A city of three million people, the largest in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam has a reputation for being, well, boring. Our Danish friend, Morton, who we met in Nairobi, organised a cab and we ducked and dodged our way across town in the ridiculous traffic, past embassies and shopping malls, through shanty suburbs and road works, finally reaching our hotel on the north shore of the city.
A familiar ritual followed: unload packs, organise laundry, sort out WiFi, decide on dinner, check emails, lie down for a bit. I usually tried to get Sam to help me in such situations, but sometimes, like this day, I was just too knackered to bother.
My good friend since university days, Matt, arrived at our hotel after he had spent two hours crossing the city from the airport in the peak hour traffic. It was great to see him
‘Sam, you’re so tall, and what’s going on with your hair?’ Matt said.
Sam flapped and bounced. ‘Matt Rickard is in Africa!’
We headed out to a beach side restaurant nearby, Sam devoured a pizza and we got smashed by the mosquitoes; I had forgotten the insect spray. Matt and I had a big catch up on what was going on in our respective lives, and Matt got to know Morton, even though he kept getting his name wrong (calling him Milton) and his nationality (confusing Denmark with Norway).
Sam talked and talked. We tried to figure out what to do in our time together. Zanzibar? Up the coast? How long should we stay in Dar? Sam focused on the usual suspects; Harry Potter, The Incredibles, The Simpsons, Mugabe, Idiot Amin, Hermione Granger.
‘Er, Sam talks a lot now Jabber,’ Matt observed. (Jabber is my nickname).
‘Yeah, that has been the main change.’
‘Actually, you don’t stop talking, do you Sam?’
‘I like to talk!’
‘Yes you do.’
‘How about we play the ‘be quiet game’.’
‘Ah, oh-k.’ Matt turned to me. ‘That sometimes works with my kids, but clearly not with Sam!’
The next day in Dar we cruised around the city, using Morton as our guide. I tried to get Sam to take the lead but it was a bit difficult with the four of us, and also our challenging environment. The roads were, like in all African cities, quite dangerous, and walking on the footpath was an obstacle course; impromptu shops blocking the way, parked cars, tut-tuts and motorbikes on footpaths, boxes, crates, displays of CDs, clothing or electrical equipment on racks. Anything, everything, and then some.
We approached a large intersection and just before the corner a man was making a racket that was somewhere between singing, rapping and just being a pain in the arse. He was surrounded by a crowd of thirty or so people, some of whom were taking pictures on their phones, attracted by his oddness.
As we skirted the small crowd, distracted by the odd guy, I accidentally stepped on a man’s foot, who reacted angrily. I immediately said sorry, but he grabbed my upper arm and squeezed – hard. I winced in pain as I continued to apologise. With his other hand he grabbed Sam’s arm. It was at this point I got seriously worried.
‘Hey, Dad, he is hurting me.’
‘Let him go!’ I thrust forward towards the man who let go of Sam but continued to squeeze my arm. He looked off his face and I managed to hit his hand away from my arm. People were jostling and yelling all around us. The man smiled, put his hands up in the air and retreated. ‘He’s up to something,’ I thought to myself.
Matt sidled up beside me. ‘Check your bag, some of them were close to it.’
I checked, it was closed and intact and the stills and video camera were both inside. Phew.
‘Let’s get out of here.’
We headed for the taxi stand and tumbled into the nearest cab, out of the glare, dust, noise, heat and chaos. As I hit the seat the penny dropped. ‘My wallet is missing.’
‘F*ck, really? What was in it?’
‘Only about 30 bucks. All the big stuff and credit cards are in my money belt.’
‘Damn, I knew he was up to something.’
‘It wasn’t just him. That was a set up. The guy making the noise, he was distracting you.’
‘But I trod on the other guy’s foot.’
Morton joined in. ‘He probably stuck it under yours on purpose.’
Matt continued.‘So they were all in it together. As soon as you were getting grabbed, they gathered around you. That’s why I was worried about your pack.’
‘But they were after my wallet. Just as well, really.’ I looked at my arm; it had some evolving bruising.
Matt raised his eyebrows.‘They really did grab you, didn’t they?’
Sam was not happy. ‘The police should arrest them. They should apologise for stealing your wallet.’
‘I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon Sam.’
Another of life’s lessons for our boy.