I had a very interesting experience with corruption at a minor level while getting Gail a Ugandan phone. We were helped by a clerk who had very good English and indicated that she was a believer during our conversation about the various choices. After the purchase she accompanied us out to a table in front of the store where a phone company rep was selling airtime. In Uganda when you sign up for phone service with a new phone, you have to register the phone, and it’s a bit of a process. It took about thirty minutes.
The clerk, a woman about 35 years old, was standing by watching the registration process, even though the phone purchase was complete. When it came time to get a photocopy of Gail’s ID, she jumped in and volunteered to take the ID to the photocopy shop, which was right next to the phone store. The smallest amount I had was a 1,000 shilling note – about 35 cents – which I gave to her. Now since this isn’t my first rodeo, I know that a photocopy costs 100 shillings, and I watched her closely so there were no shenanigans with the ID. After a few minutes, she came back with the photocopy and handed it to the man.
I waited, expecting her to return the balance of 900 shillings to me. She had her fist closed firmly around the change and acted very nonchalant until it became obvious that she did not intend to return the money. I’m sure she thought the musungu would not know how much a copy cost.
Finally, I said, “Were you going to return the balance, or were you going to keep it?” She acted very surprised, and laughed nervously. Then, and her brazenness still amazes me, she reached out her hand to me and very quickly and deliberately dropped a 500 shilling coin into my hand, smiling as if all was well with the world. By my count, I was still 400 shillings short.
Now don’t get me wrong. Every day, I fend off attempts to extract much larger amounts, so 400 shillings is as nothing, and even in Uganda, 400 shillings doesn’t buy much. I have tried to become very careful, as “wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove” about it all. Sadly, it’s the culture for many here to take advantage of the musungus. I don’t like it, but I’m not going to change it by overreacting to it when it happens.
But the complete impudence of this woman that I had just purchased a phone from, to do such a thing for such a small amount right in my face, was just too much. She was willing to sell her soul in open deceit for the equivalent of twelve cents. Think of it!
So I prayed about what to do.
As I prayed, and Gail continued to fill out and sign forms, the clerk casually walked back into the store and came back out just a minute later, but her hand was now unclenched, so she had off-loaded her ill-gotten gains. Now if the Lord had told me to just let it go, I would have. But He didn’t say that. What He told me to do was to return the 500 shilling coin to her, and he told me what to say.
So I handed her the coin and said, “Here’s the rest of the balance. Since you’ve decided to keep some of it, now you have all of it.” I looked into her shocked eyes and said, “But, I think, honesty is always best, don’t you?” Then I turned back to Gail.
What happened next is telling. She held the coin between thumb and forefinger like it was a cockroach or a spider. She literally did not know what to do with it. After some obvious inner struggle as she considered the coin, she carefully placed it down on the table in front of her and walked back into the shop.
When we left fifteen minutes later, the coin was still there.
I am now praying about whether I am to return to her and share any more with her. As we left, I went in and thanked her for her service. Perhaps God is using this incident to open her heart.