Actually ROBBED!

12 Dec

“We going to kill you mother**ker! You heard about the tourists that been killed in Dar Es Salam, that’s what we do, we kill tourist mother**kers like you. Now don’t try anything stupid”

I try to have a WWJD moment. I ask myself, “What would James do?…………………….Bond that is.” My mind fails me and just keeps flashing up the same thought like a Las Vegas neon sign, you’ve cocked up this time Hap.

I draw on my last 9 years of travel experience and weigh up my situation. I’m in a locked car with tinted windows in the middle of an African ghetto with three gangsters. The one in the back seat with me is shouting they are going to kill me. To make matters worse I have with me basically everything of value that I own, including my passport and last remaining credit card. I come to the conclusion that my mind is right, you’ve cocked up this time Hap.

Ok, so how the hell did I end up in this situation?

I had woken up in my muggy painted concrete walled room, a sweaty film covering my skin with the overhead fan blowing hot air on me. But I was in Dar Es Salam, a city I was falling in love with. The night before a complete stranger had driven me around on the back of his motorbike showing me the sights. It’s the people that make a city. Unfortunately during that night I had lost my credit card. So first thing on my day’s agenda was to skype the bank to cancel it. Luckily I still I had my Australian debit card to withdraw money.

Before exiting the room I looked for a new place to hide my money belt as cleaners would find it between the sheets where I usually stash it. My room was basically a glorified cell, there were no hiding spots, I reluctantly lift my T-shirt and clip it around my waist.

I exit the guest house like a walking tourist gold mine, lap top and money belt with passport, money and debit card. The only thing I was missing was a neon sign saying I was carrying everything of value that I own in the whole world (apart from my video camera that I had taken out of my bag at the last minute). Revelling in the generosity and sunshine of Dar Es Salam totally oblivious to what the day had install for me I turned onto the busy footpath of the main street.

As I was walking along feeling at home in this foreign city, a local guy comes up to me. This is normal in Africa, another local guy walking along talking to me with the usual questions or where I am from, where have I travelled etc. No doubt he wants to sell me something, jewellery, drugs, safari, cheap bus ticket or maybe all of the above. My way to deal with these guys is to be polite and keep walking. They are pretty harmless and trying to make a living, they aren’t drunks but rather have a good grasp of English and know about the world after years of talking with tourists. If they were born in my country they would be successful salesmen. But they aren’t, they are brought up in Africa where if you aren’t born rich you struggle.

His name is William, he’s roughly the same age as me. Like most guys that come and talk to me he knows that the capital of New Zealand is Wellington and New Zealanders are called Kiwi. But William is different. William is a local musician specialising in African music. He’s in his fourth year of music studies at the local university. He’s pretty well known in Tanzania but he wants to let the world hear his music. He has dreams to take his music to the world.

It looks like it’s Williams lucky day as I tell him that I’m making a documentary and looking for local African music. He became very excited about this and guess what, my good friend William had just released his second CD. He says he can ring his manager and get him to bring a copy of the CD down for me. He asks me if I have time and assures me that it won’t take long as he has a music lecture in 1 hour that he has to get to.

He gets on his phone and calls his manager, he’s speaking in Swahili and all I pick up is the repeated mention of CD. He gets off his phone and tells me his manager is at the studio and will come and meet us with a copy of the CD. As we continue to talk and walk in the direction of the meeting spot we cross the main road and head down a side road. As William is showings me his wedding ring and telling me how he met his German volunteer wife whilst playing a gig in Zanzibar a large white car pulls up besides us. Wow fancy that, the driver of the car is one of William’s friends who just so happens to love his music. His friend also just happens to want his new CD and offers to give us a ride. William says that’s fine just as long as he promises to drop me back to the internet place I was headed to as he doesn’t want to take up anymore of my time. No worries.

For some reason the part of my brain that is meant to send out warning signals about stranger danger and hopping into unknown people’s cars that I learnt back in primary school doesn’t trigger, I jump in. I do the African handshake with Williams driver friend who is a friendly smiling fella but doesn’t speak much English. As I settle into the spacious faded maroon interior of the back seat I think how friendly everyone is in this city, ahh happy days, another amazing travel moment. You lose much by fearing to attempt.

