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Between a Rock and a Hard Place in Stone Town

November 20, 2010

Here you go…I wrote this in the very back (y’know, where the luggage is supposed to go) of an SUV taxi. With our backpacks keeping me close company, and quite immobile.  I wrote in my pad about this somewhat scary incident that happened just a few minutes prior, trying to capture it just as I remembered.

***

The young, lanky Tanzanian man (I’ll call him, Abood) has his finger in Ben’s face – for what? An explanation? (one I’m sure he wouldn’t even listen to) Does he want to know the reason our group left him and decided to go with a different taxi service? Money for his next drug fix? Or an ancillary one: reconciliation for triggering his fear of abandonment?

We’re loading our backpacks and luggage into the taxi – not Abood’s – while Abood, still shouting in anger at Ben (Ben was the one he spoke to; he didn’t speak with anyone else from our group), unloads our things from the taxi. “My car is right there! It’s right across the street!” He shouts repeatedly in a thick Swahili accent, as he points to the crowded intersection of automobiles, mopeds, bicycles, pedestrians, and the endless number of stands selling pineapples, papayas, small bananas, various fish, to name few. Abood continued: “Why did you leave?! I said I would come back and bring my van! Why?!”

I feared for Ben’s safety, for all of ours. The man was passionate to articulate his angst, enraged we’d picked a different taxi after we’d said we’d wait for him on the marketplace street corner. To be fair, he made us wait for him. He made us follow him through the city, with our luggage and backpacks, because he couldn’t get his taxi through the traffic. The five of us, two friends and a German couple, had patience that was wearing thin, given the kind of morning we had before all this actually happened: an hour-and-a-half morning “Dala-Dala” ride across the island of Zanzibar, complete with live chickens at our ankles, African men, women, and children, young and old, cramped sardines-style next to us, and a bloody cow carcass on the roof of the “Dala-Dala” that was slowly emitting blood onto our adjacently placed backpacks and on the backs of its passengers. But that’s another story altogether.

I was reading Ben’s face, trying to determine how scared he actually was – or if at all. (Later he said casually about the situation: I’ve come across worse.) I looked at Abood to try and gauge just how angry he was. I believe Ben was actually more sympathetic toward the man than he was afraid, as Abood was pulling up his shirt to show us an open wound on his back and the hollowness of his concave stomach…I guess to show us the hard times he’s been through. I decided to take some action when Abood invited himself to sit with us in the cab. Pretty much saying You’re not going anywhere! If you go anywhere, you ride with me. That’s how I took it anyway. (what an awkward ride that would be.)

By this time, our current taxi driver went to find the police. Abood was not letting up. He showed no signs of receding or letting us leave Stone Town. It didn’t feel like it was about the disownment anymore, the fact that we’d broken our verbal contract with him. All of our words and justifications were not getting to him, he didn’t care what our reasons were. Even after I’d given Abood 6,000 Tanzanian Shillings (roughly $4) in an agreement that he’d leave us alone, he was still spitting out words of hate in the same abrasive tone. Looking into our window and directly at Ben as we were finally driving away, Abood said his most threatening words yet: “Americans are not supposed to act like this! You don’t ever play me again! Next time you come to Stone Town, I’ll be looking for you!” I felt the blotches of dry cow’s blood on my back, hoping that moment – if even just a small amount – had made me a little tougher.

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