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Published: June 24th 2008
You aren't going to believe this...it is has been 6 days and I still can't. It took me this long to bring myself to write this blog.
WARNING: This may be disturbing, but I think that it will be good to get it off my chest and then I can't forget about it without having to explain it numerous times.
On June 17th, I planned on taking the train to Zambia, and I was robbed while in a taxi to the train station. It was in the middle of the afternoon. Luckily, the only thing I lost was $60...no cameras or anything else. I was a mess when I finally got to the train station, but I decided that I just needed to get the HELL out of DAR ASAP, and just be happy it was ony $60 and I wasn't hurt. I would figure out how to pay for the Zambia visa when I got on the train.
While waiting for the train, I approached a man who was escorting about 15 American college students, and he said that I could join them in their carriage, as I would probably be more comfortable/ safe. This was about an hour after the robbery and I had stopped crying, and calmly told them my story. They were very kind, and I felt that things would be better from now on...
That was until my train was cancelled because a mail train had gotten into an accident. This was terrible news, which I just couldn't take. The train was rescheduled for 2 days later, and I certainly wasn't going to be hanging around in Dar until then. I got my money refunded and then faced the daunting task of heading back into Dar on the same road as the incident, back to the same place where I had gotten the cab in the first place.
This required nearly all the energy I had, and after talking/ crying to some unsuspecting (but kind) guy from the Netherlands, I decided that I should not let them ruin Africa for me, but should get a bus in the morning to Malawi--which is supposed to be carefree, safe, and beautiful. The bus to a place near the border takes 12 hours, and I did not want to arrive in a sketchy, transit town alone at night-- the sun goes down around 6pm, so I decided to get to the bus station for the 6am bus, so that I should arrive with a little bit of daylight.
After a night of no sleep-- I played my Nintendo most of the night, until I passed out in exhaustion because I couldn't get the "YOU ARE UNDER CONTROL, GIVE ME MONEY!" out of my head. Just after 5am, while I was getting ready I could hear someone getting ready in the room next door. Desperate for company, I asked through the paper-thin walls: "Are you going to Ubungo" (the bus station). The person, turned out to be Ben (24) from Norway. He said that he was and we agreed to head out together just as the sun was coming up (around 5:30). We got the daladala which is a 9 person van that is usually packed with about 40 people. There was about 6 people on the daladala when we got on, and I thought that this was good because we were able to board without a problem (it is usually a challenge to get on, let alone with 2 with backpacks). After a few stops were was about 3-4 people left and then just as we were getting out of the city centre, everyone got off. The driver and conductor are always speaking in Swahili, and I'm sure that they told everyone to get off, because we had yet to reach our destination on this usually packed route. It was just Ben and I left, and I immediately said something is wrong, we have to get off! (my stomach was a knot- always trust your gut!), but the vehicle was moving again, and before we knew it there was men running up to it with 30cm blades, and the driver cut the engine. I thought in my head "this can't be happening! Twice in less then 24 hours?!" I remember screaming "NO! I'VE ALREADY BEEN ROBBED!" and they ripped Ben's pack and my big one with all my clothes out of the van...I was wearing my day pack on my front and it was strapped around my back. The started to rip on it but the North Face clips are very sturdy and just weren't releasing. My arms are bruised from this tug of war and my shirt got cut from the blades before I was able to get it off. The whole time they were screaming obscenties and threatening our lives, and our asshole of a driver didn't drive. It only lasted a few seconds and everything I had worked for...and unfortunately--all my pictures where gone. I stood on the street screaming like a wounded animal until Ben, the stranger/ angel picked me off the ground and helped me to the police station. I was incomplete shock and I've never wanted to be able to morph out of a place more in my life. I trusted no one and wouldn't even be lead to the police station until I'd asked about 10 different people (mostly women) to confirm where it was, and that it was safe to go there. I WAS A COMPLETE WREAK and thought they might be leading me to.... Anyway, once at the police station, we stood forever in the lobby (a one metre wide area before a counter) waiting for the judge to come. I was very uncomfortable being in the same room as the driver as I was sure he was involved. The police officers began questioning him, which was a full out screaming match. I told them that I believe that he was involved and although he said that the robbers took the key and threw it, but I know that the engine cut before the robbers were at the van, and I saw the key in the ignition just after the incident. LIAR! If I wasn't such a wreak I might have hit the guy.
After spending the entire morning in the unprofessional, police station, we left the station with our police reports which were unformal and full of mistakes.