William is concerned for my back pack that I have lying on the unoccupied back seat beside me and tells me that there are many thieves in Dar Es Salam and they will easily open the door and snatch it. He would hate for something bad to happen to me and I leave with negative views of his city. I think to myself, I’ve been travelling for nearly 10 years, I’ve never had anything robbed, the windows are tinted, I have my hand on my back pack, I’m not that stupid, she’ll be right. As I put my bag between my legs I tell William how friendly everyone has been and the amazing time I had with Samir the night before.

William gets on his phone and tells me that he’s going to call his manager and organise for us to meet him at the studio, apparently there are a lot of cool musicians hanging out there. The car merges into the chaos of the mid morning traffic. William is rather animated on the phone, and once again the only part of the conversation that I pick up is the last word, CD. I’m sure that if I had understood Swahili the conversation would have gone along the lines of “I got this dumb arse tourist who looks like an anorectic version of Jesus sitting in the car thinking I’m a musician and we’re going to get a copy of my CD”.

William who is riding shot gun gets off the phone. He starts talking to me, but I can’t hear him as his window is down, so he jumps into the back seat with me so I can hear him. He offers me a cigarette, I decline. His forehead is covered in beads of sweat, I suppose it is bloody hot. He starts singing to me in Swahili, I’m tone deaf, he sounds unbelievably talented.

Next his phone rings and he’s talking away. Then the driver’s phone rings. The driver passes William his phone and William passes me his phone mid sentence as William starts talking into the drivers phone. With Williams phone in my hand I look to the driver to try and figure out who I’m meant to be speaking to. He says “sister”

“Hello, who’s this?”

A sweet female voice with only the slightest hint of an accent answers me “this is Williams sister, he tells me you are making a documentary and are going to use his music”

The small talk continues until William hangs up on his conversation and I pass his “sister” back to him.

We’ve been in the car heading out of town for about 10 minutes, William tells me we are close to the studio and seems a little stressed that he’s going to miss his lecture. I’m feeding off his music passion, he’s so dedicated. I really hope that Sich the documentary maker likes his music and wants to include it.

William gets another phone call and when he gets off he’s cursing his manager. He’s misunderstood the previous phone calls and has left the studio with the CD to meet us. William tells his mate to turn off the main road, we bump onto a dirt road. That little stranger danger alarm bell starts up an annoying barely audible beep like a smoke alarm that is running low on batteries. But then it stops as William points to a heavily trafficked main road ahead of us. We park beside a local eatery come bar that is situated on the corner of the busy main road and side dirt road. We wait for the manager.

The Manager finally arrives on the back of one of the many motorbike taxi’s that work the streets of Dar Es Salam. He’s a big hulk of a man that seems to walk with an arrogance of a man that thinks time stops for him. He saunters over to the car, not bothering to look at us. He opens the passenger side door and lowers his bulk onto the seat. Straight away I’m not feeling the love from him, my low battery sounding stranger danger alarm starts up again, but my good friend William seems in tune to my senses and taps the manager on the shoulder

“meet Hap, he’s the one who’s going to put my music on the documentary”.

The behemoth manager gives me a welcome you would expect from a concerned father meeting his 16 year old daughter’s 30 year old boyfriend who’s a DJ at the local university night club. As I’m being introduced the car moves off from the parking spot and is doing a three point turn back into the maze of dirt roads.

My primary school days are flashing back to me with teachers telling me not to take lollies from strangers. Then the message about getting into cars with people you don’t know flashes up in big red letters, the stranger danger alarm is more constant and beeping. As the driver finishes his three point turn I get more panicked I ask “where are we going?” as I go to open my door before we get more momentum. Fuck! My doors kiddy locked. Then on que, I hear the “clunk” as the driver locks all the doors and the electric tinted windows rise up separating me from the outside world into my nightmare.

In an instance William who is sitting beside me in the spacious back seat changes from my best friend (I do realise now that he wasn’t my friend) into a gangster. He pushes me against the door, shouting at me “We going to kill you mother**ker, you heard about the tourists that been killed in Dar Es Salam? That’s what we do, we kill tourist mother**kers like you.” Now my stranger danger alarm is wailing like a world war 2 bomb siren, all I can think is “you’ve cocked up this time Hap…………………………………….and the bastard didn’t even give me any lollies”.

