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Published: October 5th 2005
So here's a really awful thing that happened...
On Friday night I was sitting out on the little front step of our hostel, enjoying the last of the daylight and a small breeze that had appeared toward the end of the afternoon. I got a phone call on the cell I use here from a number I didn't recognize. Hmm...that's odd. Hello? Hi, can I speak to Jackie Turner. Yes, speaking. Hi, this is _________ (I can't remember the name, you'll see why in a minute) from the Canadian High Commission in Dar es Salaam. I was so excited, I was thinking, wow, a courtesy call, how cool. I had registered with them when I got here because it is highly recommended that you do so if you are going to be out of the country for more than three months. The funny thing was I wasn't going to bother because Tanzania is such a peaceful country, but they say to do it so I did.
So I was so happy to hear from a fellow Canadian. He said, so everything is okay with you? Yes, everything's great. A little pause, so you're not in any trouble. I laugh, well not yet, but I've only been here a month, give me some time. A bigger pause, and you've talked to your mother today then. Then I thought, uh oh, this is not a courtesy call. I said, what is this about? He said, your mother thinks you've been kidnapped, she received an email from your account from somebody saying that he has you. She is very upset and you need to call her right away. Do you have access where you can do that?
I was like, WHAT??????? I could hardly register what he was saying. Right away I thought, this has to be a joke, but who would make such a cruel phone call to me? I couldn't get my head around any of it. I said, stupidly, my mother thinks I've been kidnapped? He gave my mom's name and said, that's her, right? Yes. In Waterloo? Yes. Then yes, she thinks you've been kidnapped. I said, okay I will call her right away. He said, carefully and deliberately, then I'm going to tell Ottawa that they can tell her to expect a call from you. I said yes, you do that.
When I hung up the phone the weight of what he had said hit me and I started to shake. I thought of my mother sitting at home in Waterloo thinking someone had me, and how every second would be torture to her until I got through on the phone. I felt like throwing up. And I kept thinking, how could this happen? This has to be a joke. Within thirty seconds of hanging up the phone I got a text from Ali "The Canadian High Commission is looking for you. They have an urgent message from your mother. You need to call them right away and the number is..." Okay, so it's not a joke.
I tried to text Ali back to find out how to phone Canada, but it wouldn't go through. I tried to phone him and it told me I "didn't have permission to use the number" (???). Then I started to panic, I have GOT to get through. I called Thomas but I found out later that I was talking a mile a minute and he had no idea what I was saying except there was something about my mom that was really upsetting me. They all have trouble with the Canadian accent at the best of times, and especially on the phone. He said he was coming over, and I said hurry! What I had actually said to him was that I need to know how to call Canada, how to get an international line. As it turned out, to his continuing horror once he found out what it was all about, he was an hour getting to me and by then it was all sorted out.
So I was wracking my brain, what to do, what to do, and I thought of the Lonely Planet. God bless the Lonely Planet (my travel guide) is all I have to say. I found what I needed and placed the call. She picked up the phone and I said, Hi mama, it's me...and she burst into tears. She cried and cried and cried, and I cried and said, it's okay...I'm okay...it's okay...I'm okay. It was so awful. I never want to hear my mom cry like that again.
Turns out the High Commission guy had it a little mixed up. What actually happened was that my uncle signed in to Instant Messenger and found out to his delight that I was on line...only I wasn't. When I didn't answer him he found it strange and called my mom, who signed in and talked to whoever it was. The person initially pretended to be me but very quickly it became obvious that it wasn't. Then he told them that he had me, in his room, and proceeded to detail the things he was going to do to me. Initially they both thought, nah, what is this, but the guy was very convincing and over the course of the next 45 minutes or so could absolutely not be shaken off his story. My aunt kept him chatting while my mom and uncle discussed it and tried to figure out what to do. Ultimately they decided that it was too real-sounding to ignore. Plus they know me, and they know I am religious about signing out of Messenger, because I know how disappointing it is when they think I'm on but I'm not. And, let's face it, we all know how compulsive I am overall.
So my mom got on the phone and using the phone numbers I had left her called Ali...and couldn't get through. She called Dorcas...and it rang and rang and rang. And she called Thomas, but he was on the daladala and the driver had his music cranked. He couldn't hear her (I found out later) and thought she was speaking Swahili, so he was speaking Swahili, saying, I'm on the daladala, I can't hear you, I'll call you as soon as I got off. He was assuming her number would be on his phone but because it was international it didn't register. So he thought, gee, that's funny, and carried on with his day.
So by this time as you can imagine she was getting pretty frantic. She called the university and couldn't get through to a person, left a message on the Faculty of Social Work line and never heard back from anybody. She even called the High Commission here in Dar but they close at 1:00 our time on Fridays (we are seven hours later than Waterloo). Then she called the operator in Canada, who referred her to the Department of Foreign Affairs (yay operator!). She had to leave a message but gritted her teeth and did it (yay mama!). After half an hour or so she got a call from a lovely woman who took the details, listened to the story, and said, well, I know it's crazy to tell you not to panic, but we do occasionally get pranks like this...maybe Jackie left herself signed in on a computer somewhere, maybe she left a piece of paper around somewhere with some identifying info on it, etc. etc. etc. And my mom said, you don't understand, Jackie would NOT leave herself signed in somewhere (and she's right, I didn't), and she would NOT leave identifying information around. Hmmm, I see. Well, the other thing is, of course, it could absolutely be real. We are going to find out.
So happily, she called the High Commission in Dar (getting through to some highranking official's home number), they called Ali (whose number they had from my mom), Ali after some hesitation gave them my number (yay Ali!) and they called me. I have to say what impressed me most was that from the time it all started to the time I got the phone call, only three hours passed. Three hours of absolute hell for my mom and my aunt and uncle, but considering the stories you hear about government ineptitude and disinterest in cases like these, I have to say, I was pretty impressed. Waterloo to Ottawa to Dar to me. Nice work (yay Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs -- yay Odette!).
So as you can imagine the fallout and the sense of horror that someone would do such an evil thing has lingered with us all. It is just beyond my comprehension (thank God). Why would anybody do such a thing? It just defies explanation.
I went to Zanzibar on the weekend but it was pretty anticlimatic, I won't lie to you, I really wasn't there...nothing much else has been going on...I will write more in a couple of days.
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