Friday, 20 May 2011

Danger in Dar

If you were following our blog when we travelled down to Mozambique from London, we got as far as the Kenya-Tanzania border where we had our third and most embarassing incident of not having enough money to buy the visa into the next country & where I had to spend a few hours travelling back to a town with a cash machine while Cate sat with the border police. All of this meant that by the time we had cleared the border – getting on the back of a motorbike being the only way to travel between Lunga Lunga in Kenya and Hora Hora in Tanzania – it was too late to travel further, which we had planned to do, as we had often read dubious reports of small border towns.

It was a slightly scary experience, as the almost complete lack of electrical lighting added to our general fear of borders, but we found a basic hotel which served an even more basic meal. We even braved a walk around and talked to some of the people, who were very friendly, and there were plenty of Masai in their traditional dress. In the morning light, all fears were gone as we waited for the next bus travelling down to the capital, Dar Es Salaam. This bus proved to be the bumpiest we had yet experienced with us being thrown right out of our seats for a particularly bumpy stretch. Nevertheless we made it safely to the city.

When we arrived, the taxi drivers outside were already competing for our custom by trying to catch our eye on the bus & we agreed to go with a particularly keen man who gave his name as ‘Jones’. With the benefit of hindsight there will be many points where it is hard to see why we didn’t smell something fishy, but remember we had travelled across Europe, through the Middle East & down through half of Africa without a hitch, so we’d become very trusting.

We had a few budget places in mind to stay in, but he recommended the Arocha Grand Hotel & we decided to go with his advice. We noticed he sat in reception for the whole time we were checking in and was keen to give us his number if we needed a taxi later on. We did need a taxi to take us to the ferry port for our trip to the island of Zanzibar, so booked Jones to return the next day. He picked us up with his friend in the car. This would be very strange in the UK, but it didn’t feel any different to us than a lot of other strange experiences we’d had on our journey down.

At the port, his friend accompanied us through the ticket office, which was appreciated as we didn’t know much about what to do and there was a lot of hassle at the port, like men arguing and picking up rocks outside the office. At the end Jones’ friend asked if we wanted a taxi to pick us up on return to Dar two days later. We booked this friend, and told him our return time.

And so off we zoomed to Zanzibar for a special couple of days. A birthday treat and a celebration of the near-end of our travels, we booked into a lovely beachside place. With an entire apartment to ourselves, we walked on white sands and swam in astonishingly blue waters. I had a lovely massage listening to the gentle murmuring of waves, and we nuzzled up with prawns by candlelight. The sound of Zanzibar evokes wealth in the imagination, and fittingly so– exotic and beautiful, a picture of boats in azure sea in the afternoon, warm fushia skies by night.

Two days later in the Zanzibar port, the morning ferry was cancelled. Still, after getting the afternoon ferry after a lovely lunch in Stone Town, the man was there to pick us up. I felt bad that he had waited all day for our custom.

He took us to his taxi where there were two new men – one was introduced as his driver and the other his uncle. We had gone from having 1 to 2 to 3 men in the taxi each time and had thought it was just a cultural thing – we had often seen the Afircan custom of sharing business with friends or family even when it wasn’t what we would call efficient or needed. They were also incredibly charming and friendly – some of the friendliest men we had met on our travels. We had intended to go to the Mozambique embassy that day, but because our boat was delayed, we knew it was now shut. The guys said they knew the embassy worker and could take us to his house, where he would arrange a visa for us. We were so pleased about this as we were behind schedule in getting to Pemba and thought it was a real stroke of luck. Within about half an hour we were driving out of town. They turned off the main road, saying we were near the embassy worker’s house. I remember feeling a slight twinge at this point, that perhaps it was a little bit odd that we were driving out of town with three guys we didn’t know, but I put it down to just one more of the very different experieces that we’d had on this trip.

They turned off the main road – saying it was to avoid the traffic – and as we were heading away into a quiet, dusty, residential area they stopped the car and in got one more man. We now had four men in the car – two of them in the front and two squeezed in the back with us. I know it seems hard to believe, but even at this point we trusted them. Even now we were laughing and chatting away with them and with this new man, believing them to be some of the nicest people we’d met on our trip.

