27 July 2009


It finally happened. Taking the photo to the left landed me in my first incident with the Angolan police, and my first out-and-out request for a bribe (or gasosa in the local Portuguese slang, which is also the word for a soda). I’m proud to say I managed to maintain my dignity. I was snapping away from the car as we drove by the airport to drop off a colleague, and my decision to take a photo of the airport sign turned out to be controversial. Maybe they were embarrassed that the word “internacional” was missing the final L? There were three uniformed police officers standing nearby, and one motioned for us to pull over. The same officer then started questioning me regarding the photo, asking me if I had a tourist visa. I said that I actually did have a tourist visa, which is true, but I didn’t have my passport with me at the time to prove it. He asked to see the photo, taking my camera and showing it to the other officers. One went so far as to say “that is proof” in a tone that indicated he thought he was pretty clever. I got a chuckle out of that comment – there were general mumblings of my crime and that I would need to pay a fine, etc. I was taught in grad school to call the bluff in this situation and demand the officer write a ticket, which is what I did. I was curious to see what the suggested remedies to this situation might be however.

Throughout the whole ordeal I was polite, saying I was sorry but reiterating the fact that I did have a tourist visa (apparently this gives you the right – or privilege - to take photos of airport signs in Angola) and I also pointed out politely that there was no sign stating that photography was not permitted in the area. By this time I was out of the car (I don’t take well to strangers handling my camera), and an Angolan colleague that was in the car with us had also gotten out to try to help me. First they wanted three phone credit (which is sold via a system of prepaid cards with scratch-off codes), then cash, and after refusing and reclaiming my camera we just walked away. It was kind of weird how they just let me go, but I think they knew I wasn’t going to be worth their time. Wasn’t there an airport to protect anyway? Keep up the good work fellas…

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