is so freakin' weird, but Ok!! At that point, I just needed Lowell with me, so I was willing to drive all the way to my house with the guy following me to get him. I called Lowell once we start
'/0ed off and was a complete basket case! I explained to him through tears what had happened and that I needed him to help me and that we were coming to the house to pick him up! He immediately called our lawyer once I hung up the phone with him to ask for advice.

  PART 2:
After driving for a while (we live a far distance from LC), the officer pulled up beside me again and asked again where my house was. When I told him again (this time, my brain worked a little better and I told him the name of our neighborhood and he finally realized how far it was!), he asked me to pull over again. I did so, and we had another agonizing "discussion". He told me that he could not go all the way to our house and that we needed to go to transito immediately. I told him that my lawyer could speak to him and explain to him the reason for my expired license. See, he was going to make me pay a fine for turning left where I wasn't supposed to (totally was my fault, I did it. But, I totally really didn't know I couldn't. However, I was prepared to pay that fine) AND for my expired license. Wasn't going to pay that fine, because my lawyer had clearly told us that as long as we showed our receipt for our 2 yr. visas, that there would be no problems. Ugh. He talked to my lawyer on the phone, and after that long conversation, she said something to me that I didn't understand at all. She asked if I had copies of my passport and carnet with me (! I'm a resident here, not a tourist). I said, I have some at home, Lowell can bring them to me or I can go home and get them for the guy. I was guessing she had made some arrangement with him, but I was clueless. What I understood, was that I was to wait there while he called his boss to "explain" things and see what he suggested. In the meantime, I called Lowell again and told him I had no idea what I was really supposed to do. He said, "Babe, just go to transito with him and pay the fines. I'm sure it will be fine." I said, ok...but you have to come meet me there! After getting off the phone with Lowell, I told the police officer that I could go with him to transito and pay the fine. I could tell he was extremely exasperated and frustrated with me at his point at not understanding anything that was being said or arranged!! He said, "NO! It's all ok. You can go home. I am going to explain the situation to my boss. I will explain to him that you are a foreigner and did not understand the rules or anything I said (or something of that nature)!!"

I was relieved to say the least. I honestly believe that it was whatever my AWESOME lawyer said to him on the phone that made him change his mind! She probably told him to have pity on that dumb, ignorant gringa who was clueless. Not sure, but either way, I am extremely thankful for her and thankful that the Lord was watching out for me. I honestly can't stop thinking about the whole situation - it really shook me up. I have a hard time knowing that I did something wrong, was caught, and didn't have to pay for it. I feel like I really want that guy to know that I was willing to pay the fine I owed, but that I was freakin' scared to death to go to transito with him!! He was being a very good officer, because he refused to take my money personally (which I had offered him at least 3 times). And, he in no way was being mean or rude to me, either. He really was simply a good Bolivian police officer trying to do his job well. For that, I credit him greatly.

All in all...just another crazy day here in Coch. I'll try to post more "daily life" stories here more often.

We Love you all!!