Day 309: Tanzanian Attempts to Motorcycle-jack Dice Man
You don't want to fuck with a man wearing fuzzy ears. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses change faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.
A MAN in a blue, green and purple polo, the kind you'd expect to see a half-rate realtor or a marine boat boy wearing, lurches into the road.
His hand locks down on Rafiki's handle bars, bringing us to a complete stop as he attempts to rip the keys out of the ignition.
In slow moving traffic along the coastal road headed into the Dar el Salam City Center, I miraculously keep the overloaded motorcycle – packed with my gear, Mustafa's backpack and Mustafa – from crashing down onto the pavement.
“Let the fuck go,” I yell through my helmet, my hand batting away the man's free hand as it attempts to pluck the keys out of Rafiki.
If the keys come out, we're fucked. It's as simple as that – same idea as letting your car come to a stop when you're dealing with a mob situation.
When they have the keys, there is a total transfer of power. I have extra keys, but they're in the drone bag and it's hardly a situation where I can safely get to them.
“Get the fuck away! Get the fuck away. Don't touch my fucking keys,” I yell at the guy, my fist coming down hard on the hand gripping Rafiki's handlebar and clutch.
By pulling the clutch in, he's making it impossible for us to drive away. Rafiki's engine revs as I attempt to shake him loose and give her gas.
It's a beautiful day. The noon sun blisters through a bright blue sky dotted with white clouds. Traffic in our lane starts to build up behind us as he try to coerce us to the side of the road.
I take a wide, lopping swing at his face.
My fist catches only air.
He's out of range and I'm sitting, unable to close the distance. However, anything I can do to make him flinch and loosen his grip gives us a chance to escape. He holds tight. His hand locked onto the clutch and handle bar like a Rottweiler.
Someone caught in the traffic jam we're causing honks his horn. Standing, I quickly shuffle Rafiki forward enough to block both lanes of traffic.
“Help,” I yell. “Somebody help us!”
“Police! Police! Police,” the man shouts at us.
Police in Tanzania, especially traffic police, are well dressed. They have crisp white uniforms and military hats. Another man approaches us. He's wearing the same polo as the dead-eyed, tight-faced man still grabbing for the keys.
Am I about to go down for attempted assault on an undercover officer?
The idea flashes in my mind, but is no match for my instinctive fight or flight response.
Mustafa, who has already had a run-in with undercover police with regards to his passport, is reeling to understand why I'm attacking this guy.
“Police! Police! Police,” the man shouts, again attempting to rip out the keys.
The man's friend is approaching us, coming on to the scene as if he's going to be reasonable. He wants us to get Rafiki out of the road. Dozens of cars are now stuck behind our skirmish.
“Where's your ID? Show us your ID,” Mustafa and I shout.
The man fiddles with a thin, yellow-brown wallet and removes some an ID card. He holds it at a distance, cupped in his hand.
“Let us see,” I yell.
Mustafa snatches it. The card says something about being a broker – nothing about being a police officer.
“Are they police?” Mustafa yells to a man stuck behind us in his sedan. He confirms that they aren't, but doesn't move from his car to intercede on our behalf.
One car manages to slip by us, but the rest are stuck.
The dead-eyed snaps the key chain ring. Rafiki's key is gone.
I don't see it in his hand.
Fuck, I keep the keys clipped to the handle bars in addition to being in the ignition to stop real police officers from taking them, but with the ring busted, the keys are scattered. A big man from one of the cars behind us gets out of his vehicle and approaches.
“Just go,” he says.
The tight faced man steps back, but I can't find the key. After a few seconds of looking, which feels like a lifetime, I find it in a mess of wires near the handlebars.
There's the sound of sirens in the traffic behind us. Now, I'm worried about getting into trouble with real police – though I have no reason to be.
With the key back in the ignition, we're off.
“Bro, are you okay?” Mustafa asks.
“Check our bags? Do we have everything?” I ask, my mind racing to figure out what might have gone wrong. “Do you have my phone?”
We have everything.
“Bro, are you okay?” Mustafa asks again.
“Yeah, man I'm fine.”
“Has that happened to you before?”
I can't help but laugh.
“No man. That was fucked up!”
I'm desperate to get to the harbor and off Rafiki. Though we escaped, it's impossible not to feel vulnerable right now.
Getting to Zanzibar has been a nightmare, which was continued this morning, before the attempted motorcycle jacking. Getting to the primary Spice Island is actually relatively easy feat if you're not bringing a motorcycle. However, with the plan to volunteer at a premaculture commune on the island for a month, I want the freedom that comes with Rafiki's two wheels.
* * *
My alarm goes off at 7am.
“Mustafa! Mustafa, you got to go tell the staff to get us when the captain gets here,” I say. It takes a persistent ten minutes of calling to get the Egyptian out of bed.
A slimy, middle-man that I don't trust arranged the meeting for this morning. I'd cornered him in the conversation last night, which left us talking in irritating circles. He kept saying we couldn't leave in the morning, because it was low tide; we had to leave at night.
“There's two high tides every day. When is high tide?” I asked. And then, we'd begin talking in a circle about nothing. As we were making no progress and I was simply irritating everyone, Mustafa wrapped the meeting up, while I went to brush my teeth.
