Friday, December 19, 2008

"Hi, I'm Joe and I'll be your personal thief today."

The past couple of weeks have felt like a real whirlwind. I'm not yet at the end of my semester but we are knee deep in term papers. I'm finding that juggling a variety of topics, tracking down resources, making my other meetings and all in absence of reliable transport or internet can be thoroughly and bone-achingly exhausting. It's been a great time - some productive meetings and introductions, the start of feeling like I'm regaining my academic sea legs and the awe of the stories and opportunity for self-assessment I come across every day. My next post will be some long-overdue thoughts on Development (since prior to coming the biggest question I got was, "what are Development studies anyway?"), but for now I think I'll just share how easy it is for your day to get completely re-worked here before it's even begun, and how with every set back there is somehow an opportunity for humor. In other words, you have to laugh or you'd cry...

My housemate Angeline and I were heading to town yesterday for a Rotary event and various school errands. We hopped on a crowded bus - the first time since I've arrived that the conductor allowed entrance when there weren't enough seats. We both stood for a few moments and then Ang was ushered to the very back and crammed in to the far corner seat in the last row. I was starting to realize that we were on a completley different route than usual, but was more interested in the darling baby making eyes at me while I clung to the overhead railing. The bus paused, a guy squeezed past me and I headed back to take the now empty seat next to Ang. I caught her eye and recognized complete fear as she gasped, "My wallet!" Appropriate chaos ensued as I attempted to get the bus to stop immediately, further aware of how I had no idea where we actually were or where we had stopped to let the guy off, let alone what he looked like. I threw 50 shillings at the conductor and hopped off - followed by Ang and a concerned lady who exclaimed "I knew he was stealing!" Apparently she didn't want to risk being wrong and rudely accusing him.

Wonder of wonders we alighted across from the CID (Kenya pseudo-special police forces) office, and with our good samaritan Mary in tow, quickly gathered a crowd of plain clothes policemen around us. We found ourselves jumping into a taxi and wandering up the street in pursuit of the thief. The fact that I had not seen him, had only just figured out where we were and Ang was in total shock, did not help our meandering around in the hopes of seeing him. We returned to the station and it was recommended we go to the Kilimani police station to file a report. News to us as we thought we were at a police station. Further news to us when we discovered that the group around us was only half policemen, and the others bumming cigarettes from a distraught Angeline were just local business men (I imagine on official "business" meeeting the local police). After exchanging pleasantries and business cards (never a lack of opportunity for networking here) we were escorted by a recommended cab driver, Lanson, to the police station. Ang did her best to share the information of what was stolen, and filled out a police abstract (at a charge of 50 shillings - all sorts of requests were made that failed to reflect the loss of all funds and phone had she been alone) and then we headed off to track down the Irish Consulate and report her passport stolen.

I should note that immediately after the pick pocketing I sent a text to Ang's phone imploring the thief to return the documents - he could keep the money (about $100 U.S. she was carrying for books) and the phone - but could we get her passport and cards back? Well...upon arriving at the Police station I received a text asking me how well I knew town. I responded with some suggested locations, and indicated we could pick docs up anywhere at anytime.

Fastforward through close to an hour sitting in the blistering sun and traffic on Mombasa road (where for all extents and purposes it looks like people basically just wait there turn to run into each other - we passed three accidents at a snails pace) and the journey to the Irish Consulate. Apparently the Kenyan Embassy in Ireland has a prime piece of real estate - the Irish Consulate in Kenya is far flung from town and shares office space with a local tile company. It is also only open from 8:30 to 12:30, and we arrived at close to 3. After threatening to storm through the metal gate to attain her rights as an Irish citizen, the guard finally agreed to let us in (he'd previously suggested we call the staff sitting roughly 20 feet away inside. Again, Ang's cell phone and all resources having just been stolen seeming to escape the situation - and my credit was dwindling to nothing following frantic texts to Ireland to cancel cards).

We managed to meet with the local, non-Irish consulate staff, who was thoroughly unhelpful in her attempts to help Ang (we did learn a new passport would cost her close to a hundred euros), and then headed back home where we both passed out, entirely defeated by the day. I awoke about 30 minutes later to a text from the thief, indicating he would drop the documents in a waste bin at a cinema in town. I quickly called Lanson who'd indicated he'd be happy to help, and he headed to the cinema. The thief then began texting me the exact location of the docs, along with requests for a formal "thank you" over text for his returning of the documents. Over the next hour I text, talk and respond to the thief, and then put Lanson in touch with him when he finds the documents have been removed by someone who saw the thief drop them. It takes a 1000 shillings to get them back, and I am getting nararation from the thief, who is clearly watching, by text message the entire time.

Lanson comes to our house with the passport, credit cards and online banking info, and in the meantime the thief sends me a text asking if we need any important phone numbers from the phone. Seriously - this is full service robbery! Ang and I practically die laughing at the absurdity of it all, then send him some names and he sends the numbers back promptly. I then receive the following, "Ur taxi man is greedy. He didnt part with 1000 i was there but he didnt saw me he just took the doc. Otherwise we are not same its only that i got some feelin 4 u but i stole from u that mean i could not face you n say something good 2 u. Gudnite." (We decided to trust Lanson over the guy who pickpocketed Ang). I also received another request for a thank you text.

A few minutes later, I receive the following from him, "R u manchester united fan if u r ROY KEANE is our man."

Still later, "Is their any pickpockets at your country i can make alot of money i'm sure of that."

Then, "You want a black guy maybe we can have another obama."


Finally, "Do u take kenya beer kesho (tomorrow) I buy u one n if yes say where."

So there you have it, we managed to get Ang's documents returned, I befriended a thief and if I want I could have a date with him tonight. If we didn't stick out here so much I'd bring a policeman along with me, but I think I'll just leave the situation as it is - our luck at getting the docs back is fairly incredible and I just have to believe that the whole thing could only happen here.*

*FYI, I KID YOU NOT I just received the following text from him: "Hey baby gal i have missed u can we meet somewhere in town or what you say" He is also asking me what kind of jobs I came to create as I had sent a message yesterday (after he'd told us we should watch after our stuff better - imagine!) saying I was here to create jobs so people didn't have to steal to support themselves. Good grief.


Allan Wills said...

That is a great story! Twisted, but great. I guess it takes all kinds to make up an interesting world.

Expanding Opportunities said...

Karibu Kenya!
Thanks for the great story and laughs. Sadly it is sooo true.
P.S. Send him a text with your dowry requirements. A Totyota Land Cruiser, Ocean Front Property in Mombasa, and a viable business, and, and, and....

Rog said...

Next thing you know he'll be commenting on this blog. Did you notice the double meaning when he asked what type of "jobs" you were going to create? Thieves be clever.