In my infinite wisdom I had also figured out by this point that my good friend William is probably not a musician, is not married to a German volunteer that he met playing a concert in Zanzibar, that I didn’t talk to his sister and he doesn’t have a CD. Therefore I’m sure he won’t be missing his 11 o’clock music lecture and I can probably write off getting a lift back into town to cancel my credit card – ahhh yes, I do have some luck on my side, I don’t have my $6000 limit credit card with me as I had lost it.

I weigh up my situation. I’m in a locked car with tinted windows bumping my way down a rough dirt road into the heart of the ghetto with three guys that you don’t really want to be in a locked car with. The guy beside me is shouting he is going to kill me and wants all my money. I curse myself as I feel the weight of my money belt around my waist feeling like an anchor, I know it has my passport, my Australian debit card which is my only way left of accessing cash and there’s $70 worth of Malawian money. I curse myself for going against my usual travel protocol of not wearing my money belt. My back pack is between my legs it holds my new lap top that I bought before the trip that has all the documentary footage and photos on it, plus my camera’s SD card I had forgotten about. I do a quick mental check and I’m pretty sure I have back up of the majority of the footage.

Although I’m scared I’m also very calm and I’m calculating my available options. The doors are locked so I can’t get out, they are three guys and I’m one guy that has the upper body strength of a 10 year old girl. I’m a taekwondo black belt, well I was 8 years ago, but I know I would struggle to even touch my toes these days. I have thoughts of being taken hostage in a small dark concrete room and my family having to wire money over for my freedom. Stories of dead tourists go through my mind, like the 29 year old Australian 6 weeks prior in Nairobi who turned up dead with his bank statement showing his credit card had been stolen. Unlike the wild animal situations I had encountered on my bike trip where I was beside myself with fear, here I was calm – well I’m sure James Bond would have been calmer. I was dealing with humans, I knew what to expect, I knew they wanted my money, I could reason with them. I set myself one solitary goal, to get out of that car…..preferably with all my limbs and organs intact.

I’m brought back to my reality as William seems to read my mind that I’m weighing up my options, he shouts “You want to call for help? You want to call for help motherfucker?” His drivers pushes the electric window button and my back seat window slides down letting in the sun and the ghetto dirt road.

“Go on, call for help! Everyone here fears us, they’re scared of us. No one cares about you.”

I make eye contact with people on the side of the road. I make my eyes as wide as possible trying to telepathically tell them I’m in danger. They look through me. I’m a Mzungu passing through, they live here and if they interfere their lives will be made a living hell, fair enough.

I agree with William that nobody is going to help me and he gets the driver to put the window back up.

With his point made his attention turns back to me “Give us your money mother**ker?” he really should tone down his languge. William grabs my bag from between my legs and passes it to the giant in the front, good bye lap top. The stony eyed giant opens it up, takes out my lap top, then pulls out my swiss army knife that is engraved with my name and the number 1994, the year my Aunty gave it to me for my 12th birthday.

Then William goes about turning my pockets inside out like he’s preparing me for the old elephant trick. But he’s not interested in my trunk, he just wants money. He seems rather annoyed that I’m only carrying small change in my pockets.

“Why you a poor mother**ker?” where do you want me to start William

“Where’s your money? Is it in the hotel? Don’t f**k with us” With my money belt now feeling glaringly obvious underneath my damp T-shirt, I toss up whether to give it to him. I decide not to, would this be my second poor decision of the day?

With my tone sounding apologetic and my arms outspread, hands turned up, shoulders slightly lifted I tried my case “William, look at me, do I look like I have money? I’m not a rich tourist driving around in a 4WD, I told you I’m riding my bike, I’ve been volunteering here in Africa, trying to help your people, that’s what the documentary is for. When we first met I told you that I was off to the internet to report my credit card lost, I have no money, I told you that”

Unfortunately William was good at his job, he reaches over and pats down my upper bottom. FUCK! He rips up my shirt and tears my money belt off “Motherf**ker, you lied”

He passes it to the giant, he takes out the Malawi money and deposits it with the rest of the loot, then he finds my licenses, he’s not interested. Oh shit, there goes my passport. Thoughts of being held for ransom in that dark concrete room with cockroaches crawling over my sweat drenched bruised body lying on a thin stained mattress go through my mind.

