What happens to Tanzanians when thieves steal their stuff?
Amina surprised me by kissing me on the lips when she greeted me yesterday.
Normally Tanzanians shake hands (in a complicated secret-handshake kind of way). They don’t hug, as evidenced by Gudila (one of the dadas who works at Mama Luce’s, my go-to neighbourhood breakfast joint) asking me who the mzungu was to whom I gave a ‘hagi’ this morning. And while public displays of affection are frowned upon, two men walking down the street holding hands is an acceptable way for them to express a close friendship bond.
I was sitting at Mama Di’s, our favourite lunch stall in town, waiting for my friends to arrive to eat lunch with me. Amina came up behind me and bent down to kiss me as she greeted me. I hope I didn’t seem too surprised when I kissed her back. Homosexuality is illegal here, so it can’t have been anything more than a greeting. (Although I’ve met a couple mamas who forego the traditional kanga and head scarf for jeans, t-shirts, and a beanie…)
‘My friend! How are you?’ she asks me.
We catch up on how we’ve been since we’ve seen each other last. I made friends with Amina and Halima because we all agree that Mama Di makes the best lunch in Moshi town. After seeing them a few times at lunch, we struck up a friendship. An awkward, lost-in-translation sort of friendship, but a friendship nonetheless.
We meet weekly or so for lunch or soda. They ask when Adam will be back, when Ryan and Myles are coming to visit. They want to see pictures of Boston and my friends back home. They can’t get over how much an iPhone costs.
They sell bags at an informal kind of stall in an alley across from the alley in which Mama Di’s lunch stand sits. Sometimes they sell bags from the side of the road so that they can sit and people-watch. Nana would love them.
‘Me I am not good, there is something wrong,’ Amina tells me, ‘But you, you sit and enjoy your food and then I will tell you.’
I sit. I manage to enjoy my food without worrying too much whether she has some terminal illness for which it’s impossible to get treatment in Tanzania. We finish our food and then walk together to go sit on the street and watch the cars and people go by.
‘A thief, he come this morning and take all of my bags,’ Amina tells me. I can say nothing more than a heartfelt, ‘Pole sana,’ expressing my condolences. But it seems like something stronger than pole is needed here.
I want to ask her:
- Where she was when he came
- What sort of savings or other funds she has to fall back on to buy new bags
- What the extent of the loss was
- What can be done to apprehend the thief
- How on earth she starts to make up for this loss and rebuild her livelihood
She seems fine about it. She tells me that after we sit (and Halima retrieves her bags from a clever hiding place) that she’ll go home because she’s tired—exhausted—from the whole ordeal. She wants to sleep. It’s the rainy season. The weather is perfect for naps.
I’m still indignant. There’s a lot of theft here. My friends, both wazungu expats and wabongo locals alike have had cell phones stolen, things like that. For a while there was a guy on a piki riding around and stealing satchels from pairs of white women walking to work together in the mornings.
But this I just can’t get over. Amina’s entire inventory was stolen—imagine someone’s arms out stretched in a T and hung with purses like they were some kind of human rack, about that many. I hesitated to ask too many questions because I knew that I would want to give her a loan to buy back whatever she needed. She wouldn’t ask me for money. She wasn’t doing it for pity, just to update me on the news of the day. If I had known sooner I would have offered to buy her lunch.
I wonder how common this sort of thing is. Who the perpetrators are.
I don’t wonder what sort of accountability the police—whose station is a couple blocks up the road from Amina’s stall—have. I know. There is none. If she bothered to report the theft at all, she would be met by a series of ‘Come back tomorrow’s until she finally gave up returning.