A few minutes later they stopped the car and said it was time to introduce themselves. This was a chilling and horrible moment. In an instant all their charm and friendliness vanished. The newest man seemed to take the lead and calmly explained that they were going to take all our money, and that nothing would happen to us if we cooperated. The man in the front was much more agitated and shouted at us that they were dangerous. We had long ago decided that in a mugging we would do what was asked of us, that money was nothing compared to saftey. We were also trapped. The doors were locked from the front, they were four strong men & I remembered that I had waved to children before and they’d looked right through me. The windows were reflective.

So I handed over all our cash and cards. They took all this, but they were quite nervous and agitated and quite soon they were having a four-way shouting match with each other. Cate was crying by this time and pleading with them not to hurt me. Under pressure, Cate showed her selfless character. The man in the front was angry that Cate was crying, saying that they hadn’t hit her or anything. In a panic they thrust all the cash and cards back at me and drove off, as if they weren’t happy with how this was going. That didn’t last long however & they stopped again and took everything back.

We had already been in the car with them for about an hour by now, Congolese music playing the whole time in the background. We were more than ready to get out of that car. But their method was to drive around the city using different cash machines, not taking too much at each machine, until they had reached the limit on the cards. On our journey we had constantly had problems with our cards not working in all machines or with all banks and sometimes not working in a country at all. We tried to explain this to them, as the cards were not working at the first few machines they tried. They seemed to believe us for a time, but as time went on and they were getting increasingly stressed. They were driving madly around, finding new ATMs, parking up, getting out and queueing, using the card and seeing no cash. They decided we were lying about the PIN numbers. This was a sickly, horrible time as their threats increased, as did our pleas that we were telling the truth and that the cards were at fault. They kept saying, “Maybe you have made a mistake with the PIN number” as if I was lying and that would make it easier to say “Sorry, you’re right, I have made a mistake, this is the right number.” But I knew I hadn’t. It was starting to feel like we’d never be released. Even so, we were able to explain that as Christians we forgave them for what they were doing & that we wouldn’t hold it against them.

After three hours of no success, they were convinced we were lying. They provided an ultimatum, that they would kill me if Nick did not confess the correct pin. The man left the car for what he said was his final time. We were praying like crazy, unbearably desperate. I felt as though God showed me a huge ring of fire around us, protecting us. Sure enough, that time the pin worked! I tell you, it was a complete miracle and I believe God utterly broke in and saved our lives.

After retracting a nasty amount of cash, they put us in a tuk tuk (three-wheeled taxi) and sent us off to a hotel of their recommendation. Not keen to take advice from our fellow bandits, I requested we go straight to the smartest and safest hotel in town. There we spent a few days resting, worshipping and recovering. It was a beautiful time. We were fragile and yet so held by our loving God. We would get scared and then we would worship and feel safe and bold. We slept in unimaginable luxury after two months of roughing it to reach Africa. We ate a lot of food. We also caught a flight to Pemba, keen to head towards our destination. And I must say once we arrived in our little Pemba place, we let out a big sigh of relief. Rich and incredibly joyous, and yet full of hard hours and tears – the long journey south was finally over. At least for the moment.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

What has happened since we last wrote

So we did finally fulfill our original blog title and make it all the way from Camberwell to Cape Town. We travelled through 3 continents & 18 Countries, on 30 long train & bus journeys (many of which were through the night & a couple were more than 24 hours!), plus 2 plane flights, 3 ferries, quite a few taxis and tuk-tuks and motorbikes and one camel. London to Cape Town is about 6000 miles as the plane flies, but I think we travelled around 9000 miles to get there. It cost a lot more in pounds and a lot less in carbon dioxide. And we had a life-changing experience of cultures and people that we may never have again (or might have in a couple of years if we want to come back and visit!) I’ve got to say that neither of us are born travellers – we didn’t chose to do this for fun and it was pretty tough at times. But I think it has shaped us and our ability to adjust to the different culture that we now live in.

Let’s go back to early October last year. We will spend a bit of time going through our experience in Dar es Salaam – mainly the reason why our blog stopped so abruptly. Then we must share a bit about our two months attending the Iris school in Mozambique, zoom onto our month in Zimbabwe, share stories from South Africa and finally report back from our long trip north – back to Pemba. I now sit in Pemba looking out on the expansive blue Indian Ocean, the sun beginning to sink in the sky. We now call this place our home. But I am skipping ahead. Back to Dar, and then onwards and upwards!