What associations does the phrase "spent the night in the police station" evoke in you? "Stuck", "got into trouble", "screwed up"? And somewhere far away, beyond the seas-oceans, people think differently and there are good reasons for that.
The journalist, "armed" with a pen and notepad, will interview eyewitnesses; and the author of this article chose a more laborious way, trying on the image of an inhabitant of Africa.
Early morning. A border checkpoint between South Africa and Swaziland. The second in the queue of two people I pass passport control. A group of customs officers, who have not yet taken over the shift, are talking about something of their own, the morning mood has not had time to deteriorate on their faces. "Where did you spend the night, in a hotel?" one of them asked me, as if casually. "Yes, in a five-star hotel, it's called "Police station", — replied with a serious look.
After leaving the territory, I sat down on the grass waiting for the bus, and the echoes of rolling laughter were still heard behind. I foresee that the average European will not understand what this "joke" is about, and after which word you need to laugh. In some countries of the southern part of the African continent, which differ from their neighbors by the higher cost of hotel service — South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana, there is an unwritten law. If a person who is unable to pay for an overnight stay moves between the cities of his country, and the nearest transport that can be used to leave is only in the morning of the next day, he has the right to spend the night in the police station. Why is that? Staying on the street, a good citizen will become an attractive object for criminal personalities, whose activities become more active after dark. It is easier to prevent an unfulfilled crime than to investigate what has been committed.
First experience (Windhoek, Namibia) Edit
A few years ago, driving up to the capital of Namibia, having heard from the driver the recommendation "to spend the night in the police", I took it as a joke. But the director of the railway station, to whom I turned upon arrival in the city, explaining that the terminal is closed for the night, escorted me ... to the same place.
The modest size of the room did not imply its use in such a capacity. Three glass windows in the center of the room and two benches in front of them. The female employee explained that you can spend the night here — on any bench, but it is not desirable to advertise — in order to avoid a mass invasion of "guests".
... Returning to the station by nightfall, I found a more comfortable place — a one-and-a-half-meter platform on the floor at the far end of the room, where, having spread out a camping mat, I spent the night, giving up wooden "beds" to black brothers.
Almost like a king (Maseru and Semonkong, Lesotho) Edit
In the capital of a tiny state, the police station became my home for two nights. The employees received the white visitor kindly, placing in the far corner. The new shift, which appeared the next day, took the return of the "tenant" more strictly, warning that this overnight stay should be the last. About reasons are easy to guess: there is an unspoken ban regarding two overnight stays in one police station, besides, a group of villagers arrived with similar intentions..
….In Semongkong, fortune smiled. The driver dropped me off at the door of the police station, where the police allocated a wooden bench, an electric heater and a TV with broadcast videos to an infrequent "guest" (the village is not the capital).
I arrived in a small South African town late in the evening. Having bought a "tourist's dinner" at the supermarket, I was stopped by street patrolmen who asked where was going and if I needed help. I asked them to provide assistance. But the cheapest room in a simple hotel turned out to be beyond my means. Show me where the police station " — I said them.
Upon arrival, the "alien" was placed... in the toilet. There were two of them, and, as the policeman said, no one uses the first one. I spent the night fine: it was quiet and dark.
Prison shower after a long road (Middlepits, Botswana) Edit
"How long have you been traveling in Africa, spending the night in station houses?" one of the police officers asked in the morning after a standard overnight stay at the station. After thinking for a couple of seconds, I tried to calculate. "I see," said the interlocutor, without waiting for an answer. After a while, I was taken to the "bathroom" intended for prisoners, provided with a tub of heated water and a chopped piece of household soap…
Night checking (Bloemfontein, South Africa) Edit
Arriving late in the evening in the judicial capital of the country, I went on foot to the outskirts of city, where there is a huge building — a police station. The attendant sent me to the end of a long corridor, warning that needed to sleep sitting down. However, after midnight he appeared and gave the go-ahead for the night in a horizontal position. It was quiet here, the only drawback can be considered an unclosed back door, through which the cold penetrated at night. In the evening of the second day of my stay in the city, I entered the building without asking and settled in the same place. Soon another guest arrived — from the locals. He lay down on the pushed chairs, and I settled down, spreading a rug on the floor. In the dead of night, a certain delegation with a "guide" appeared. The fellow in misfortune jumped up in fright, repeating: "I'm not lying down, I'm already getting up..." But me continued to "sleep", waiting for them to lift me up. But this did not happen: they made a noise and left.
The White Crow (Clarence, South Africa) Edit
The town of Clarence is known as a tourist destination, where not poor foreigners with white skin come. Representatives of local businesses adapt to them: owners of hotels, souvenir shops, etc. Therefore, a man with a backpack who came on foot from the Golden Gate Highlands National Park (after walking more than fifteen kilometers) surprised the police. The guest was allocated a special room designed for meetings, where the floor was carpeted.
