Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Integrity

I've been thinking about that word a lot this past 10 days.  A whole lot.  11 days ago I was in Kenya talking to Julia about my visa.  I was leaving the next morning to take my motorcycle to Eldoret to get some minor work done and renew my visa.  And get a pizza.  10 days ago everything changed.  It's why I'm writing this blog in PA right now.

I am not going to go into all of the details right now.  But I'll put the short version of what happened here.  Basically, when I tried to renew my visa the Immigration Officer wanted me to have this new "special pass".  After a long day with him threatening to arrest me, etc, I left with no passport; he confiscated it until I applied for this new special pass.  A pass which, by the way, is only given out if you are a contractor such as one that builds roads, etc.  Also, a pass that is not being processed right now - it's impossible to get.  Eventually, this guy had the boldness to come out and say that he was looking for a bribe.  In fact, his words were "any normal person would have paid me and this would be over by now".

A bribe.  Unfortunately, in Kenya bribes are very common.  In fact, some say that it's the cost of living in Kenya and that sometimes you have to pay some people off.

I wish I could say that I never even considered it.  But that would be a lie.  Oh, I did consider it.  I could have gotten off cheap too.  I could have slipped the guy a few thousand shillings (about 30-40 bucks worth maybe?) and been on my way.  He's right.  It would have been over.  But it wouldn't truly be over, now would it?

Like I said, I thought about it.  I knew what he was really looking for.  I knew it even more when he threatened to have me arrested.  He knew I knew too.  It's weird, that unspoken exchange that happens.  So I sat there knowing that he wanted a bribe and considered it for a time.  But I just couldn't do it.  I moved to Kenya wanting to begin to break that cycle of corruption.  How could I play into it just because it would benefit me?  Is it wrong just when others do it but okay if I pay a bribe to get what I need to stay in Country?  Of course not.  A bribe is wrong no matter what.  So I pushed the thought away.  Because of that a long string of other things happened.  And in the end, this guy did not get a bribe.  And I am back in the US for an undetermined length of time.

As I thought about bribing the man, I thought through the consequences.  It would have meant paying more than just that single bribe.  I'd have to live with that for the rest of my life.  And this guy would be able to hold that over me every single time he saw me.  If I ever went back to the Immigration Office for anything at all with him there, he'd own me.  And how about the next time someone wants a bribe? I believe that once you start down that slope it gets harder and harder to stop.  You start to justify future bribes based on past ones.  All of a sudden everyone owns you.

So I did what I knew was right.  I stood firm.  He threatened to arrest me - I called someone to send me a lawyer.  He confiscated my passport - I walked away.  He took me to his supervisor - I (through a very helpful contact in Nairobi) went to his supervisor's head boss.  He told me that it was pay him for this special pass (which I know would have ended up being a fake for reasons I won't go into right now) or leave the country - I left the country.

So, it sucks.  I spent the past 9 months building a life in Kenya.  And in the past 10 days it feels like it was all ripped away.  And that sucks.  But I know that it is temporary.  I know that I am supposed to be in Kenya and that I'll be back soon.  And when I go back it will be the right way.  Without paying a single person off.  And that's worth every single dollar and every ounce of pain that it cost to leave the country in a hurry.

I keep thinking back to the Jack Bauer quote:
"You can look the other way once, and it's no big deal, except it makes it easier for you to compromise the next time, and pretty soon that's all your doing; compromising, because that's the way you think things are done. You know those guys I busted? You think they were the bad guys? Because they weren't, they weren't bad guys, they were just like you and me. Except they compromised... Once."
I'm proud to say that I didn't compromise this time.  Because I also think that the reverse is true.  When we hold firm and refuse to compromise, it's hard.  But it's easier the next time.  I don't know that the temptation is ever fully gone.  But it gets easier to stand against it.

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