It was a blur, a flash of beige and black darting out of the high grass, no time for me to react, except for the reflex expletive. Then, the inevitable sickening thud, thud as my heavy ute’s tyres crushed the life out of the poor creature.
I had killed a goat.
I shuddered to a crashing halt, still cursing my bad luck, and grabbing my wallet, jumped out of the car to be greeted by the sight of the wretched animal twitching its last vestiges of its short life away. There would be no miracle recovery. Nearby a young kid bleated mournfully, confused as to what had become of its mother. In a goat’s world, the scene could not have been more pathetic.
A crowd was gathering.
“Where’s the owner?” I demanded
A lady quietly replied, “Owner not here. You are free to go.”
I was prepared for this, I knew the rules and this is not how it is supposed to work. If you run over a goat in Zambia, you must pay recompense; the going rate is two hundred kwacha (about forty US dollars or twenty five pounds). Goats are valuable, they provide milk and meat. A car that mows down a bleating animal must pay the price of its destruction to the owner. My brain was telling me to do as custom demanded, not run away.
“Does anyone know where the owner is?” I asked again, this time a little louder.
By now the crowd had grown. A vehicle running over a goat is a welcome diversion to the daily life of a village, especially if the deceased goat is not a mile long grease spot. The goat’s fate they care nothing about, but an occasion is to be savoured. The crowd was jovial and inquisitive. Several of the men were inspecting the carcass, sizing it up for its potential value as an unexpected lunch. Meat is not always this easy to come by.
The ubiquitous, hopeful youth arrives, always on the make. There is one in every gathering wherever in the world you are. “Give me one fifty kwacha and I will give it to the owner,” he offers. Of course he would.
“Can you take me to the owner?” I ask, not with any real prospect of success.
“Give me one fifty and I will make sure he gets it.” Not a reply one felt one could trust.
The crowd was now festive, men greeting each other as if they had been long apart, women standing to the side, gossiping amongst themselves, and children running and laughing. It had become obvious that I had provided the sideshow, and now they were queuing up for the fun.
The poor goat, meanwhile, was now been taken to the side of the road and bleed dry in preparation for the coming feast.
And still no owner.
I knew I was never going to meet the owner, nor was I inclined to stay any longer; I was already on a very tight timeline to make it to a meeting in another town. The untrustworthy youth was still standing by, bouncy and fidgety, laughing at jokes in the local language made by other youths. My choices had run out so I gave him one hundred kwacha and told him to give it to the owner, and then I told the lady who earlier told me to go, that he had the money and was to give it to the owner. They both agreed it would happen. I knew it wouldn’t. The whole village would know, but they will spend it amongst themselves as they see fit, most likely discussing what to buy with their windfall as they picked the bones dry of the already skinned goat.
I climbed back in my car and drove off, a little shaken, but otherwise ok. I had a meeting to get to.
I got to my meeting on time and, at its conclusion, pointed my car to Ndola. Less than an hour down the road I was pulled over by a police speed check. He claimed I was doing eighty three kilometers in a sixty kilometer zone. There are no signs indicting the legal speed, but even so as I was going over speed humps at the time, eighty three kilometers was more likely twenty three. Speed humps in Zambia are designed to rattle the teeth out of your head and leave the cars undercarriage all over the road. Going over them fast was a once in a lifetime event…for the car, at least.
He showed me the radar reading, but it was clear the radar was broken and the readout was frozen for eternity on eighty three. It was all too easy to see what was happening. I asked what the fine was.
“One hundred and eight kwacha” he smiled. He knew what was coming.
I knew if I asked him to fill out a ticket it would only make him mad. He would take me to the police station, spend four hours looking for the ticket book, whilst interviewing me about my visa status, stamps on my passport, how long I was entitled to be in the country…everything he could think of to make sure he conveyed that anytime I feel like a repeat of this, all I had to do was ask for a ticket.
“I only have one hundred,” I replied, and to make sure he understood, I handed over my license with the note underneath. With the well-practiced speed of a magician, the note was separated from the license and placed in his top pocket, no doubt only to be seen again when he needed to buy something.
Handing me back my license, he smiled and said, “This time I give you a discount.”
He knew it was nonsense, I knew it was nonsense, and he knew I knew it was nonsense. We had both just committed a crime, for which we will never be punished. It was all part of the game of life in Zambia. How depressing.
So which act was worse; killing the goat or bribing the police officer? In truth, if you even have to stop for split second to think about it, then maybe you too are part of the problem.
The goat was going to die anyway. It was being bred so that a village would not starve. If that annoys you, then so be it. Personally, I can’t get upset over a goat that had no road sense. And the villagers not only got an unexpected lunch, they also got one hundred kwacha to spend wisely, or, if they so choose, on a good time. All but the goat were better off.
However, when I left that policeman I was very upset. And annoyed. And full of internal self-flagellation. A few hours earlier I was amongst poverty that my subsequent actions only entrenched. By paying the policeman his bribe so that I might save less than twenty dollars, I was actually taking money from the people of Zambia.
Off course the policeman was to blame, but not as much as I. After all, the policeman, even with his bribes, earns a pittance of what I earn. I could afford to do this correctly. I knew what I was doing was perpetuating the problem. I was just being a cheap, lazy jerk, with no consideration for the suffering of the others in this country.
So, go right ahead, call me a goat killer, I couldn’t care less. However, if you call me corrupt I will bow my head in shame, and hope that next time I will be a stronger human being. However, I doubt it. As I said, it is entrenched…in everyone here.