Three contenders for one place (Pretoria, South Africa) Edit
The policemen of the big city were not as supportive of the foreigner as their colleagues from the province, despite the white skin color of the newcomer. They allowed me to spend the night sitting on a bench in the company of four old men, and even then, they constant hinted that me should go out the door and waiting for morning at the entrance, where a "lodger" from among the aborigines. By the way, he was not alone: two more people were sleeping across the street, spreading cardboard on the sidewalk. An hour later, our ranks have grown: eight guys perched on the floor in an empty booth at the entrance, apparently intended for a guard in the past. At five in the morning they were escorted out of there, and I sat all night on a bench next to the snoring pensioners.
Hospitality is the duty of the police (Paulus, Lesotho) Edit
A minibus, slowly crawling along a mountain road, slowed down at a fork. "There," — the driver explained, pointing into the pitch darkness. A couple of minutes later, the noise of the engine faded into the distance with a barely discernible echo. Pulled out a flashlight from his backpack, the weak beam of which helped a little at first to jump over streams. Soon voices were heard from behind: a married couple who had come to visit relatives were making their way to the same goal.
"Will they accept us?" — I asked comrades in misfortune when I saw the lock on the door of the police station. "It is the duty of law enforcement officers to provide overnight accommodation for visitors," they answered me.
Other countries of the world do not practice such a measure, however, as an exception, the police can provide assistance to a stray foreigner. May be the author of these lines was the only one who tried out such a role…
Next door to prisoners (Lae, Papua New Guinea) Edit
Arrival in the country's second largest city coincided with the onset of darkness. "Where can drop you off?" the driver asked. "Near the police station." I came in and said hello. At first, the police did not pay attention to the foreigner sitting in the far corner: they doing more important things. Soon one of them came up and asked a question. After talking with colleagues, he led me deeper into the corridor, allocating a free space on the floor next to the cell, through the bars of which the detained violators looked out…
The next day, the overseas visitor was "transferred" to a suburban police hostel, from where they were picked up every morning, and turned back in the evening — by special transport, together with police officers.
Police Special Food (Lusaka, Zambia) Edit
The state of Zambia, although it borders with Namibia, from which I arrived, but the orders are a little different here: it is not customary to spend the night in the police. The bus from Windhoek were come in Lusaka when it was already dark. I had no desire to go at the outskirts of the city at such a late time, where inexpensive guest houses are located, and the prices for hotel accommodation in the central part of the city turned out to be higher than my modest capabilities.
Should I try to contact the police? The law enforcement officers took the request in a peculiar way, bombarding the strange (in their understanding) guest with questions of a domestic nature. According to their understanding, if a foreigner does not have money, he should stay at home, and if he has money, he should live in a hotel. At the end of the "interview", they still allocated a "living space" under the stairs and ... treated them to a ripe banana.
Only for their own (Burundi) Edit
Mpulungu is a Zambian port city, from where you can get to Burundi by water transport on Lake Tanganyika. Four people bought tickets for the cargo ship. The fellow travelers are a Congolese and a South African citizen with a child, and the latter is a former Burundian who changed his citizenship. When the ship sailed away, I turned to the "father of the family" with a question about the possibility of overnight accommodation at the Bujumbura police station (the capital of Burundi — Auth.). "You can sleep on the territory of the police station only if you have relatives among the employees," the interlocutor replied.
The battery failed (Guangzhou, China) Edit
It is unlikely that I would have slept in the police station of a country that does not practice such overnight stays if the photo camera battery had not run out, turning the events of the next day into meaninglessness. The plan gave a chance to fix the problem.
The desk officer hinted that the regional department was not a hotel, but I, feigning incomprehension, stubbornly sat down in the lobby, despite the fact that it was still far from sunset. When I noticed through the slightly open door that it was dark outside, asked the replaced guard to plug the charger into the socket. After that, with a sense of accomplishment, having covered himself with a blanket, he tried to fall asleep lying on a bench a one meter long. Half an hour later, someone from the highest ranks shouted in Chinese: "Get up!" I had to return to a sitting position. Only after midnight, the policemen calmed down, which allowed me to lie down again.
Once and no more (Tokyo, Japan) Edit
Tokyo's skyscrapers are guarded. But as luck would have it, the time was late, and there were no small nine-storey buildings nearby. I went in, called the elevator, and pressed the button at random. What I saw through the opened door alerted. I'm going higher, 28th floor, empty room. Lowered the blinds on the window, laid the rug on the carpet and ... fell asleep.
Half an hour later, an imperious shout brought me back to a state of wakefulness. "Pack your things and go down!" — the Japanese man made a sign, explaining that the elevator is equipped with a security camera.
A minute later he came down after me and told me that he had called law enforcement officers. The police squad arrived immediately. In the huge metropolitan department, no one knew English. Turning to the telephone connection, it was possible to find the "polyglot" remotely. After clarifying the circumstances, I received two shifted chairs as a bed in a noisy room where work was in full swing all night.
...Leaving early in the morning, I asked about the possibility of repeating the overnight stay, to which I heard: "In the police — only once!"
Sometimes the traditions of foreign lands are not completely clear to us, but, one way or another, the above-described "canon" helped many inhabitants of African countries to avoid collisions with street crime, and perhaps saved someone's life; and the author's small adventures are vivid proof of that.
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