Robbed by bandits with machetes and rape on the brain.
The tourist police arrived in an ancient looking green Land Rover. Five healthy, strong men emerged from it – three climbing down from the open back. The manager of Tiwi Campsite came over to them, spoke briefly then pointed in our direction where we sat at a wooden table near the beach. The Indian Ocean rippled calmly under a hot, cloudless sky. The men walked over to our position and three of them sat down across from me.
“You’re the couple who have had some trouble?” The man’s voice had the gentle Swahili accent of most Kenyans. I nodded.
“I am Sergeant Ishmael. Welcome to my country. Sorry for the messy experience you have had. I hope you will not think all Kenyans are this way. Ma’am, I would ask that you please go with my two men here so that they can take your statement. Sir, I will ask you for yours.”
“Okay,” Kristi said as she stood up. The two men who had remained standing escorted her to another table in the distance. I made to rest my head in my hands but winced when my elbow struck against the wooden surface. Blood soaked red into the crude bandage.
“You are injured sir.” Ishmael stated.
“No, it’s alright,” I answered, “Could’ve been worse.”
“Alright, we will deal with that later. For now, tell me, what happened?” I cleared my throat and thought of the best way to begin. A remaining surge of adrenaline hit my system with the memory.
“We were coming back from changing some traveller’s cheques, one hundred dollars American, at the bank. Paul, a local guy, came with us. We decided to catch a matatu back as the walk out on the beach took some time.”
“Paul is here now?” Ishmael was scanning the campsite.
“Yes, over there.” I pointed to where Paul sat on the beach gazing into the distant horizon. His ragged shorts hung in tatters around his mid-section. It was incredible that they stayed on at all. “He’s the one who patched me up.” I showed Ishmael the bandage on my arm. The red stain spread slowly wider. Ishmael spoke some Swahili to the man on his right who stood and walked towards the emaciated figure of Paul.
“And why was this local boy with you?”
“To show us the way, we didn’t know where the bank was.”
“So he could have been part of it?”
I looked up at the question. “Maybe I guess, I thought about that. For some reason I don’t think so, but it’s possible. I don’t know?” I shrugged my shoulders. Ishmael’s remaining deputy scribbled down my words furiously.
“So what happened after the matatu dropped you off?” Ishmael continued the questioning.
“We got out at the Tiwi Campsite road. Taxi’s were waiting there to give us a lift to the camp here but it seemed like a waste of money to pay for a few kilometres distance on such a nice day.”
“But you have heard about this road, yes?”
“Ya, we heard, but yesterday we saw other backpackers walking here no trouble so we figured it’d be okay. In fact, Paul warned us not to walk, but we decided to anyways.”
“Well, we ignored the taxi driver’s offers of lifts and began walking the dirt road. I strode out in front with Kristi and Paul behind. One o’clock in the afternoon it was and I whistled a happy tune with sunshine pouring down onto the open track. The dense jungle surrounds the road as it twists its way here and soon we were out of everyone’s sight. We passed a man after about a kilometre. He was maybe nineteen. Very cold face, muscled body, the whites of his eyes burned red and he didn’t smile or make a comment when I greeted him. He looked quite angry really.”
“Would you recognize him again?”
I thought about this for a second. “No, probably not.” I admitted, “It all happened so fast.”
“So we passed this guy and went another five hundred metres or so. I walked barefoot with these shorts and this shirt unbuttoned.” I indicated the clothes I still wore. “Pair of sunglasses on my face, I’m walking about ten feet in front of the others, watching my feet so I won’t step on a sharp stone. I’m quite oblivious to any threat.
“It’s the man with a flashing machete gripped in his meaty palm, jumping out from the thick jungle and square into my path that gets my attention. Light glinted off the blade and time slowed down.
“My head turns, seeking Kristi, and five more, very muscled, very hard-looking men, each gripping a similar machete to my man in front, come into view. We are surrounded.
“Kristi looks stunned as I feel. Where are the movie cameras? Has Michael Palin arrived to film a new TV series, When Africa Attacks? The unreal feeling holds me silent for a moment but cracks appear swiftly to rough hands grabbing and pulling at my body. Swahili fills the air at high volume giving accompaniment to the callused fingers that probe deep for hidden money-belts and the like. I am dazed, allowing the men to continue their molestation without resistance.
‘They want money.’ Paul explains in English. ‘No shit!’ I’m thinking but only nod my head in understanding. I have nothing and the muggers who search me quickly realize this. They give a token check of Paul’s tattered figure, just to be sure, then all attention turns on Kristi. The boys have found something and they want it.
I am alone for the briefest of moments. Reeling.
“‘Leave me alone! I have nothing!’ Kristi’s cry explodes into my hearing and the sight of her valiant attempts to push the swarming mass off of her fills my sickened vision.
“‘You fucks!’ I scream, my vocabulary somewhat limited, ‘you motherfuckers! What’re you doing? Leave her alone you motherfuckers!’ I am a fool. My anger feeds the frenzy further.
“The men soon tire of Kristi’s resistance. They know she carries their yearly salary. I approach the conflict when a machete barrels down and tears brutally into Kristi’s cargo short’s pocket. Material rips with each cut and pull.
