Monday, November 8, 2010

How I almost paid $276 for a 16-oz 7-Up

Yesterday was a typical lazy Tanzanian Sunday. I was awakened at 7:00am by the children discreetly banging on the window by my head in an attempt to wake me up so we could play. An hour later, half-way through the second showing of The Lion King in as many days, my host mother delivered a 5-gallon bucket of heavily chlorinated water from the local price-gouging water distributor (he picks up the slack when the government shuts off the neighborhood’s supply for weeks at a time). Sweet! I washed my hair for the first time in 11 days (gross, I know), threw on some reasonably clean clothes and started the 20-minute walk to town intent on some exercise and several hours of therapeutic online shoe not-buying.

After lunch, I stopped by the ATM and perusing the local market for the week’s stock of fruit and dry goods, browsing a few local wax-print fabric shops along the way. (African fabric is my kryptonite.) An hour later, tired from the hot sun, I was drawn to a tiny fabric-and-cold-drink shop on the corner of the bus rank, where I stopped for a 7-Up. Sitting down on one of the shop’s two stools, my messenger bag between my feet, I struck up a conversation with the shop’s owner and took little notice when two men walked into the shop. They dirty-fingered through the fabric hanging on the walls, and one bought a Coke and introduced himself to me. He knelt in front of me and unfolded a bright orange piece of fabric covered in yellow fish and blue flowers, mumbling something intently to his friend who was kneeling to the side of him. I returned to my conversation with the shop-keeper, sipping my awesomely cold 7-Up.

When I felt him bump my bag, my initial reaction was to reach down and move it out of his way. And then I realized that his hand was deep inside my bag, his dirty fingers wrapped around my wallet. I threw back the gaudy/fabulous fabric as he stood up, my wallet in hand. I demanded my wallet from him as he stared at me with a deer-in-the-headlights look. I lifted up my nearly empty glass 7-Up bottle like I’d seen in bar fights on TV and stared back at him menacingly while his accomplice and the shop-keeper ran out of the shop to escape the crazy white lady. Bewildered, the thief handed me back my wallet and apologized. I told him where he could go and that Jesus had seen the whole thing, stared at him with the evilest, most hateful look in my repertoire and demanded, bottle in hand, that he leave. He protested half-heartedly that he still had half a Coke left as he made his exit, and I rummaged through my bag to make sure my camera and other things were still there. (They were.) A minute later, the shop-keeper came back and apologized for abandoning me and I sat down to finish off the dregs of my 7-Up, recovering from the adrenaline rush that comes from being the almost-victim of an almost-crime and contemplating the almost-weapon in my hand.

To me, the worst thing about being robbed isn’t usually the phone or money (or the fancy Basotho blanket) or whatever I lose, it’s the feeling of being violated. In that sense, an attempted robbery is just as bad as a successful one. And I’m pretty sure those guys followed me from the bank just waiting for the perfect chance to move in, which makes the whole incident even scarier. But at least I know I can hold my own in a fabric slash soda store in the event of an attempted robbery by a pair of unarmed men, assuming I’m drinking a 7-Up. And maybe now I’ll have some sort of post-traumatic aversion to fabric stores and I’ll stop buying wax-print fabric. Probably not, but maybe.

Aside from that, my life is pretty uneventful: class every day, internet café most afternoons, homework in the evenings, and the occasional 24-hour marathon of The Office, which is what I did all day Saturday instead of writing an essay for a scholarship application. Oops.

Anyway, I’ll be home in exactly 2 months! Exciting, right? Can’t wait!

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