I used to take a small amount of pride in the fact that I’ve travelled for a good many years in some fairly off-the-beaten-track places and yet managed to avoid being mugged/robbed/pick pocketed. Well, no more. At around 8.00am this Sunday morning that exemplary record was well and truly spat on, thrown in the mud, trampled on, and kicked into the gutter.
I was walking briskly in downtown Nairobi, along a busy main road in broad daylight, surrounded by pedestrians on their way to church or work, making my way towards the matatu stand to head home to Thika after a sleepless night at a friend’s house. Basically very tired and just wanting to get home to bed. Picked up the Sunday Nation from a roadside paper seller for the 40-minute trip home, and was a block or two from my ride.
Suddenly I find myself being held up, off the ground, by six or seven guys. I say “suddenly” with the purest meaning of the term, as one minute I’m walking along, a cool Sunday morning in town with people rushing to their various destinations, and in a blink of an eye I’m at the mercy of my assailants.
And I do mean mercy. One guy has me around the throat, with another guy on each of my arms and legs. I can feel hands on me, grabbing for my wallet, my phone, the small shoulder bag I’m carrying. I’m struggling as hard as I can, in a state of shock – even denial – that this is happening… to me… on a bright Sunday morning in public… I remember wondering why with all these people around no one is coming to help me, or shouting out anything…
The next moment I am lying on the ground… at first just half conscious, almost in a dream-like state… but can feel my body shuddering in some way, shaking… not quite aware of what’s going on, my tiredness feels like it’s dragging me into darkness. I say moment, but don’t even know if it might have been a few minutes. I must have blacked out. One moment I’m trying to fight off these guys, trying to hold onto the phone in my pocket, strike out hopelessly at these faces around me. The next I find myself waking up on the footpath, everything taken… phone, wallet, keys, bag, the simple silver necklace that had been a gift from my stepmother when I was eighteen… everything. My throat is very painful from where the guy had me, evidence of the force he must have used that had driven me into unconsciousness or semiconsciousness.
I struggle to my feet, still groggy, not yet fully aware of my surroundings, of what had happened. I’m asking someone for the nearest police station I think, though also recall a small part of my still confused mind wondering why, even after my assailants had left, nobody had come to the aid of an unconscious or semi-conscious person lying on the footpath. I’m stumbling away in the direction someone had indicated, not really sure where I was heading. Cross over the main road, looking around me, for… what? I don’t know. People are looking at me, not sure if they realise what has happened to me, or are just wondering what this crazy looking white guy is doing. My mind is pleading for some sanity to return to my morning, to wake up from this nightmare, to return me to my bed. My tiredness is magnifying my mind state, making everything seem more surreal than might otherwise be the case. Though surreal is exactly how it feels. No sleep. Sunday morning. Crowded main street. Held off the ground by seven guys and stripped of all my possessions. Impossible. Not.
I approach a taxi stand. The usual queries from the drivers – “Taxi sir?” “Would you like a taxi?” Their eyes tell me they realise something isn’t quite right with this mazungu, but can’t quite work out what, so they revert to force of habit. I crouch down at the window of one of the taxis.
“I’ve been mugged. Where’s the police station?”
I repeat this statement and question combination to a number of drivers, half hearing the directions they’re saying, but hoping that someone, somewhere, will offer some sort of help. To end this nightmare.
I’m more awake now, my mind still trying to fathom all that has happened, but now a little more aware of my surroundings, my thoughts coming a little clearer to me. The police station is three or four kilometres away I’ve been informed, but with no offer of assistance I weigh up my options. A half hour walk (perhaps more in my state) to report my mugging to the police, with no realistic hope that anything can be done (let’s be serious here…)? Or head home to Thika, to the sanctity of my walled and grilled abode, and worry about the procedures I need to go through later?
I choose the latter, just wanting this moment to be over, just wanting to wipe the board clean and be able to get my head around all that had happened. The police report could wait. Even for insurance purposes, I had time. My first clear thought rising from my groggy mind was that I needed to get home and sleep. Just sleep and then face reality later.
Just to let everyone know, physically I’m fine. Still very sore around the throat – I guess now I can say I know what it’s like to lose consciousness, not a pleasant feeling – and of course still a little shaken up. But in the end, it was only some possessions that were stolen. A little annoying – actually, more than a little if I think of all the phone numbers in my phonebook – however nothing that a few phone calls (cancel credit card), an insurance claim and some time can’t fix. Those memories though… Great for the writer in me, but not something I would wish on anyone.
Oh well, such is life. Could always be worse… On the matatu ride back from Nairobi – the fare paid by some good Samaritan sitting next to me in the matatu who’s name I didn’t even ask – we passed a crowd around a river flowing under the road. Someone had driven their car into the muddy river, the car at an angle across the narrow gorge half-blocking the flow of water. I couldn’t really understand how they had got the car into the river at that angle, but it did cross my mind that if offered the choice of being mugged or driving my car into a river, I would probably choose being mugged every time. So things ain’t so bad…