All for a simple cup of tea
We were on our way from Nairobi to Bungoma, a six hour drive. I was scheduled to be the guest speaker and singer at a conference the next day, so Ray and a friend were enlisted to shuttle me from point A to point B. Amidst our conversation and laughter, Ray spotted a police officer on the side of the road who promptly flagged us to pull over. Ray hadn't broken any speed limits or laws, but the officer had his own reasons for accosting us. Making his rounds, first to Ray to get identification and then throughout the vehicle to ensure everything was copacetic, the officer came up with no reason to accuse us of anything illegal. We knew that and he knew that, but he couldn't let us go without first asking Ray, "Can you just buy me tea?"
This is what the locals call "toa kitu kidogo". It means "give a little something", otherwise known as the bribe.
Now, the officer had asked Ray to step out of the vehicle and asked for the bribe outside of our earshot, but Ray returned shortly after and informed us of what had gone down. He had paid the bribe so that we could continue on our way.
I tried not to let my face show what my heart was feeling.
Ray tried to explain that had he not paid the bribe, the officer would have made up a reason to arrest him and we would have been hauled off to court, which would have delayed us to the point missing the conference.
Nevertheless, my disappointment remained.
The world at your fingertips at a fraction of the cost
One thing I have learned since living here is that bribing is a way of life for pretty much everyone, Christians included. According to my husband, the bribe is even considered a kind gesture, like tipping the person before the job is done or providing an incentive. You see it with police officers, government officials, schools, shopkeepers, people in parking lots who simply show you where to park your car, and so on. It's everywhere... well, at least it was. Recent government rulings are enforcing certain measures to curb corruption. If a policeman attempts to solicit a bribe from you, you can now report him. This is fairly new legislation, so it hasn't caught all of the misdeeds yet, but how can you when bribing is a way of life and people don't even see it as wrong?
The bribe isn't the only form of corruption around here. Almost everything is bootleg. When most Americans were watching Frozen in the theaters, I had already seen it multiple times in the comfort of my own home and had only paid 50ksh (forty-one cents) for it! Bootleg movies are everywhere. In fact, you can find a young kid selling bootleg movies every 20 yards or so. You see, I can pay 50 shillings for a bootleg movie, but to buy it legitimately I'd have to pay 850-1,000ksh ($10-12), double the price I would spend to purchase two sacks full of vegetables in a market haul. Ray and I have discussed discontinuing our consumption of bootlegged blockbusters, but that also means saying goodbye to our once a week movie night. I'm sorry, but no movie is worth two weeks worth of groceries!
Cue conflicting feelings and post-teen angst
As a Christian, I feel like bribing and bootlegging is wrong. It's using covert means to accomplish a task instead of using the proper channels. It's cheating the system. This mentality was definitely the culprit behind my disappointment in Ray almost two years ago. But lately I've begun to believe that this idea about bribery stems mostly from a Western mindset, which makes bribery seem more black and white than it really is.
Oh, wouldn't it be loverly to be able to afford morals?
One reason my thinking has changed stems from one of my favorite plays/books, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. Some of you may know this story as the basic plot to the movie My Fair Lady. Eliza's father, Mr. Doolittle makes a number of profound statements regarding the poor and their mentality when it comes to morality and money.
Higgins: Have you no morals, man?
Doolittle: [unabashed] Can't afford them, Governor. Neither could you if you was as poor as me... what is middle class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything. Therefore, I ask you, as two gentlemen, not to play that game on me. I'm playing straight with you. I ain't pretending to be deserving. I'm undeserving; and I mean to go on being undeserving. I like it; and that's the truth.
As Christians, especially Western Christians, it's easy for us to look down on those who bribe or bootleg and swear we'd never participate in such events, but we can afford it. What about those who live in poverty? Ask anyone in the business class here in Kenya if their software is legit, and you will have a hard time finding a single soul that contributed a dime to the mountain of money Bill Gates sits on. Why? No one can afford it. The question my husband posed to me was, "How are people in a third world country supposed to work if the programs cost more than the amount of money they make in a few months?"
Tilling my heart's soil for remnants of legalism
I have been known to have very legalistic tendencies, and though I feel the Lord has pulled the majority of legalism's roots from my heart, a few remnants remain. Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm being legalistic or if my sentiments are justified, so in those moments I have to turn to Scripture; the one resource that has the power to divide between soul and spirit, joint and marrow, legalism and truth. What truth have I found?
Christians should NEVER, under any circumstance, take or ask for a bribe.
Exodus 23:8 "And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of those who are in the right."
Deuteronomy 16:19 "You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous."
Proverbs 10:2 "Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death."
But it is permissible, though not always advisable, for us to give bribes.
Proverbs 21:14 " A gift given in secret soothes anger, and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath."
Proverbs 18:16 "A man's gift makes room for him and brings him before the great."
Proverbs 17:8 "A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers."
Bringing it back to you
This is really an issue that most missionaries have to grapple with when they first experience life in third world countries such as Kenya, and they all fall on either side of the fence. Some refuse to bribe whatsoever, instead pursuing legitimate methods regardless of the inconvenience, while others gladly bribe if it means they can smuggle food, water, or Bibles to a people desperately in need. I still find myself trekking with the former group, while my husband sides with the latter, but I really think my feelings are starting to change.
What do you think?