Just like a burglar looking under the door mat for a front door key he flicks straight to the back of my passport. I can only see the side profile of his overly large head as he’s halfed turned going through my money belt. But I can imagine what’s going through his mind. BINGO! Dumb arse skinny tourist has his credit card in the back of his passport………I’m surprised he hasn’t engraved his PIN number on it. He keeps my passport and passes my debit card back to William.

“Motherf**ker, what’s your PIN number? Don’t f**k with me, if I go to the ATM and you’ve given me the wrong PIN we’ll kill you”

In poker I’m all about calling bluffs, but with my life on the line I’m not so confident. I’m unsure how much my life is worth, but I value it slightly higher than the remaining $300 left in my account. I give him my PIN. I thank my lucky stars that I had lost my credit the night before that had a $6000 credit limit.

As the car pulls to a stop in the vicinity of an ATM William asks “you sure you’re not fucking with me? I’m not going back twice.” I visualise an ATM key pad and tapping in the PIN number.

“Yes, that is correct. But William, my other credit card I lost is the one I use to get money out, this one doesn’t have much money on it and sometimes doesn’t work” maybe we could discuss lay-by options?

With William out of the car the driver and the giant felt obligated to entertain me. The driver gets into the Christmas spirit and starts doing his shopping. Like picking candy canes off a Christmas tree he takes my sun glasses, trys them on, he likes them. Then he looks me over like you do the top shelf whisky selection at your company’s Christmas party. He reaches for my right hand, and tugs at the silver ring mum and dad had given me before I started my working the world quest back in 2003. He couldn’t get it off, I had visions of my thumb being chopped off, I grudgingly assist him. As I hand it to him I tell him that my parents gave it to me, he doesn’t care. He tries it on a few fingers before settling on his right middle finger, he rests his hand on the steering wheel, tilts it back, he nods, another satisfied customer. To take the attention away from my last remaining ring I up sell the driver on my Casio watch. He doesn’t seem that interested, but I tell him it’s an original, just as the salesman at the Tanzanian market had told when I had handed over the $4 to buy it.

Now the giant took over the entertainment. I didn’t like this guy. He gave me the impression he could make my nightmare of that stained mattress in the dark room a reality. He was the boss of this operation. He was as cold as the concrete floor of that dark room I was imagining. His eyes that were blood shot and glazed and a little distant cut into mine. He coldly stared at me and in a low frosty tone of a voice talked to me in Swahili never shifting his focus. I squirmed like a constipated worm in my seat. Not too sure what the hell to do, I just put my hands up in the air and apologised for not understanding Swahili.

The car door opened and I had never been so happy to see someone who had just stolen my debit card. He hands my card back to the giant and we start driving. I was unsure if we were going to go and try another ATM or check me into my new concrete room. William asks me when I’m leaving. I’m unsure how to answer this question, I know I’m leaving in five or six days but I’m paranoid about them holding me for ransom. I try to figure out if its better to say I’m leaving tomorrow or in a couple of months, I end up saying “in two weeks”, why? I have absolutely no clue.

The car bumps down memory lane as I see the corner eatery where we had met the giant “manager” about 40 minutes prior. As the car starts slowing down my hopes rise, this could be the moment that I’ve waiting for since this ordeal started. Then like being handed a winning lotto ticket the giant hands me back my passport and debit card. But just as he’s about to hand it to me he talks to William in Swahili. William translates

“Motherf**ker if you go to the cops we kill you. When you get out of this car, don’t look back and keep walking”

Then I feel the plastic cover of my passport in my hot little hand. God bless and all that kind of stuff.

The giant then hands William 500 Tanzanian shillings, the equivalent of 30 cents. William explains to me that this is for me to get a local bus back into town. Wow, the people of Dar Es Salam are so friendly.

The giant quickly opens my door from the outside, I get out, the sun is bright after the tinted four door prison. The late morning heat that is usually oppressive is like a motherly hug. I get out, start walking, feeling violated but extremely relieved. I go into James Bond mode, I’m taking in all the characteristics of the car, four wheels, four doors and it’s white. I stop and try to memorise the number plate as the car is doing a 3 point turn headed back into the ghetto. It stops mid turn and the giant’s passenger side window slides down with his eyes burning into me. Get out, keep walking and don’t look back. I decide I’ve made enough stupid decisions for the day, I cross the busy road putting the four lanes of traffic between them and me.

