A couple of weeks ago I got stopped by the traffic police for speeding. They caught me in a speed trap, in a town marked for 50kph. I was clocked going 69kph. Most towns and roads aren't marked for the speed limit, but this one was. Knowing they had me, I respectfully listened to the rehearsed speech about protecting lives---yaddah yaddah---and accepted the speeding ticket. That is, until I saw that the fine for speeding was now 200,000 shillings, or $80! Last time I heard, it was still $40. This big fine really hurt, especially now that all of our money is sunk into the house we're building. We just don't have that kind of money lying around to be blown on speeding tickets. Anyway, I asked the cop where I should pay the fine. He said I could pay at any bank.
Some hours later we arrived in the town of Mbale. I sauntered over to the Barclay's bank and waited in line 20 minutes or so, while everyone else waited hungry and hot in the truck. When it was my turn at the teller's counter, I was told that I had to go to some other office before I could pay at the bank. We were already running late, so we decided to handle the ticket issue the next time we came down to Kampala. After all, I had 28 days to pay the fine without a penalty.
Fast forward three weeks to yesterday. While out shopping here in Kampala, we stopped at a Stanbic bank to pay the fine. Amber was told to go to another bank in the same shopping center. At that second bank, she was told we had to pay it at the Stanbic on Parliament Avenue. So I got on a motorcycle taxi and headed over there. After waiting in line there for 20 minutes or so, I was told by the teller I needed to go to the Nakawa branch. Doesn't anybody know where to pay these tickets? Just to be sure, I stopped at the door to ask the bank's 'customer consultant'. She told me to go to the City branch, not the Nakawa branch. She confirmed this with another bank employee, so I said okay, let me go there. I got on the motorcycle taxi and went to the City branch...where the line was thirty or more people. I just gave up and decided to try again tomorrow. On the way back to the shopping center where Amber and the girls were, we drove into a rainstorm (on the motorcycle), and I got wet.
First thing this morning, I drive across town (took me 39 minutes), park my car at a mall, and take a motorcycle taxi to the City branch again. The line is short and goes fast. The young man in front of me apparently hadn't washed his shirt in a very, very long time. The stench of stale sweat was overpowering, and I could see the traces of salt where his sweat had soaked his shirt time and time again. Finally, I get to the teller. She says, no you can't pay this here until you get a 'PRN' number at the 'cafe'. I ask repeatedly what the 'PRN' number is and what 'cafe' she is referring to, but I can't hear what she's saying through the glass. Finally, she points in the general direction of outside (the main street going through Kampala, containing hundreds of vehicles and people at the time) and says 'you ask from there, they will tell you'.
Stepping outside the bank, I look left and right trying to find a traffic cop so I can ask them. Maybe they'll know where to pay the dad-blame ticket, since they're the ones who give them out! I find some at the main intersection of Entebbe and Jinja roads. They chuckle at seeing my ticket and make some comment about how fast I must've been going. They tell me to go to yet another bank. The DTB bank, or some such, just across from the City bank where I had just wasted a few units of my life. So I go over there and walk up to the security guard in front of an office labeled "Uganda Revenue Authority". I ask her if this is the place to pay the kind of ticket I'm holding in my hand. She also chuckles about how fast I must've been going and says that, yes, this is the place. So I walk in the office, which is crowded with people. Looking like the lost mzungu, I give a questioning look to someone who then motions me to sit down. There are a row of clerks, with no indication of who they are and what kinds of issues they are handling. I ask the guy next to me if this is the right place. He says yes. After 10 minutes or so, I ask him how the line (which wasn't behaving like a line) was supposed to work. He told me there is a line but that I was sitting in front of the clerk handling land titles issues. So I shift over. Finally, I get to pay the ticket and am on my way in less than 20 minutes.
I don't know if you caught it, but the place I paid the ticket at wasn't a bank at all. It was just beside a bank. After a total of seven banks, I figured out where to actually pay traffic fines. Not in a bank.
Why didn't anybody just say 'I don't know'? Or 'go ask a traffic cop'? As if the $80 fine itself wasn't painful enough, having to traipse around Uganda, bank to bank, waiting in long lines, tellers telling me to go to such and such a bank, only to find out I needed no bank, is just ridonkeylous. It seems like the systems in place are there to confound you rather than assist you. At times this inefficiency can be discouraging, but for those of us who have found a life here, the best thing we can do is just laugh it off...and write a cynical blog about it.