"A Little Something"
Cramped in a small, stuffy room with 20 other sweaty bodies, I tried to comprehend the information spat out by the instructor at the front. Although hidden by the monstrous pillar that was awkwardly placed dead center in the classroom, the authoritarian voice still carried to the back. More than once the thought of running out of that dungeon and into the free world crossed my mind, but the ultimate reward of a license kept me firmly rooted to my seat. Undoubtedly, attending driving school in Mozambique comes with many challenges, from concrete ones like the pillar, to abstract ones like culture, language and different ethical views. One day my driving school dungeon presented me with a dilemma that taught me how to respect other people's culture while keeping my morals and integrity.
Finally the lecture ended and I headed out the exit. As I waited for my dad to come and pick me up, my driving instructor appeared from around the corner, bought a cigarette and approached me. He leaned in close, and let the toxic smoke envelope me in a shroud of nauseous gases. "Why are you still here, are you not going home?" he asked. "I am just waiting to get picked up", I answered as I coughed up the secondhand smoke. "Ah, I see," he responded oblivious of my dislike. Then came the slightly uncomfortable matter of the discussion. "You know your teacher is hungry, and come the weekend I need a little something to buy a coke or something you know," he asked eyeing me closely, "you understand?" I understood completely, this was his way of subtly trying to get me to pay him to expedite all my paperwork and get me my driver's license ahead of schedule.
A million thoughts rushed through my mind that instant. Here I had been spending my precious vacation time struggling month after month in a classroom that heated up quicker than an incinerator, and now my teacher offered me an easy way out. I would give him the soda, then each week a little bit extra under the table and I would be set. It was a perfect deal; however I knew that I could never live with the fact that I had bribed my way through driving school. To make matters worse, I also could not flat out refuse my teacher since in the local culture that is seen as horribly disrespectful. This would deteriorate my relationship with my teacher to such an extent that he would not allow me to take the exam, and even if I did, he could fail me on the spot regardless of my results. Apparently my only two choices were to either throw away my dreams, or to abandon my morals. I felt like the ground split between my feet and I could no longer remain ambivalent, and if I hesitated even a minute longer I would plummet helplessly into the fathomless abyss below.
When my dad arrived I informed him of my inner torture and turmoil and we realized that there was only one way out of this, providing the instructor with the money he demanded. However, when I gave him the money I looked deeply into his eyes with a face that displayed a fixed and firm demeanor. Staring into the depths of his soul I conveyed with a method more powerful than words the fact that this was the only money he would ever get from me. It reflected both my ethical standards and my respect for him and his culture. Although I would have to endure the claustrophobia inducing classroom for perhaps many more months, I felt certain that I could do it with a clean conscience and still have a chance to pass. I would still be able to realize my dream, and at the same time keep my moral standards intact.
Through this ordeal I came to realize that corruption the way I perceived it differed from how my instructor viewed it. A person in power is expected to help out those near him in order to be aided himself; it's a tit for tat scenario. That is the culture of northern Mozambique, and thus the culture of my instructor. When this mindset, which does works on a small scale, is put into the bureaucratic aspects of society it can easily turn into corruption. The border between the rules of society and financial fraud, as a result, is a very fine line, and to differentiate between the two can be near impossible.
I believe that this trial of my ethics taught me how to distinguish between the two and how to honor culture while battling corruption. Due to my experience I have become a more critical thinker. I have learned to take the time to think twice before I judge the world around me, since few aspects of life are simply black and white. As with my instructor, there was a legitimate reason to his actions, and had I not taken the time to appreciate that I would have jeopardized my dream to get a license. I know that in the future I will be faced with even tougher dilemmas and be in situations where I will be forced to make life changing decision. However, due to my experience with the instructor I have the confidence that I will be able to make the right choice.
Written By: Joshua Manu