Over the top

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
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Trip End Mar 21, 2008


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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Saturday, May 19, 2007

One Saturday night at Stopover Bar, our nightly restaurant, we meet Mr. Alex, who drives around in a green Land Rover fighting corruption wherever it may lurk.  That's actually his job, as part of the government's Anti-Corruption Unit and not just a personal hobby. 

Mr. Alex is a stocky and powerful man with quite possibly the strongest handshake I have ever been on the receiving end of.  He uses the 'Early Engagement' method, grabbing the hand quickly to catch the shakee off-guard.  Then he pulls the victim close to his body, thereby gaining the advantage of leverage.  Once his prey is surprised and off balance, Mr. Alex moves into a classic Overhand Press, twisting his hand above that of the other person, making it impossible for them to impart any power into the shake.  Having gained this dominance, the upper hand you might say, he squeezes like a python until the opposing hand gives up and falls limp in his.  I fell victim to this display of machismo the first time we met but I am ready on this occasion.

"Ah, Mr Alex," I smile warmly and extend my hand, but only slightly, as if doing the Robot Dance.  He reaches out, stretching further than he would normally like.  He is only half way through his greeting, "Ah, hello Mr. J..." when I grab his hand like a lion pouncing on an unsuspecting antelope.  I continue to smile although I can see a faint panic in his eye.  With all my might I pull his sturdy frame towards me, not willing to relinquish the all-important ninety degree elbow angle.  He is forced to take a half-step towards me.  Timing my move perfectly, I wait until his foot is off the ground then lift my right shoulder and push down on his hand.  We keep smiling throughout but his is fading as I gain the ascendancy.  He has the strength advantage, no question, but I am relying on technique and the element of surprise.  It's like that Stallone movie 'Over the Top' where Sly defeats his stronger arm-wrestling rivals through superior technique and willpower. 

I don't wish to humiliate Mr. Alex so, having established my superior squeeze, I ease off, allowing him to put the squeeze on me.  The whole process takes about five seconds, after which we smile, sit down and start to chat.

"So, Mr. Alex.  How is the corruption business?"

"Mr. Jim, it is always a struggle.  We are not just fighting the law, we are fighting the African culture.  People have always used favours and bribes for everything here."

"How do you decide what is corruption and what isn't?  For instance, if I give my waiter a tip at the beginning of the night to 'look after me' and he gives me better service as a result, is that corruption?"

"Yes.  We determine corruption by its effect.  In your example, the other customers are receiving inferior service because of your tip."

"What if I walk into the hospital here in Tanzania and the doctor beckons me to the front of the line because I am white and he knows he can charge me a lot.  I didn't do anything - is that corruption?"

"Yes, it is the doctor who is corrupt.  What if one of the people in front of you in line dies because of the ten minutes you spend with the doctor?"

"Mm.  Good point."  I realise I will have to be more creative in my examples.  I arrange three empty beer bottles on the table.  "Okay, these are three lines for immigration at the airport, two are open and one is closed.  The two open lines have ten people in each.  The third line suddenly opens up.  The last five people from line two run over to this line.  The person who was number six in line two a moment ago is now first in line.  If I am person number five in line two, I am a victim because I have to wait longer.  Is that corruption?"

"Ah, you are a smart man, Mr. Jim.  I cannot say that it is corrupt but it is unfair.  Why are you in such a rush to get through immigration anyway?  You must relax."

"Touché."
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