Sunday, June 27, 2004

There's something fishy going on here

Ok, so there are certain things that seem quintessentially africa-for-the-non-african. Going on safari is one. So is exploring places like Zanzibar. Eating local food. Taking part in local celebrations like weddings. Discoving the natural wonders of the country, like the rainforests and the mountain gorillas.

So last week when i had salmonella poisoning, I sort of chalked it up to "another thing that's bound to happen when living in africa." And i didn't think much of it. But for some reason, I'm starting to suspect that the travelling-gods have decided that my africa-for-the-non-african experiences aren't balanced enough. And so, the lingering sense that I'm being secretly followed around by movie cameras and that my life is being covertly manipulated for drama was reinforced yesterday evening when, to complement the food poisoning, I was robbed of my cell phone and cash.

The day started out so extremely well. Yesterday was the big NYC Open House Bazaar - the event that we have all been working so hard towards and have been looking forward too (or looking forward to getting over with, depending on the day, and which went off without a single hitch. I was at the school at 7 a.m. to set up with Darren and Heather and a bunch of the students, finalising signage and getting everything set up. For some reason all the things that we were worried about just 'came together'. We had enough tents for exhibitors and games, the weather was gorgeous, the 3-on-3 basketball tournament that had zero teams pre-registered had its roster filled by 9 a.m., the kids were enthusiastic, professional and responsible, and all went above and beyond their commitments for the day, our booked celebrities (Miss Uganda and the national football/soccer team, the Uganda Cranes) all showed up and did their thing for the cameras and the kids, and we raised almost double the amount of money that we'd hoped for. The NYC Bazaar did great things for our project, for the school, and for those students. Absolutely an incredible, successful day.

Finally, at about 6:30 pm, the committee all headed back to heather and i's apartment to count the money and decompress. I napped for an hour so, had a shower, and then heather and i headed out to a party in Bugolobi. It was lowish-key affair, with about 20 of the 'usual people', plus two of the older Aga Khan high school students who were working on the project. After a couple of hours, I decided to leave the party with my friend Matt and his friend Kelly to go to TLC, a 'local' bar/club (as opposed to an 'international/muzungu' bar) to meet up with some other people. TLC is fun, although I don't go there very often. TLC is more of a complex of bars and dance floors, and after grabbing some drinks (Waragi and Krest Tonic for me), and then we headed back to 'Dance Floor #2' We were dancing to a mix of american R&B/pop and african music, when suddenly this acquaintance of mine (he actually is just this guy who keeps coming into my office to sell us printing services) suddenly notices that another guy (who was, strangely, wearing the exact same shirt as Printing Guy) had his hand inside of my zipped-and-snapped-and-tucked-under-my-armpit purse. Printing Guy's swinging fists, combined with my somewhat less effective 'HEY WHAT THE FUCK!' sent the guy running out through the maze of the club. Club security caught him as he was trying to flee, and after myself, Matt, Printing Guy, and Moses-The-Guy-Who-Somehow-Was-Involved-By-Physical-Proximity identified the guy as the person who did indeed steal my phone and my money, club security started to beat the guy up. Pushed him down, punching him, kicking him, eventually hitting him with what was apparently small pieces of lumber kept around expressly for that purpose.

This went on for a few minutes. I found the beating somewhat problematic, and chose not to watch. The Suspect admitted that he'd taken the phone, but that it was now in the hands of friends who were still in the club. Security took the Suspect into the club to find the friends, which of course were not found. So again, he was brought back outside for more beating. During this round, Moses (The-Guy-Who-Somehow-Was-Involved-By-Physical-Proximity) explained that for 'us africans' that beating was just part of the expected process, and not a big deal; and that without a beating there would be no way to expect the Suspect to say anything, that it would be like security hadn't even tried. After this round of beating, during which the Suspect didn't give up any information, it was finally decided that the Suspect needed to be taken to the Central Police Station (CPS), which was quite close to the club. Myself, Matt, Moses, the Suspect, and two members of TLC security started walking towards CSP. When we were right in front of the police station, the Suspect suddenly took off running. Security, a couple police officers and Matt took off running after him, and several police officers jumped into their truck and pealed off after them as well. I waited on the steps of the police station, while I waited for the police and 'my husband' (as the police officers took to calling matt) to return. I was kept amused by the drunken-classy-hooker yelling obsenities at the police as she tottered off the premises. A few minutes later, everyone returned, and i got the full story of what had happened in my absence. Apparently, the foot chase had gone on for quite a while (about five or six blocks), and included a police rifle shoot-out, and the addition of a cavalry of boda-bodas in joining in the pursuit. As you would expect, with about 10 people after him, the Suspect was caught, put in this coffin-like compartment of the police truck, and brought back to CSP. Matt, Moses, and I went in to CSP, where i made a written statement, and where we couldn't stop giggling at the situation (i have no idea how the police interpreted the giggling, we probably seemed nuts.) The whole thing - the chase, the boda-bodas, the shoot-out, the drunk hooker, the dusty dirty dim police station with the broken window, the suspect sprawled out, dirty and bloody, on the floor - it all just seemed too perfectly set-up. The Ultimate African Robbery scene for the secret movie being filmed around me. Even down to the 'little something' that the police asked Matt and I for, through Moses. (I explained that i couldn't give a bribe because it was 'against my religion', matt just shook his head and laughed.)

By this point, it was about 4 a.m., so naturally, we wanted to know what 'everyone was up to', so we phoned around to a few of our friends who we had last seen at the party four hours ago, and found out that they had gone all the way to Al's Bar (a fun, notorious get-hammered-and-hit-on-by-hookers bar in the outer edges of the city), and so the three of us (me, matt, and moses) hopped in a special-hire taxi and went out to meet them. Our adventures went over well. So much so that when i was astounded to find out that my friend's girlfriend's friend is my sister's best friend, i was told 'Um, i think the robbery/shoot-out story is a bit better, Deanna.'

And so. Now I'm at my office on a sunday afternoon (so that i could use the phone) and I've pretty much recovered from all the excitement of yesterday. I'll let you all know what happens next!


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