Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Got chai?

I was driving to a diner party in another town (in Azerbaijan) and got pulled over. I calmly got all my docs together etc and promptly handed them to the policeman. He unfolded one doc then refolded it, obviously barely glancing at it, and then he asked something about "chai". I don't speak Azeri but I know what chai means literally (tea) and thought he was asking me to have tea. I tried telling him in Russian I was sorry but didn't have time but his Russian was as non-existent as my azeri but he kept asking chai. It quickly became apparent that he was asking for money, while I wanted to get to my diner party I have a manic intolerance of being taken advantage of and this includes bribes. I told him that if he wrote a ticket then I would pay the fine (thus leaving a paper trail); he clearly didn't want a paper trail and I decided to just play dumb. After 10 minutes of this back and forth I suggested I call my embassy friend (who doesn't even exist) and she could translate for us via phone. Well fortunately he didn't call my bluff and hastily said "yo yo yo" (no no no in azeri) and sent me on way. Azerbaijan is extraordinarily corrupt (rates around 140 something out of 180 countries on transparency internationals corruption index). I don't usually have to deal with corruption directly but it is obvious to me that it is just about everywhere in many of the countries I am working in. Anywho, there are some interesting bits on the Planet Money blog about corruption as well.