[Written in Africa]
I took a trip for my last holiday, and I found out that everyone gets robbed in Addis.
Every single person in my hostel had had something pinched, or someone had blatantly tried to pinch something from them.
I usually got taxis around town, but I needed to do a couple of jobs that were close together so I wandered around the neighbourhood, sensibly only keeping a few dollars in my pocket. It was 3:00 in the afternoon, the sun was shining, there were plenty of people about.
A guy grabbed by arm, pressing his thumb into the inside of my elbow in order to shock and distract me. I’d heard about this scam – one bloke does this, while another goes through your pockets from behind. I put my hand over my front pocket where my money was.
I made a fuss, instinctively telling him ‘fuck off’ in the language of the Hated Neighbouring Country. He and his mate backed off when they saw I was prepared to make something of it, and they slinked off looking for easier targets. I know of one old bloke who they just punched in the head, knocked down and took his stuff, but while rather small I am not an old bloke.
When I undressed later in the shower I found a neat cut along the belt-line of my trousers. While one had distracted me, the accomplice had in two seconds cut my pants with a razor in order to extract any money belt that may have been there (there was none). So it probably was a good idea not to start throwing punches, otherwise they would have cut my throat. Life is cheap in big African cities, and culprits would most likely disappear into the vast and lawless slums, never to be seen again.
In another case, I was caught at pedistrian lights trying to cross a busy road and a crowd of street children surrounded me, variously distracting me, begging, and making grabs for my pockets. They got nothing, but I didn’t have much anyway.
Robbery and pick-pocketing can happen in many places, of course – Italy is notorious, and guns are sometimes put in your nose in the Philippines. What is different about Addis is that it is ubiquitous. If you spend a few days wandering out and about on your own, you will have an incident. There’s no way around it. Sure, you can avoid carrying valuables with you (most of the time), but the danger of an unintended escalation is always there.
So the city where I live is not so bad, I guess. I can go wandering without thinking about it, have walked home from the bank with $10,000 in my bag, and have never had a problem. Daytime is almost perfectly safe.
I’ve said it before and maybe it’s time I started listening to myself: I’m a bloody whinger.
Oh, and my guts had a meltdown in Ethiopia, too. And I do mean meltdown. I guess that’s universal on the continent. My bowels indicated trouble while I was in a museum, so I left quickly and flagged down a taxi. The driver promised he knew where my hostel was, then promptly got lost, and there I am sucking my guts in for an hour as he went here and there asking bystanders for directions. When we finally arrived he pleaded plaintively for more money because of all the fuel he’d used up. I threw it at him and ran.
Update: I am no longer in Africa but my guts are still in poor condition six months later. I probably need to get a complete check-up to see if there’s something wrong with me. Probably have swarms of flesh-eating parasites inside me that will one day explode out of my eyeballs.