I walk down through the chaotic mayhem that is roadside Africa. But I could be walking through down town Mars as I’m on another planet trying to comprehend what just happened. I arrive at a major four way intersection, there’s a heaving beeping congregation of local buses with guys hanging from the door shouting place names that I don’t know as the rest of the traffic rushes by. On the opposite corner I see a police booth with a uniformed police officer sitting in it.

I approach the immaculate uniformed officer

“I’ve just been robbed” He looks at me with all the enthusiasm as though I’ve told him I’ve just shat my pants, he replies


This is followed by a long silence that I was hoping would have been filled with sympathetic consoling and helpful advice. He goes back to reading his paper.

“Umm…………… can I file a police report?”

“Go to town”

“Ummm, where’s town?” Like a weight lifter going for the Olympic record he raises an index finger with excruciating effort to our left.

Like a lone plastic bottle floating in an oil spill I stand out as I’m the only white man entering the chicken fight of local buses heading to town. I ask a few people about buses to town until I find one man who kind of understand English. He points around and says “danger”.

I nod and say “I know.” On the bright side at least I have nothing of value on me.

He leads me across the road, I follow, I really hope he’s not a local musician.

He shouts out to a young guy with a stack of money in his hand hanging from the door of one of the many crammed buses that has slowed briefly at the side of the road to shout it’s intended destination. He confirms what my new friend has asked. I run and jump in while shouting “Asante” back to my helper.

I give the young guy my last 500 shillings, he gives me no change. I know it’s only 300 shillings but I’m over this shit, just get me back to town. I want to have a cold shower before spending the afternoon in the police station that I know from previous third world police station experiences will be more painful than a first world dentist visit. I have to do it that day as tomorrow I’m getting up at 4.15am to start my four day local bus mission to catch my flight home.

But Dar Es Salam is not finished with me. After five cramped minutes with some miscellaneous body part pushed against my butt the bus makes a left hand turn off the main road that leads to town. I tap the young guy with the stack of money and point to the bus and say “town”. He shakes his head. F**k! Wrong bus.

I get off, stand on the side of the road under the shining blue sky, not a cent to my name. I laugh, unbelievable!

I start walking. I think about my travel motto, “you lose much by faring to attempt”. I think of an alternative motto, “you lose a shit load if you’re stupid enough to hop into a strangers car in the middle of a notoriously dangerous African city”

OK, this is a good point to end, but I’m four coffees down and want you to come with me to the down town Dar Es Salam police station.

I approach the counter with no one attending it but with five official types sitting on a bench behind it fanning themselves in the heat. I stand there, smiling, they look at me with the same enthusiasm as the waste of skin at the intersection police booth. An eternity later after some coercing the big African momma comes over to me. I say that I’ve been robbed and want to file a police report. She thinks I’m just another tourist wanting to scam my insurance. She tells me it will cost me $US30 to file it. I laugh at her and laugh at the fact that now the Police are trying to rob me. Corruption, I love it. I explain to her that I have no money because I’ve just been robbed of it all. She points to the bench behind the counter and tells me to sit. She takes her seat back on the bench without doing anything. I sit, she sits, we wait.

Eventually smooth looking young guy who probably has his job because his uncle is high up in the Police finishes chatting up the young attractive girl at the counter. He asks big mamma what the Mzungu wants. She tells him, he must tell her to do something about it. I then get taken to a room with a noisy fan buzzing, introduced to a guy in plain clothes. He takes out his diary and under March 29th writes down the things I got stolen. He tells me my case is now open. For entertainment I ask him if I will see my lap top again, he laughs.

He then takes me back to the counter, I sit back on the bench and wait for the smooth talking young guy to fill out my police report that I need for my insurance. Three painful, frustrating, sweaty hours later I have a list of stuff I got stolen with an official Dar Es Salam police stamp on it. The ironic part of all this is that it’s not until I get back to Australia and go to make the claim that I remember I chose the cheapest possible travel insurance option, therefore my laptop is not insured. To make things better I have no receipts for any of the stolen items as they were all presents. And for good measure, the insurance company doesn’t insure stolen cash.

Well, at least it makes for a good story.

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