Tag Archives: pickpocket

Don’t Mess with the Mizungu

We stopped in the town of Nakuru the other day, on our drive to Lake Nakuru National Park. Norma and Wayne wanted to purchase some roadside reflectors, a first aid kit, and a flashlight, as these are required items in a private automobile in Kenya. The fine for not having them is apparently 5000 Kenyan Shillings (KSh), at least that is what the handsome, young, smiling policeman told them, before he extracted a bribe of 3000 KSh (about $50 Canadian) to avoid an all day court appearance. This was the policeman’s lucky day, as Wayne, who isn’t a Kenyan resident, was driving. An International Driving Permit is a giveaway that the white guy (‘mizungu’ in Swahili) is a tourist, and therefore eligible for the maximum fleecing. We went through five police checks on the way out of Nairobi, each enforced with spike belts laid across the highway, but luckily only got stopped at one. The police use these to augment their salaries.

Upon our arrival in Nukuru, Wayne went to the store, Norma stayed to watch the car, and we walked down the main street to find a bank machine. We were walking side-by-side on the busy sidewalk, when a young man coming from the opposite direction collided briefly with Patrick. Patrick felt the telltale pressure on his shirt pocket, and reacted immediately.

He let out a loud yell, spun around, and set out after the man who was running. He didn’t get far. Patrick grabbed him at the corner, spun him around, and threw him up against a wall. The man raised both hands into the air, feigning innocence. Holding him with one hand, only then did Patrick check to see if anything was missing from his pockets. The only thing in his shirt pocket, which was unbuttoned but shouldn’t have been, was the only thing that should have been there, a pair of glasses. He also checked the pockets of his shorts, and nothing seemed to be amiss.

A quick decision was required — what to do with the man? He had clearly tried to steal by pick pocketing, but he wasn’t successful, so there was no evidence to speak of. Holding him for the police seemed fruitless. Patrick briefly considered public embarrassment – dragging him out into the street to let the growing crowd know exactly what he had done. He decided against this though, which was wise, because vigilante justice is not uncommon in Kenya, and there was a small but real possibility that the crowd might take his punishment into their own hands right then and there. In the end, he pushed the man away, and returned to Diane, who was shaken up and still standing on the sidewalk.

Afterwards, Diane told Patrick that there was a second man also, who walked up from behind to split the two of us apart and leaned into Patrick to make it difficult for him to avoid the front man, and perhaps to try for his back or side pockets simultaneously. He had run away in the other direction from Patrick and the first guy, leaving Diane standing startled on the busy sidewalk. Luckily, everything turned out in the end, and we continued on to the bank machine with hearts racing.