A wake-up call
November 7, 2001
In my last report I wrote about how open and friendly Africans are and that we had had no problems at all with people. I was feeling very comfortable with our journey so far; perhaps too comfortable. My sentiments expressed there still stand, but a statement like that is often a challenge to the universe and a wake-up call is soon to follow.
And indeed it did.
On our last night in Tanzania, Shaun and I left our campsite in Moshi in the early evening to walk to a nearby restaurant to get takeaways. It turned out to be further away than it had appeared when driving in the car, but it was less than 2km, so we pressed on regardless. Our walk took us through a very dark patch over a bridge across a river, but we met nobody on the way.
However, on the walk back with the food, we heard people down the embankment under the bridge. There was nothing obviously threatening about this, but we both felt unsafe and quickened our pace. We could hear someone climbing the embankment and walking on the bridge behind us and we kept walking fast. Then suddenly two men came up quickly behind us. They seemed drug-crazed and afraid, and they jabbered at us in Swahili while one of them grabbed at my arm and the other shone a torch in my face.
I pulled away and turned to face them, still walking fast, backwards, and they repeated whatever they had said to us. It was obvious they were not making friendly conversation and their fear was quite palpable. One of them tugged at my arm again and I pulled away once more, this time warning him to keep out of my space.
Something was obviously wrong, but it was not clear what.
Then the mood shifted up a gear, although I can't say what made it apparent. A car was coming towards us, and Shaun stepped into the road to wave it down, but it swerved away and roared past. I was still facing the pair when, in the same moment, one of them threw something at Shaun and the other drew something from a bag, which appeared in the dark to be a weapon of some sort.
In that moment it was finally fully apparent that we were under attack and we both simultaneously began running away and yelling for help. I had run about 20 metres when I felt a terrific blow on the back of my head and saw stars. I blacked out momentarily and came to with my legs collapsing under me and my body pitching forward, out of balance. One of the attackers had thrown a fist-sized river stone at me, and had scored a direct hit.
Unconsciousness seemed such an inviting place but, with a huge effort of will, I called the strength back to my legs and corrected my balance and managed to keep running, as I felt the warm, treacly flow of blood running down my neck and soaking into my shirt.
Then suddenly there was a looming shape in the darkness ... a broken-down truck, and a man was running up, asking us what was wrong. We explained that someone had tried to rob us. The man was horrified and clearly concerned, and offered to take us to hospital and the police, but he was also obviously feeling helpless, as his truck was broken down and he could not take us anywhere. We thanked him and said we would be OK, as we were only about 100 metres from the camp.
Our entrance to the camp caused a wave of consternation as I staggered in with my head and face and shirt drenched in blood. People gathered all around to help or ogle, until Gisela shooed them away, asking them to give us some space.
One of the onlookers demanded of us: "What were you thinking, walking out here in the night? This is a very dangerous area."
What were we thinking indeed?
In the light I saw that Shaun had a deep cut on his chin from the first rock, and I was still pouring blood over everything. We should have gone to a hospital, but we were all too shaken to move. Meanwhile, Gisela dressed Shaun's chin and cleaned my head up. Despite all the blood, my wound was not serious, just a heavily lacerated bruise. Shaun should probably have had a couple of stitches on his chin.
Once we had calmed down we realised we had got off lightly. There were no serious injuries and we had not given the robbers anything.
I took it as a gentle nudge from the universe to remember where I am. I had been getting too comfortable. Yes, most Africans are friendly and welcoming, but this is still a dangerous continent, where life is cheap.