Saturday, September 08, 2007

Bongo, Baraka and the Beach

It's been an eventful few days. If you want to skip the more mundane stuff then scroll down and I'll put a big bold bit where the fun starts.

On Wednesday I got up, procured breakfast from a very grumpy old man in the Safari Inn in Dar Es Salaam, left my big rucksack in reception and set off to explore the big city once more.

Having actually read my four-year-old Rough Guide on the bus the day before, I had a plan. I walked up Samora Avenue and then Ohio Street to the Nyumba ya Sanaa (or Nyerere Cultural Centre), next to the hotel I shall stubbornly continue to call the Royal Palm (it's now the Mövenpick).

On searching for the entrance I met a smartly dressed fellow Manchester United supporter called Sumi (sorry City fans, but once again they were referred to merely as "Manchester"), who pointed me towards the way in.

It's a lovely air-conditioned building (it was very hot and sticky outside) containing some truly brilliant artwork. I particularly liked the slightly-disturbing coloured monkey paintings, which I discovered are the work of a specific artist, rather than any kind of traditional style that people copy. There was an article about him the paper today, he was called George Lilanga, and he's getting more and more popular.

I didn't buy anything, it's rather pricey compared to the tat you get on the street, but I may go back in there before I leave - it's still not all that expensive and there's some fantastic stuff in there.

After coming out I stopped at the bar outside for a Pepsi (my first Pepsi product since arriving in Tanzania - Coca-Cola own Moshi) and toyed with a couple of massive ants that were running around on the table.

It was easily getting to lunchtime by this point, and Vende had assured me that he would be getting back to Dar at 4pm, so I casually wandered off to the Salamander Cafe, which turned out to have closed down, before grabbing a snack elsewhere.

When I texted Vende at 3.30pm to check how he was doing, he told me he was "just about to get on the bus", so I arranged to meet Bongo and Baraka at the bar next to the ferry terminal on the other side of the water (Kigomboni).

Bongo arrived there shortly after I had been adopted by a couple of Tanzanians who had told me to keep my bags right at my feet so no one could grab them and run off. He's a man of leisure at the moment, having finished his degree and planned to take a break before working.

I told him how all our British friends are doing, and we ended up chatting largely about politics - I discovered he has a keen interest in the effects of global warming.

Baraka texted to say he'd be over at 8pm, as he's started a new job and is currently playing the role of the ever faithful employee. An accident on the road in Dar though meant Vende didn't get back until 8.30, long after Bongo had gone, and Baraka turned up at nearly 10pm.

Baraka's still the same ultra-smiley happy person he ever was, and immediately told me I hadn't changed a bit. He turned up with one of his mates and we were later joined by Vende's neighbour, who is upset about another neighbour taking a picture of a politician turning up at his house to apologise for marrying his daughter and then denying he'd done so. The neighbour then sold the photos to a newspaper.


I desperately needed to wash my clothes, so did so while Vende made omelette for breakfast. This drew the usual comments from the woman next door that, unimpressed with my efforts, she might have to step in and help.

Everything hung up, Bongo turned up and we set off for the city. The plan was that Vende would lead us round the computer shops for Bongo to buy a printer for his business plan (he wants to set up a small shop) and then we'd go to the beach.

The first part of that went pretty much to plan. We acquired one of Bongo's friends as a companion on our trip, before he found his printer and after a couple of trips into offices for Vende to tout for employment, and a shop called Philtec just because it amused me, we set off back for Vende's house.

It was lunchtime by this point, and Bongo found himself carrying around a computer, wearing a shirt and smart trousers, and deciding it was most practical to just have lunch with us and then take his new acquisition back to his place.

So we had lunch at the New Medina Restaurant (the one round the corner from Vende's place which I could never find when I tried) - liver and rice, utterly delicious - and then Vende and I set off for the beach.

It wasn't too long a walk; on the way there Vende explained that there are two parts of the beach. One part has a bar and various other facilities, but you have to pay 1000/- for the privilege, and the other part is free but there's no bar or anything.

Being tired and hot and having wandered around all day, I couldn't really be bothered making a decision, so we walked past the entrance to Mikadi Beach, and walked down the path to the free part of the beach. It's a gorgeous beach, where small local fishing dhows are anchored along the shore.

We sat ourselves down near where we came out, and before long someone had come to speak to us. He told us we were sat too close to the pay part of the beach, and we should either move within full sight of it and pay the 1000/-, or we should move further down the beach.

"We're coming," Vende told him, remaining seated.

"Okay," said the man. "You say you're coming yet you're still sat there."

"I said we're coming," repeated Vende.

The man walked away, clearly hoping we'd follow shortly. We didn't. Neither of us could really be bothered moving. I took my shoes off, and took a couple of pictures. Vende suddenly remembered he'd forgotten to bring his camera.

A few minutes later the man returned. "You said you were coming. You either pay or you move up the beach. The guards cannot watch you here to keep your belongings safe. If you want their benefit you go and pay."

"Okay," said Vende, "We'll move up the beach," still remaining seated.

"Are you moving or not?" the man demanded.

Vende stood up and I followed suit. I really couldn't be bothered arguing with anyone. I would have been quite happy going to the pay beach, as I'd probably want a beer later, but I went along with Vende.

We wandered up a couple of hundred yards, and as we did so I felt a bit uncomfortable. There were very few people about, and I was regretting having my Visa card on me. I quietly took it out of my wallet and moved it to my back pocket.

As we went to sit down a man walking in the other direction seemed to take rather more interest in us than I liked. He carried on walking and then two women walked in the other direction.

