LETTER HOME: THE SYNCHRONISTIC MUGGING
Dear Family and Friends,
It’s been a tumultuous and lovely week in Cape Town.
I got mugged on Tuesday night. Which, by any account, is generally a really shitty event in one’s life. But for me, this mugging catalyzed a series of interactions and reflections that have transformed the trip that I was “supposed” to have in South Africa.
Allow me to explain.
* * *
I left the house on Tuesday night shortly before 7 PM. I had showered and shaved and brushed my teeth. I felt energetic for the first time since arriving to Cape Town. Maybe I have my jetlag beat, I thought to myself as I cruised down Buitengracht Street with my earbuds blasting away some Girltalk.
About ten minutes into my search for a café, two guys approached me quickly as I was walking down the street. I tried to walk around them, but then I realized, “Shit they are coming for me.”
They roughed me up, and said, “Give me your fucken money.” Each one of them grabbed one of my hands, lifting them above my head, leaving me virtually unable to defend myself. My heart was racing, realizing what was happening to me.
“Okay. Okay. Okay.” I said quickly. “You want money. Fine. Take my money.”
But I couldn’t reach into my pocket, they did it for me, extracting my wallet and immediately taking my cash. I held out my hand pulling the wallet back once they had my cash. I didn’t care about the cash. There was approximately 800 Rand, that’s the equivalent of just over $100 USD.
And then I reached for my iPod, thinking that maybe they’d be happy with the money. The dude hesitated, and I could see the question in his head being processed, “Should I give this guy back his iPod?” He snapped back into the purpose of his venture. And joined his comrade running up the street.
Their faces immediately became a blur.
* * *
I stood there dazed for a moment. Not knowing what my options were. Do I run after them? Do I start sobbing on the spot? Do I just keep walking to the café where I had planned on eating? I’m not accustomed to being mugged – the appropriate response was foreign.
I see some guy in a van looking at me, and then he starts the engine and takes off after the muggers. I follow for about ten steps. And then stop again. Another fellow comes out of his shop at tells me to go inside, shut the gate and wait. The shopkeeper starts bolting after the muggers.
I go inside and close the gate as I’m told. That was what I needed, someone to tell me what to do. I wait, shaking. I can feel their tight grip around my wrists, and the vulnerability I felt in my exposed center.
* * *
When the shopkeeper returns, he tells me how he chased them both, and how three other people had joined in the chase. Eventually the muggers separated and he kept following one of them until he had one of them against a fence. The dude pulled out a knife. And the shopkeeper said, “Hey man. I just want to talk.” The mugger threw down his backpack as a decoy, and hopped over the spikey fence and disappeared into the night.
The shopkeeper introduced himself, “I’m Davy. Where are you staying, man?”
I didn’t respond at first, not because I was leery of sharing the details – this man had more than proven his trustworthiness by chasing after my aggressors – but because my voice was quivering and my eyes were starting to water. Two tears escape, one down the side of each my eyes. The emotion was not about the money or the iPod that would never be returned, I got choked up because this stranger just went bolting after some dude and had a knife pulled out on him.
You can rob me and I might be frightened, but kindness will make me cry.
* * *
We hesitate to call the police. The money is gone. And Davy stated, “Bra (which is short for Brother), your iPod is certainly sold already.” What could the police possibly do at this point? But as we were sipping some wine and partaking in post-mugging cigarettes, we see the security cameras along the building across the street. They would have captured, if not the mugging itself, certainly the guys bolting down the streets. And even though I couldn’t imagine why it could be necessary, it might help to have an incident report number in the future. And it is beneficial to report these incidents for statistical purposes. The informed people of Cape Town, I’m sure, want to know what happens in their streets.
So we call. And we wait.
And in the meantime, Moses appears.
* * *
Moses, I discover, is a 22 year-old farm boy who works at the shop. As we sit on the stoop and wait for the cops, he distracts me with wonderful stories of his life growing up on a farm in rural South Africa.
Moses tells me that they would kill porcupines to stop them from eating the maize (corn). It turns out the partially digested food of a porcupine’s digestive system can be used to make a tea. It’s medicinal, curing acne, for example. They use dogs to find the porcupines in their holes, he tells me.
I inquire, “But don’t the dogs get injured with quills?”
“The more that they get hurt, the more they will learn,” he states with a striking wisdom that resonates beyond his young age.
I say nothing, instead allowing myself to absorb the sentiment.
* * *
After the police report is completed and Davy has served me a spicy and delicious meal, the boys walk me home. As we meander along the street, they tell me more about the shop that they run. Seventies 80s is a used-clothing boutique and art space, I learn.
“It’s a shame that you’re leaving so early,” Davy mentions, “Because we have a really stellar event on Friday night called ‘Love and Jazz’ that you should really check out.”
I thank them again when we arrive at the hostel. I wonder if they know how powerful the evening has been for me.
* * *
That night I couldn’t sleep. I laid still in my bunk bed while seven other individuals were lost in their deep, wheezy sleeps. I was confused about the month that was ahead of me. I had this creeping desire to have more time with Davy and Moses.
Should I cancel the mountain retreat – the place where I was supposed to volunteer – and stay in the city? What about “time away”? What about space for introspection? What about my commitment? I didn’t want to throw away a good opportunity for a sentimentalized notion of “connecting with the locals.”
Over the next few days, however, I returned to the shop to explore potential opportunities to assist. I deferred my transfer to the Mountain retreat. I helped at their Friday night event as a bartender, and then went hiking with Moses up Table Mountain. Each interaction provided the opportunity for music and culture and history. And as the week ended, I felt like I’d made two new friends.
And so, here I am, still in Cape Town, hanging out with two really amazing characters – true South Africans. And as the days have unfolded, I’ve realized that being around Davy and Moses is just the type of experience that was and will be best for me. So I shall remain.
I got mugged. And it was shitty and beautifully synchronistic.