Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Backpack Bandit

Ok, so here's the story from my first night in Nafadji...

Not long after we'd arrived at my new hut in Nafadji and met my new family, Ian, Kate, and I decided to go to the boutique near the compound to buy a bottle of water.  We realized that we needed another water bottle for our bike ride the next morning, but the only large bottle the boutique sold was African Fun, a knock off orange Fanta.  After arguing about the price for 10 minutes, we went back to my hut to find the back door wide open and Kate's bag missing from the room.  The back door of my hut doesn't lock, but theft has never been a problem in the past, according to the last volunteer.  We couldn't believe that someone would break into my hut right after I arrived and steal a bag.  After looking around my yard, we found the items she had on the top of her bag next to my pit latrine, so we knew the bag had been stolen.  Inside the missing bag were a camera (none of the pictures had been backed up), iPod, money, her passport (which she didn't know was in there until later in the evening), medicine, her favorite pair of pants, her bank card, keys, etc.

Kate was furious and went straight to my host dad, the chief.  To give him a sense of urgency, she told him she would become violently ill the next day if she didn't get her medicine back and that I may not be able to volunteer in the community if it wasn't safe.  

Next thing we knew, my senior citizen host father was out in the field with a flashlight, examining the footprints in the dirt near my yard.  After gathering information about the size of the thief's footprints and the direction they were headed, he and his helpers congregated in the main courtyard area.  All of a sudden, we heard the village drum, and all the heads of the household appeared on the compound for an emergency village meeting.  While the men sat in the courtyard, the women peeked over the fence.  My host father told the story, while another important man in the village loudly "uh huhed" everything he said.  Halfway through the meeting, someone brought Kate's bag to the chief with some of her belongings.  Apparently they were scattered around the forest.  As she was searching through the bag to see what was still missing, a woman started loudly crying and scurried out of the courtyard.  A bunch of the women huddled outside the compound and started wailing.  Kate told me and Ian that wailing meant that someone had just died.  As if the theft wasn't drama enough for one night.  While the women wailed, the men continued the meeting without batting an eye.

Around 10pm, it looked like we weren't going to retrieve anything else that night, so Ian, Kate, and I returned to my hut to head to bed.  When we got to the entrance to my hut, there was a pile of cookie wrappers and trash that had been inside Kate's bag.  The thief had come to my hut during the meeting to leave that surprise for us.  At that point, we were still missing Kate's bank card, keys, and money, so this trash offering was frustrating.

After finally falling asleep in my sauna-like hut, we heard a banging on my door at midnight.  Kate went to the door, half asleep, and found out that the thief, a 12-year old boy, had been caught and was in the courtyard, handcuffed with cloth.  I imagine the kid was probably beaten before Kate came out.  Not much was discovered from the meeting with the kid, and he escaped and then Kate came back to bed.  

This was a bizarre first night in my village, but I was impressed with how quickly my host father acted and how seriously he took the situation.  He will put a lock on my back door and build my yard walls up higher before I move in.  This boy shamed the village by stealing a bag out of my room, and everyone felt terrible.  The entire village as well as Ian's village heard the story and kept asking me if Kate had retrieved her belongings the next day.  The community cares a lot about my safety, and this incident did not make me concerned about moving to my village.  If anything, it made me realize how well they will respond to problems.

Hopefully my first night when I move to village in less than a month will be less eventful!


  1. Sounds interesting! When I was in Tanzania there was a certain phrase in Swahili that you weren't supposed to shout if you got robbed because the other people on the street would jump on the person who robbed you and beat them, sometimes to death! Good to know things are under control though.

  2. M--kinda weird/scary/exciting/interesting, etc. And that was just the first day/night! Keep it coming! xox/K