The wind was coming up the beach, and sand was blowing in our faces, so we moved down onto the harder sand. A couple of young men were walking away from the pay beach towards us. I started to feel a bit more paranoid, and a bit more vulnerable. I put my foot through my bag strap. In a minute I'd suggest we move.

The two men approached closer and then were walking directly towards us. As they reached us one walked infront and one behind.

Vende shouted, "Shit!" as two more appeared from the other side and I saw one of them pull out a 12 inch knife. I shifted in the direction the first two men had come from, and moved 15 yards from them in no time at all. I could see I'd been much quicker than them and turned back to see where Vende had gone.

One of them had him held by the shirt and was carelessly prodding the knife towards his back. I had been ready to run but now I couldn't. They seemed as surprised by us as we had by them, and didn't seem to know what to do next.

I pulled my camera out of my pocket and removed my memory card - the bastards weren't getting my holiday snaps as well. One of them, without a knife, ran over to me. I kept my distance as much as possible to hand over the camera.

"Money!" he shouted, looking utterly terrified by what he was doing.

I handed over my wallet. He looked down at my trousers.

"There's nothing more!" I shouted back at him, "I've given you everything. Nothing more!"

He looked down at my pockets again, disbelievingly. My shorts are quite stiff material, which must have helped, but my Tanzanian mobile still created a fairly blatant bulge. I hadn't even thought about it, I gave him one thing from each pocket and in my mind for a moment that had been everything.

He can't possibly have believed me but, still looking terrified, he looked back to his friends and then scampered back towards them. They picked up my bag by its base and shook out its contents. I saw them take my UK mobile phone and my trainers whilst another still tried to get more out of Vende, still poking the knife towards him.

They ran off, arrogantly slowing to a walk and looking back gloatingly after 50 yards or so. Vende cursed them, vowing to go after them and retrieve our belongings, in particular his mobile phone. He was itching to go after them, and I reminded him they'd still have the extremely big knives, and it wasn't worth risking our lives for the sake of stuff.

We packed my things back into my rucksack, and set off to leave. I felt like such an idiot for not having listened to myself, and now I'd have to walk back with bare feet. Two lads a short way down the beach must have seen everything seemed not to have a care in the world.

Vende told everyone he could on the way home what had happened. He was furious, particularly about his mobile phone. He had been waiting for an invitation to interview, and now they had no way to contact him.

I was just thankful I still had all my limbs, and grateful that it had been left to a frightened idiot to determine whether I'd given him everything I had. I still had a mobile phone, and a way of contacting people as I travel round meeting them. I was happy I'd forgotten to check how much money I had before going out, and not added to it. And that I still had my Visa card in my back pocket. And that they hadn't just taken my whole bag.

We dropped in at the police station on the way. They were mopping so had to wait a couple of minutes to see anyone. We were told to go up to the counter. The room behind was quite empty, just one desk off to the side. Along the left were two cells. Three motionless fingers were wrapped around a bar from inside the nearest cell. Vende made his statement at the desk, while I went into an office round the side to make one in English.

I sat on a bench next to a man who I think was being read his rights. After a few minutes the policeman turned his attention to me. He seemed quite sympathetic and transcribed what I told him reasonably accurately. I just wanted a statement of what had been stolen for my insurance, and to go and have a beer.

"Would you recognise these men if you saw them again?" he asked me.

No. I wouldn't. Most of the time I'd been watching Vende, and keeping my eye on what was being taken, rather than the bandits' faces.

When we were done, we left and went outside. We were led to a pick-up truck. "We getting a lift back, are we?" I asked Vende.

"No. They're taking us back to the beach."

I was ordered into a seat near the cab, and two askaris armed with AK47s, another policeman and two policewomen climbed in with us. One of them, in a blue sports top, was waving his gun around a touch too carelessly for my liking. The other askari was resting his on the canvas above my head.

We drove out to the beach, past the point where we'd been robbed. When we passed people in bars who didn't look like they'd moved, they were asked if they'd seen anything. We stopped at a resort, and most of the passengers climbed out.

The driver spoke to Vende, and he again seemed to come in for all the criticism, being told we shouldn't go on the beach in the week when it's quiet, only on the weekends when it's busy. A little unfair, as I should recognise a dodgy situation as well as Vende, though he hadn't really taken into account the fact he was with an mzungu.

We stopped again at a resort closer to where we'd been, and this time they took Vende with them, leaving me alone like a hopeless leper. This time Vende recognised one of them, hanging around with his mates, but they ran before they were caught.

We went back in the truck, the askari in the grey shirt joking with the others whilst swigging Konyagi from a bottle he'd been keeping in his pocket. When we got back to the station, they gave me a copy of the statement and we left.

Determined to drink some beer to round off the day in some positivity, I washed my feet and we set off for the shops. And beer we did buy. But not before Vende had dragged us round to his policeman friend's house to put some pressure on them to solve the case, and then round to the police station, where his ideas to trace any calls made from his mobile phone were met with an icy response.

"Maybe in America," he was told, "This is third world country. How do I trace these calls?" Although to be fair, Vende's idea was quite a good one. It only involved contacting the network and then phoning some of the numbers dialled. Not rocket science.

We acquired a couple of warm beers from a young Chagga called Juma, and then went back to Vende's to drink them, watching a dubbed Venezuelan soap called "Mis 3 Hermanas" (My 3 Sisters), starring a Dom Joly look-a-like in the main role, with some truly atrocious acting and even worse dubbing from the voice artists.

Fans of La Mujer Da Mi Vida (The Woman Of My Life) will be sad to know that it finished long ago.

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