Saturday, July 10, 2010

Remember that time...?

Okay. Here goes. The post you've all been waiting for:


If you know about this blog, you probably also know that I was mugged a few days ago. 

In broad daylight. On the city bus, on my way to work. And the bastards stole my camera. Not just a dinky little camera for tourist snaps, but a cherished investment I recently made in my journalism career.

While I admit to several hours of blinding, stupefying rage on Wednesday, I think I’m doing pretty well seeing this in perspective. I knew this was a risk when I bought it right before a trip to “Nairobbery,” and I’m still obviously really glad I came. There are several silver linings that I am trying to focus on. One, I could have been badly hurt, and I escaped with just a bruise on my arm. Two, they could have gotten my MacBook Pro, a Marantz 660 on loan from CUNY, and an external hard drive. They didn’t.

And three, I get to tell the story of how I was mugged in Nairobi for the rest of my life. Even though a ripping good story is basically what I live for, the loss of the camera I affectionately called “Ethel” is still a little too raw for this to be a whole lot of comfort. So you'd better believe I’m going to milk it for all it’s worth.

The time: late morning. The place: a leafy road northwest of downtown Nairobi, on board a blue bus belching foul black smoke. I’m reading a book with one hand, as always, on my camera.

A man walks up and down the aisle with an official air. “Seatbelts, please,” he says loudly, for the whole bus to hear. “Seatbelts, everyone!”

Huh? I think. No one’s ever told me to put on my seatbelt on the bus before. I look for mine and find it to be broken, useless. I decide I don’t care and go back to my book.

A young man sits next to me. “You’re supposed to put your safety belt on,” he says. “I guess they’re cracking down.”

“It’s broken,” I say.

“Let me help you,” he says, leaning over me and scrabbling for the belt with his hand. He’s really crowding me, a lot of his weight on my shoulder. The first warning bell goes off in my mind.

This is too weird, I think. I shake him off and move to a different seat.

The same thing happens in this seat. It’s a different guy, insistent that I put my belt on. “Stop it,” I say loudly, clearly, holding my camera and my bag protectively. “I don’t need help. Get away. I’m moving.”

The only seats available at this point are in the back of the bus. I sit, and right then, when I am cornered, that’s when they make their move, the both of them. One leans heavily right across my lap, dragging a coat over me. The other is right behind him, backing him up as – yelling now, furiously shouting “GET OFF ME!” – I try and push them away. It was the only time I took my hands away from my camera, a few seconds at most. It’s all the time the first guy needs to unzip the camera case under his coat and pass it off to his buddy, unseen.

The evil chill I felt when I reached again for my camera case and felt it open and empty – let us never speak of it again.

Suffice it to say that I gave a yell that rattled the roof of that rickety bus, the sort of scream that makes every head turn and a hush fall over any crowd. “SOMEONE STOLE MY F$@!ING CAMERA! THIEF!” (Sorry, Mom and Dad, but if ever there was a moment when this type of language was entirely appropriate…)

The guy, still on top of me, looked into my blistering glare with a carefully neutral expression. I swept my gaze up and down his frame; he didn’t have it.

This is where my memory gets fuzzy. I think the bus was just starting to move after its most recent stop because it seemed a perfectly valid thing for a concerned onlooker (in retrospect, a guy who was planted specifically for this moment) to point out the window and say, “There he goes!”

In retrospect, jumping off the bus may be the dumbest thing I have ever done.

But! I was in a panic, and I’d been told, again and again, how much Kenyans hate thieves. “If you’re ever robbed,” some old Nairobi hand told me shortly after I got here, “make a stink, and people will go after the guy.” So I was reasonably sure that after all the screaming I’d just done, someone – surely someone! – back on the bus would apprehend the guy who had been assaulting me. And I yelled for the driver to wait as I flew down the stairs.

The moment I hit the ground and turned to look up the road for a fleeing figure, the door closed and the bus drove away.

Noooooo! No no no no no! Shit!

With this latest calamity, I think I lost my mind a little bit. There was no one on the road running away, but I thought – maybe, just maybe, grasping at straws – one young man up ahead walking away from the scene could have been the one. It would make sense for him to walk, so as not to attract attention, right? And so – get this – I ran after this random dude, (who if not decoy, was just some innocent pedestrian walking around probably thinking about what he wanted to have for lunch), swearing all the way – and frisked him.

Yep. I patted down a strange man on the street.

He gave me a confused look and said something in Swahili that I couldn’t comprehend in the state I was in. Upon discovering that he didn’t have anything under his billowy shirt, I told him “I’m sorry” in English and walked away dazedly. He probably thought I was hitting on him.

So... yeah. Oh my God, guys! Remember that time I got mugged in Nairobi, and what a crazy good story that was?

I'm sorry, Ethel! I tried to stop them!

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