“I stand impotent to help.
“After an eternity of seconds one lad dances back and holds the severed pocket up in triumph. Its contents bulge full and thick in his hand. The gang crowds around him.
“Miraculously Kristi is not wounded.
“‘Just give me my passport!’ Kristi cries out uselessly. There is still fight in her. ‘Keep the money. Just give me my passport please!’ The fuckers cannot understand a word. They only turn and stare at the calling sound.
“Dark smooth skin – long, wavy, shimmering hair – tank-top pulls tight over rounded perfect breasts – perspiration glistens across exposed cleavage – her determined face turns up in defiance – she is beautiful!
“Stained red eyes look at her and over-charged adrenaline crackles through the air. Energy sizzles between greed and desire. They grab her like animals and begin to drag her towards the shadows of the trees!
“My uselessness evaporates. My mind crystallizes on only one fact watching Kristi struggle, still calling vainly for her passport. ‘Stay on the road!’ I think, ‘Must stay on the road!’
“I reach Kristi and secure my arms tight around her waist. My strength pulls back from the threatening tangle of wildlife. Bare feet dig painfully into the gravel and hands pull at me; hardened fingers fight to peel me from their prize. I ignore all; only cling to life, to the open road.
“My sunglasses tear off my face. I’d forgotten I still wore them. A snarling figure with a bit of snot dripping from its nose, places my shades over its dead eyes. His face is smeared with dirt and sweat. I only hold tighter to Kristi when the beast laughs at me.
“My peripheral vision catches the wind-up. The slow-motion reel continues with my turn towards the action and I see a glistening machete silhouetted cold against the burning African sky!
“Reflex only – no conscious thought – I release my left arm from Kristi’s waist and throw it up to protect my face! The blade crashes down with all a viscous young mans strength and buries itself into my out-raised elbow.
“Metal screams against bone. I stumble at the onslaught. Rough voices grow louder and harsher and some distant part of me wonders where the next swing will strike me.
“Still I hold onto the girl I love, determined to protect her till I can’t. It is the basest of instincts, something that is present in every man who loves his woman. To die is nothing compared to her suffering any pain.
“Heartbeats pound in unison. The surrounding cries grow frantic.
“Seconds later the violent thieves scatter. Into the void of the jungle, with the contents of Kristi’s pocket they run and disappear from sight.
“We stand silent. Blood begins to drip quietly down my forearm. Our grip on each other remains tight. Then the noise comes louder – an engine – and a taxi pulls into view around the nearest turn. Abruptly time began to flow in sync with ones normal perception once more.”
“So the taxi showing up scared the boys away?” Ishmael jumped into my statement.
“It seems so.”
“That taxi may have saved your lives?”
I looked up at Ishmael and into his dark eyes.
“Yes. It did.”
There was a brief silence. Ishmael’s deputy stopped scribbling for a moment.
“And you got a ride back with the driver?”
I shook my head. “No. The car stopped to see if we were okay. We said yes then continued on our way to the campsite. We finished the walk we started. I think we were still in shock. We got back and told the manager who called you guys. There’s one local woman here who was attacked by the same guys. She has incredible scars. These guys have been doing this shit for awhile?”
Ishmael nodded, “Unfortunately yes. You are both very lucky.”
“I know,” I agreed, “Definitely.”
- * *
Shortly after we sat in the back of the police Land Rover and bounced our way along a narrow jungle road. The nearest hospital wasn’t far.
One of the deputies took his Uzi out of his backpack and showed it to me proudly. I slid my fingertips along its deadly, black barrel. How would things have been if I’d held this weapon during the attack? Could I have killed? The answer scared me.
We arrived at what looked to be an ancient grey concrete bunker. Jungle encroached upon the plain structure from all sides.
“Here we are.” Ishmael called.
As we entered the stark, deserted interior of the ‘hospital’, a rather large variety of crawling insects scurried to hide from our approaching presence.
The one on-duty nurse cleared Paul’s makeshift bandage from my arm and cleaned up my small flesh wound.
“You are fortunate,” she said conversationally as she worked, “The edge of the blade must have been quite dull otherwise you could have no forearm at all.” Such a thought hadn’t occurred to me and I could only thank the unseen God for his protection.
The doctor stitched up my little cut and after being shown visible proof that the needle was still sealed in its original plastic packaging I allowed him to give me a Tetanus shot. The rather neat column of black ants making their way doggedly across the cracked, concrete walls verified my need for caution. God may protect, but stupidity has no excuse.
We returned to Tiwi Campsite and greeted Paul who had been, with good reason, exempted from any suspicion of involvement in the attack. Together we posed for a photo in memory of such an experience. Kristi’s torn shorts bore testament to the ordeal.
Beer flowed come evening and many fellow campers gathered around to hear the wild tale. More pints down the throat the more exuberant my story grew.
Trauma, laughter and moving on.
We lost one hundred dollars and a passport – but we were alive.
And so the sun set on another African day.
The gang was never caught during the remainder of our time in the area, but you can be sure that they were arrested eventually, and their punishment will have been severe.
I almost feel sorry for them.