Free Mugging Wth Every Order of Chicken and Chips
Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
165Trip End Ongoing
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I was staying in Blantyre, Malawi at a backpackers called Doogles. It is set out by the bus station, and you read in guide books, and are told by everyone, that the area is not safe at night, and to be careful. But, like most things, familiarity breeds contempt, and so often warnings are dismissed as over exaggerated or for people less street savvy than yourself.
Doogles, while having good food, also had expensive prices. About 100 metres down the street was a small restaurant called Safari that served mostly a local or bus station clientele. (Notice the bus station again? There's a theme here that would serve you well to remember when traveling.) Safari served up nzima (ugali in east Africa, play dough outside Africa) and chicken, or rice and chicken, or chips and chicken, or rice and beans (if beans were available), or chips and beans. It was simple, but filling, and most importantly, cheap.
Danayi and I decided to get some food takeaway and eat back at the backpackers. As we left the restaurant and started down the street in the dark, two men followed us out of the restaurant and started walking down the street behind us. This was not unusual, most places in Africa are dark at night, and there are always people around. As we were approaching the hostel gate, the two split up, speeding up with one going to either side of us.
This started the ol' Spidey senses tingling, and before I could say anything, one of the men slammed hard into my side and jammed his hand into my pocket going for my wallet. I said "HeyyyyyheyyyyHEYYYYYRARRRRGHBLAHHRGH!!!!!!!!!!" or something like that and immediately grabbed his arm and threw it back. Turning to Danayi, who was understandable a bit confused and shocked at the moment, I handed her my box of chicken and rice and said "Danayi, could you please take the food and go inside right now?"
As I turned back, Mr. Roman Hands and Russian Fingers made towards me again, his arms heading towards my waist. I poked him once, hard, in the chest and said "BACK OFF!!!" He stumbled backwards into a parked truck, and we stood looking at each other, both a little confused as what we were supposed to do next.
Fortunately at this point the askaris (security guards) from the hostel heard the commotion and came over. Looking at the guy, I walked into the compound, walked to my room, and ate my chicken.
This little incident was curious and made me consider a few things.
While I was glad that in a somewhat threatening situation that I was able to look out for a friend, and stay reasonably calm, it made me question my sense of self preservation. While I took a certain (idiotic) macho pride in hearing Danayi tell Aliya that I went all Indiana Jones on the guy, I can't help but think it was also stupid on my part. This was a harmless drunk guy trying to get into a muzungu's pocket. Despite being a relatively poor muzungu (not a wealthy ex-pat or two week safari tourist), I'm still very well off by the standards of most people in Africa. I'm not huge, but I'm big enough to elicit comments by many Africans (thanks for the broad shoulders mom and dad, they've come in handy). The point is, this guy could have had a knife or a gun. Hell, if it had happened while I was in the Congo, it's almost guaranteed they would have both. A yell and a finger poke would probably not have much of an effect in that situation.
Here's hoping that if some guy in Johannesburg decides to show me his favourite sawed off shotgun and asks me for a loan that I will hand it over with a smile and wish him a nice day.