Smoke and Mirrors

So there I was, smug in the Big Smoke, between Hair Appointment and Lunch With Friends (because that’s what people do in the Big Smoke when they’ve wrested their way out of barely-a-whisper-of-the-stuff Outposts), jammed between one end of a daladala and another when he sauntered up and, nonchalantly as you like, snapped my wing mirror off.

I was left impotent and squeaking, captured between daladala and daladala and four doors whilst he slunk into the melee with a 50 buck prize in his hot little hand.

When I complain to a Tanzanian (‘I’ve had my bloody wing mirror whipped, just like that’, and I click my fingers for effect) he informs me, ‘it’s because you’re white’.

But he’s wrong: it’s because my registration number wasn’t carved into the mirror (which would have diminished street resale value considerably); it’s because I hadn’t secured it with knots of wire like a cleverer friend; it’s because I was stuck fast and couldn’t get out of his way quick enough.  (And it’s probably because I was texting when I ought to have been paying more attention … and immediately upon petty violation I phoned husband which probably put second wing mirror and spare wheel in jeopardy but by then thankfully the line of cars had begun to move quicker than wing-mirror harvesters can).

So the thrill of town escapades escalates – nothing like this in the Outpost.

But having a wing mirror spliced from your car whilst you’re mired in traffic the likes of which you haven’t seen for months (on account of alienating geography) is nothing.

My son and I were bumper to bumper with a shoot-out on the main drag once.

Right there. In Front of Our Very Eyes. A real-live hold up. With guns. And shattered glass. And doubtless tyre-necklacing in a side street for the one that almost got away: Africa doles out street justice quickly and mercilessly.

I’d only gone in to buy a bloody Turkey, for God’s sake.

As the scene unfolded, with that curious mixture of astonishing rapidity and simultaneous slow-motion that attends such drama, I slid towards the kerb, switched the engine off, yanked the keys from the ignition (if they wanted my car, they could have it) and instructed son to Get Down. Where I was. Crouched in the footwell.

I didn’t clamber out from my perch on the brake and beneath the steering column until my son, who hadn’t heeded a word of my warning, said, ‘It’s OK mum, you can get out now’.

He’d watched it all, wide-saucer eyes peeping over the dash and was able to relate, as I abandoned the idea of turkeys that Christmas and opted for a couple of chickens instead, the unfolding of events with the same minutiae that accompany a child’s description of a film they’ve seen (so that you are left tied in confusion as to who exactly the baddies were and have to keep asking).

The men in the car behind got out and surrounded the car in front.

And then one of them fired a shot at the driver. But his window didn’t break. It just cracked.

And then the driver got out and he pulled a pistol out of his pocket (so it really was: a pistol in his pocket) and he started to shoot. But his car kept driving down the street. And then another man got into his car (but he was obviously a goodie) and he parked the car for the man who had got out and started to shoot the baddies. And he shot one. And two ran away (to be necklaced) and the last man got back in his car and he drove away very fast. And everybody was shouting and screaming and chasing the two that got away.

And you were down there. Hiding.  And so you missed it all.

In the hours the follow I establish that this, contrary to first impressions, was not an attempt to hijack a sleek new automatic Mercedes with bullet proof windows (in which case it’s doubless anybody would have given my ancient Landcruiser a second look); it was instead the attempt to steal the Christmas takings from one of the wealthiest traders in town who was on his way to the bank with bags of Swag in the boot.

Small wonder, then, that my son’s response to my outrage over wing mirror was one of disappointment on account of lack of theatricals.  I didn’t whip a pistol from my knickers. I just gasped and ineffectaully spluttered, ‘What the F …!’


15 Responses to “Smoke and Mirrors”

  1. carol Says:

    Glad you’re back blogging – even if it is without one wing mirror. I think the ones in my car are more difficult to pull off – but they make a horrid noise when you start up (after parking someplace) and go ‘click, click’ as they try and get re-aligned as someone has bashed into them….

  2. Mud Says:

    That doesn’t tend to happen in Singapore. I think you get 10 years behind bars here for jay walking! Or taking a durian onto a bus….

  3. Expat Mum Says:

    Blimey – I thought Chicago was wild! BTW, the phrase “She whipped a pistol from her knickers” still makes my teenagers fall about laughing.

  4. Cheryl Says:

    What a story!!! I’m with the Expat Mum & laughing at “She whipped a pistol from her knickers” line. The closest to that phrase I’ve come is “don’t make me pull my pistol!” Of course, I don’t have a pistol, but what the heck! Glad you are safe; sorry about your wing-mirror.

  5. doglover Says:

    Yesterday I scraped the front of my car against my brother’s house. That was exciting enough for me …

  6. Mama B Says:

    Pole sana. I’m afraid it’s becoming really common. I know a few people here who’ve had the same. For one friend, it was even removed carefully with a screwdriver while she was stuck in traffic. She’s also just had her dogs poisened three times in a week and attempted break ins…. For those of you elsewhere, there are also loads of friendly, extremely helpful and hospitable and honest people here too!

  7. paula Says:

    Hey, we’ve had this experience, and our company cars have had 11 in total from a certain area in that Tanzanian city, however having your registration carved into the mirror does not deter, it simply means that when you go next day to buy replacement mirror you may end up paying 50 bucks either to get your own mirror back or some other poor sods mirror and thus your actual registration will not match your now newly attached and engraved mirror. Its accepted practice. But my new gripe, the young boys who try to wash your windscreen and then abuse you when you decline, only in Africa.

  8. nappyvalleygirl Says:

    Wow, you really are in the Wild West.

    I’ve had bike saddles and wheels nicked in Clapham and Brixton, but never a wing mirror!

    Keep safe…..

  9. R. Sherman Says:

    And to think, Europeans think we Americans are bunch of gun-totin’ cowboys.

    Glad you’re safe.


  10. janelle Says:

    feh. what a PAIN, man. have avoided town all week end…been riding in usa. town was hectic what with the fair and all. great writing as always anthea! lots love and get wire for wing mirrors soon… XXX j

  11. Mwa Says:

    And once again I am thankful for my uneventful life.

  12. Muddling Along Mummy Says:

    Paula I think the windscreen washers aren’t unique to Africa, we have a bunch in Earls Court… who thinking about it have also pulled off our wing mirror except they leave it on the floor by the car, obviously missing a trick back here in the UK

  13. Addy Says:

    It makes my trip to Waitrose seems quite lame!

  14. Marianne Says:

    Wow! Scary stuff. You certainly take your life in your hands when you go shopping.

    Although, come to think of it, I can offer a recent rear end shunt by a foulmouthed female who’d tailgated me through a sleepy Suffolk village on my way to Waitrose recently, so maybe life in the sticks offers some thrills and spills.

  15. ali la loca Says:

    We used to get our mirrors knicked all the time in Maputo. We finally had the license number sandblasted, and just out of spite the would-be thief smashed them to pieces. 😦

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