Please don't touch my bag in public

Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Malawi  ,
Sunday, August 5, 2007

"Your hands are doing bad things. If you continue, we will have a problem."

"Ok, ok, no problem boss. Yes boss, nice friend."


Malawi had been a breeze to this point. The country bills itself the "warm heart of Africa" and it's difficult to disagree. The twelve days I had spent in Nkhata Bay on the shores of Lake Malawi in Chalet 4 at Mayoka Village were almost as close to paradise as you could get. The scenery of the country ranged from incredible shoreline vistas backing onto high plateaus in the north, to isolated rocky mountains sticking up from the plains in the south. The people were friendly, and the roads were a treat after the trials of western Tanzania.

So when Aliya's boyfriend from New York flew in for a visit, it was not hard for Aliya and Danayi (two American women doing an assessment of Blantyre'a public health system for the UN's Millenium Development Goals) to convince me to return to Nhkata Bay one more time.

We had woke up early and dragged ourselves down the street to the bus station to catch an early bus back to Lilongwe, with hopes of catching another from there to Muzuzu, and possibly even making it to the lake by night. Our couch, chugging, puffing, and full to the brim pulled out by around 8:30-9:00 am and the journey started.

And ended in Lilongwe; at least for the night. Unable to find a minibus that was continuing to Muzuzu, we decided we would spend the night at Mabuya Camp, run by the affable Tom and Janey, and catch an early minibus to Muzuzu and onwards.

As we started to walk out of the minibus area, we were accosted by touts all trying to get us into their or their friend's taxis. Choosing one at random, we said "Let's go."

A word about Danayi.

Danayi is an amazing person. Really. Easily one of my favorite people I've met on this trip. And in her defense, she has grown on this trip. She slept in a tent for the first time, took a bus in Africa for the first time, and never complained. She's a trooper. However, she came to Africa for one month with two MASSIVE rolling suitcases, numerous smaller bags, and 60 pairs of underpants. 60. For a one month stay. Traveling light did not come naturally to her. In an impressive attempt, she managed to pack for a week with just one smallish backpack, and a large, open mouth canvas bag.

The bag was the problem. It could not zip up or otherwise close, and made for a tempting target in a bus station filled with thousands of people, some them a bit insalubrious.

I took the canvas bag as we walked, pinching the top shut as best I could. When we reached the taxi, our tout opened the door on my side, I placed the bag on the seat, and then he told me to put my bag in the back. I told him it was ok, I would wait until my friend got in the car. The other three were having some type of discussion on the other side of the taxi, and I waited for Danayi to get in and secure her bag before I moved to the back with mine.

The tout stood there smiling at me, spouting random friendly words, and then before my eyes, he slid his hand into the car and began to grope in Danayi's bag. Understand, there was no attempt at subterfuge, no attempt to conceal his actions. He sidled up next to the door, and his arm began snaking in, right in front of me.

I grabbed his hand. "No. Don't do that again."

"Oh yes, no problem. Yes, you want to put your bag in the back?" Big smiles.

Had I imagined it?

Then again, the hand slid inside the door, and began to feel around for the bag.

Once again, I grabbed his arm and moved closer to the door. Was this guy for real?

"Your hands are doing bad things. If you continue, we will have a problem. We will not be friends anymore. Do you understand?" (God, sometimes I'm so Canadian and such a teacher it's pathetic.)

His head bobbed up and down like it was on a spring. His smile was dazzling. Warmth, trustworthiness, and sincerity oozed from his eyes. And then he slowly reached in for a third time going for a leather belt laying on the top of Danayi's bag.

I grabbed his arm, this time pulling his away from the car, and back against another taxi beside us.

"Now we have a problem. Do you want me to call the police?"

At this point, some others rushed in, pulling the would-be thief away, and uttering assurances to me that everything was ok. The others were in the taxi by this point, and I threw my pack in the back, and we left for the camp.

It's strange. On one hand, I can't get too upset about the incident. Malawi is a poor country, and an open bag with something easily snatched on the top is a tempting target. On the other hand, most of Africa lives at a material level far, far below ours in the West, yet Africans are overwhelmingly generous and honest people.

But a bus station is a bus station anywhere in the world. The moral - don't expose your bag in public. (Yes, I know, I know, but I've been told I'm occasionally a bit immature.)
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danayi on

It's known in some circles as slander
Once again, although I did overpack a little, I did not bring 60 pairs of underwear! Either way, you were my hero. I don't know what I would have done without you :)

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