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What a mug May 16, 2007

Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Danger, Devastating, Eh?, Namibia, Racism.

People have said recently, “oh, Isabelle, you’re really not having much luck recently, are you?”. Starting with the tragic demise of our puppy, Winston, I have since lost faith and focus in my work, suffered from various illnesses – including a tooth infection that swelled my cheek like a chipmunk, and a bout of feverish tonsillitis over the long weekend when my house mates were away – and an unsuccessful trip to Botswana, leaving my morale slumping somewhat. But I try to shrug off these pity comments about my luck as I get to live out here in Namibia; I have good friends here, I sometimes have my health, and I have a job that I love (most of the time) and it is a spectacularly beautiful country. Sure, things haven’t been that easy recently, but last week I was back on form, with a spring back in my step.

Saturday morning, I was a little bleary-eyed after a night out with friends but spritely as I got ready to go to meet some friends at the mall. With Jill at the salon and Matthias still in bed, I opted to walk out to find a taxi, like I have done many a time. The sky had become suddenly overcast and the air a little muggy, and I was thinking about spending the afternoon in the cinema as I walked down the Ludwigsdorf streets. A steady flow of traffic passed as people went about their Saturday morning business, and a few other people were milling about in the street. As I went down the hill to where the road crossed over a dry river bed, I saw two youngish guys ahead of me; one wandered into the riverbank for a pee whilst his friend waiting on the other side of the road. As I warily passed him, I greeted him, “Walalepo, tate”, looking him in eye and holding my bag tightly. He just looked back at me blankly, which was when I knew I was in trouble. Suddenly, I noticed that the road was empty of cars or people. I glanced back over my shoulder, to I see his friend sprinting up behind me, as the other closed in. I started to run, screaming, “No, you are not getting my bag!!”. I made only a few metres in the sand before they grabbed me. I wouldn’t let go. I screamed at them as they started hitting my arms and back to make me let go. My bag started to rip, and then they were gone, sprinting up the riverbed.

For a moment I stood still, watching them run away through the reeds and sand. Then I lost it, jumping up and down, flailing arms and screaming things that my mother would not be proud of. A passing white in a bakkie saw me, clocked them, and gave chase in his 4×4 up the riverbed. A few others stopped, and got out to help. I was jabbering, shaking and crying without tears. Another car drove to the other end of the river bed to corner them. Armed Response were called. So were the police, but more as a formality.
A kind lady called Patty drove me the 30 seconds to where Jill was at the salon, to tell her what happened. I was then taken back to the scene of the crime to talk to the Armed Response guy (very useful, taking notes and went off to search the riverbed) and the police woman (waste of space, sent me to make a report at the nearby police station which is closed on weekends).

As I waited for Jill to have her hair finished, the weight of what happened hit me, I felt a throbbing in my head, arms and back and started to cry. It wasn’t so much what they took, but the fact they did by force, and why they did it. They saw me and thought “white person = money, girl walking = easy target”. I saw it coming just before it happened. But for months I have walked and biked around with no problems. I am wary, particularly around groups of men, but I don’t like to suspect every person on the street. I wasn’t being complacent either. I know not to walk at night and I don’t. Nor walk on quiet roads. I know riverbeds are a risk too. Only carry bare essentials and avoid taking a bag if possible. But the middle of a Saturday morning, with cars and people around, I thought I’d be fine, like I have many other days. I walk by necessity, not for kicks. But I like to walk too, as it’s so easy to get trapped within the automatic locking of your car, the electric gate of your house, or behind the security guard at work. I meet people walking; in my neighbourhood, mostly workers on their way to work in one of the big houses, but we greet each other and chuckle at the oshilumbu girl on her bike. But now I have the fear that I used to ridicule the white Namibians for having, nervous if someone walks too close, if there is a group hanging around a riverbed near a building site, if someone looks at me too long. Even in the car, the supermarket, the mall, I’m paranoid.

A little satisfaction I do get from it is that they mugged the wrong oshilumbu. I don’t, i mean, didn’t have a fancy mobile phone (they’d be lucky to get £20 for it), I had about £15 in my wallet, a bank card they can’t use without a pin, some lip gloss, a stained purple scarf (actually one of my favourites) and my house keys. They got a pretty bum deal. And I know that people here are poor. That’s kind of why I’m here. They need money to clothe their kids and pay for their schooling; they need it for medicine or anti-retro virals; they need it to pay for food, clean water and housing. But what really gets me is that the likelihood is that these guys took my money, sold my wallet, phone and scarf and skipped off down the shebeen to have a skin-full and tell all their mates about this stupid oshilumbu they did over. Opportunist thugs. Someone in their family probably needs the money for school fees, clothes, food or medicine, but they earned it, so they’ll drink it.
I don’t know these guys, I don’t know their story. I’m making assumptions from stories I’ve heard, but I dare say I’m pretty close to the truth.

I now have the paranoia that they have my keys. They may not know where I live, but if they hang around the neighbourhood long enough, they might. The code on the electric gate fob has been change but our landlord doesn’t think to change the door locks. He has the rottweilers, remember? But every creak or bang in the night, and even day, puts me on edge, and my imagination starts racing ten to the dozen.

And so you can all join the mantra of “Isabelle, you’re really not having much luck right now, are you?”. But at the end of the day, they didn’t have knives or guns and they really could’ve done a lot worse (if I was black, it would certainly have been worse). I didn’t lose much of monetary value, I was more inconvenienced than anything. And I’m not hurt. So it seems I was lucky after all.



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