I made it well known around the station that I had lost a hard disk drive that is full of pictures which are very important to me, and that I would pay a large cash reward if it was returned to me. I drew a picture of it and showed it around, and they said that they would look hard... It makes me sick everytime I think of all the amazing shots of have taken over the past 3 months and that they are all gone. I'm completely heartbroken.
NOt to mention the fact that I lost a beautiful Nikon DSLR camera (that is worth about $1000), a brand new Olympus underwater camera, a video iPod, a Nintendo DS lite, the gold rings that my parents have given me-- one I designed and loved, and my high school graduation ring, all the souvenirs I have picked up for my family/friends, all my clothes...EVERYTHING! It makes me cry to think about it, but things can be replaced. I am EXTREMELY lucky that I wasn't hurt and very grateful for that. I don't feel that I've lost my luck because I'm alive to tell this story.
Luckily, my passport and cards, were in my money belt (which did nothing the day before as they know foriegners where them, but in this situation they just wanted to get away with as much as they could quickly.
Just looking at a daladala made both Ben and I sick, so we decided to walk back into the city, because what else did we have to lose?! I only had a bag with bread, peanut butter, and bananas-- the food I was bringing for the 40 hour train ride- Im pissed I didn't put valuables in with the food, no robber touches a plastic bag). After getting advice from both of our High Commisioners offices we checked into the best hotel in town because we just wanted to feel like we weren't in Africa and that we were safe.
As it was my dad's birthday, I was completely dreading the call home. I felt awful ruining his day, and cried everytime I thought of telling them. I just wanted to be at home.
I sent the only clothes I had to laundry and organized my escape on the phone in a sheet--I tried to look on the bright side and pretend it was a toga party. Thankfully, the people are airtreks.com-- who I booked my flights through were able to get me on the next flight out (the next afternoon), and were incredibly understanding and helpful. Ben and I ate chocolate, and other junk while I tried not to cry while watching tv and calling our parents. I really don't know what I would if I didn't meet him. I was a mess and it was nice that I wasn't alone for that. He was very kind, and he tried to me laugh..it is important to have a sense of humour in these situations. Completely exhausted, I slept well that night.
I was lamenting the loss of my pictures, and I remembered that before going to Zanzibar, I had downloaded my safari pictures at this internet cafe that has terrible compter maintenance and I was hopeful that there may be the possibility that they may still be on the desktop. After having a feast of a breakfast at the hotel, I headed over and was happy to find that they were still there. I bought a flash drive off the guy and got the safari pics at least. This is a small consolation considering all I have seen, and my amazing pictures that are all gone.
For the next 3 days, I lived in airports-- flying first to Doha, and then to Mumbai where I spend the entire day in what has got to be the worst airport in the world- no windows, it is like a cave, nothing to do at all! (4am to midnight). I was just sleeping on a bench and talking to westerners when I could to try to pass time. It was incredibly lonely.
Finally, I arrived to Bangkok. I have decided to skip India because this is a very intense place, and I just don't have the steam left in me to travel to this place which is very demanding right now. I will have to go another time..when I'm not alone and exhausted.
Anyway, thankfully, Bangkok is great, and I feel much better here. It is safe, lively, and fun. I have spent the last few days buying the necessities- a new backpack, toiletries, clothes and I even got my beauty Olympus camera back-- well bought a new one, which feels better. It has been a task because I needed everything, and that is daunting...finding bras that fit in Asia is a task on its own-- involving a small Thai woman squeezing herself into a tiny dressing room with me, while she tries to push and shove my breasts into a bra in a not too gentle manner-- like I would want to have to endure that torture everytime I put the thing on! but what can I say....what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.
Africa is certainly a place I have no desire to return to anytime in the future, and it maybe safe to say that I've had a lifetime supply! It simply isn't worth it.
It would be an understatement to say that this has been a challenge, but I'm still trucking along.... I've decided not to run back to Canada, although this was definitely my first desire. I will not allow them to ruin this more me. I've been having an amazing time on this trip, and I refuse to end this on a bad note. I will not allow myself to go home until I have more positive stories to share on my arrival...because it goes without saying: Im still bitter, but certainly stronger. How many people can say that they have been robbed twice in 24 hours?! I hope not many...
I can honestly say that I know exactly how it feels to be kicked when you are down, and I believe that things can only go up from here.
"Courage sometimes means just putting one foot in front of the other and not stopping."
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