“Okay, we'll meet him at 7:00 in the morning,” Mustafa said.
We were supposed to leave yesterday. However, the captain that the owner and visionary behind Firefly Lodge trusts failed us. We'd arranged the illegal boat transfer about a week ago, reconfirming the day before leaving.
The captain simply went missing in action. There was something about being sick and being in hospital and promises of coming by the guesthouse soon. However, the day wore on and he never showed.
So why take an illegal dhow 20 nautical miles from Bagamoyo to Zanzibar rather than the ferry like everybody else? Two words: The Terrorist. So for a YouTube travel show Mustafa and I are working on The American and Terrorist Go To (Insert Place Name). The first episode is going to be Zanzibar, or at least that's the plan.
Oh, but why is this Egyptian with a Sphinx in his sphincter – he's suffering from constipation right now – throwing a wrench in our plans. Because he has no passport and he can't get hold of the medicine he needs for his bowel problems.
A friend in Egypt was supposed to send the meds, but failed. However, another friend got hold of them in Kenya and sent them by DLH down to Dar el Salam, which was why he didn't arrive back in Bagamoyo until a couple days after I slipped away from my volunteer teaching job.
The passport, however, is at the center of our problem. I say our problem because we're teaming up to make Zanzibar great again and we've got the whole No Child Left Behind policy that the Navy Seals use. The passport is essential for crossing into Zanzibar, which functions as autonomous region of Tanzania with its own immigration and customs office.
The slimy fixer and a new captain arrive at about 7:30, which isn't terrible for African time. It's at the same time that my body basks in the few cool hours of the morning where I can find a deep sleep. My body is heavy, but my mind rising, as if on the verge of an out-of-body experience.
I hope to remain half asleep during the negotiations.
As expected, the price jumps from the 150,000 Shilling, about 67 dollars, we talked about earlier to 190,000 Shilling.
“So a small boat will take you to the big boat, which will take you near to Zanzibar and then you will be transferred to a small hotel boat,” one of them is explaining. “Then you have to just act like normal tourists taking a boat around the island.”
At this point we're negotiating how to be smuggled into Zanzibar, along with Rafiki.
“See it's illegal, so there is a certain risk as well,” a staffer from Firefly explains, which strikes me as a terrible idea for guests services.
There's a too much haggling and the sharp why-are-you-so-dumb tone has returned to my voice. It's a particular tone that resonates when someone is incapable of directly answering a simple question.
“So, there is nothing else going on the boat? Only us?” I ask.
They talk for a minute and confirm that it is so.
“So, if I find anything else being moved from the boat, I can keep it?” I ask. If we're paying this price because there is no side hustle, as they claim, there better not be any fucking side hustle.
The fixer gives me the same nervous smile of someone who doesn't entirely understand that he was giving me last night.
“The captain's sister died. So he's going to Zanzibar for the funeral,” he says. “I'm sorry about your sister,” I say, more out of formality than with any true empathy. “So you are going to Zanzibar either way. Why is it more now?”
The man walked himself into a corner. A persistent, awkward silence prevails.
“Okay, 170,000 and I'll pay the extra money,” Mustafa says, feeling pretty guilty about dragging me out on this crazy little adventure. The idea of us splitting the price, let alone him paying more is ridiculous, because I have Rafiki.
They settle on 175,000 Shilling.
Mustafa pays them “a little money” in advance to get fuel and prepare the boat.
At least it's done.
“I only recommend that one captain,” says the owner of the lodge, when I mention that it's not the best idea to have staff admitting that they are promoting transit to the island from Bagamoyo. “There are stories of other captains taking people out, and halfway there, stopping the boat and demanding more money.”
It's apparently not unheard of for them to threaten to dump passengers' luggage overboard unless they are paid more money. In general, these guys are all part of an underground network trafficking illicit and stolen goods in Bagamoyo. Many of them smuggle items into Zanzibar. The idea of taking it one step further and fleecing a few tourists doesn't seem outlandish, even if it does happen at sea.
“Okay, so the plan is that we're going to make a big show of barely having enough money to pay them in full. This way they think we don't have any more cash on us,” I explain to Mustafa.
The situation seems to be getting more and more dodgy as the sun rises.
Of course, at this point it's a done deal. We'll be leaving in the hour – enough time for us to pack and then enjoy the balsamic egg breakfast that comes with a night's accommodation.
Mustafa has a mouth full of toothpaste when the men return. They can't do it. It's the same fucking nonsense about the low tide that we've been battling since we started all this bullshit. How the hell they could set this up and still not know what was going on with the boats and the tides is beyond me. It's a level of dodgy incompetence that's hard to fathom. With boats occasionally sinking on the way to Zanzibar, this is doing nothing to bolster our confidence.
“They say we can leave at night and sleep on the boat, then arrive in Zanzibar in the morning,” Mustafa says. After I dragged him over, I wandered off to brush my own teeth.
“We can always roll man,” I offer.
“We have like 4,000 dollars worth of stuff with us.”
“True. And you already hate the dice. Can you imagine how much you'll hate them if it chooses for us to go and we get robbed?”
Unprepared for an attempted motorcycle jacking, we overload poor Rafiki and head to Dar el Salaam to see if we can't find a way for Mustafa to slip through Zanzibar Immigration without his passport.