Sunday, March 6, 2016

Vignette: Tanzania / Tanga -- It's a Crime (March 2016)

(This is not John's place. But it is a place.)
At the grocery store in Tanga I hear an older white guy talking to the Indian checkout clerk about how he had been recently robbed and how somebody else he knows had been shot. She commiserates. Two months later while we're getting new passports at the Canadian High Commission in Dar Es Salaam, I see him again, explaining to the woman behind the glass how he lost his passport and papers, all stolen. We recognize each other. Let’s call him John. John and his girlfriend have a modest beach resort – we tell him we’ve actually come across his website. He describes how the small resorts along his way were robbed one after the other by men with machine guns pretending to be police and looking for tourists with foreign cash and pretty baubles. The resort’s security guards all ran away, and John and his girlfriend were badly beaten and robbed; elsewhere, someone was shot through the leg; elsewhere, someone was shot to death. Although the police took their sweet time, they eventually tracked down the thieves, who made the mistake of using stolen cell phones. Turns out that these guys rented their weapons from the military in a deal brokered by a policeman.

Later, I will tell this story to a Kenyan fisherman friend, a kind-hearted Muslim bloke who insists with genuine conviction that we’re all brothers and isn't fussed that I don't believe in God, which doesn't stop him from educating me in things Islam and polygamous. He will laugh and say he’s not surprised because it happens all the time. The criminals get their guns from the police/military because regular people can’t have guns and that’s the best place to get them. He doesn’t like the police because they just take your money. He will explain that they don't normally have police at his village. If you see a policeman, you warn everyone by cell phone that the Big Snake is coming. Before cell phones they had other methods. So I will ask: what do you do if you, say, catch somebody stealing. He will say: we beat him to death or beat him and kick him out of the village and turn him over to the police, which is worse than death.

Back at the Canadian High Commission, as we’re just about to leave, John hands us his card and enthusiastically invites us to check out his place.