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Thursday, June 17, 2010


Ally is one of my students from last year who really made me feel at home. He invited me and K2 to visit his family up in the hills above town and emailed me periodically after I returned to Utah. When I came back to Arusha this year, it took a few weeks to find him, because he had a driving job with Abercrombie Safaris out in the Serengeti. But he's back in Arusha now and came by Jordan Institute (where I'm volunteering) to say hello.

Me and Ally at last year's English class

Two days ago, we met for lunch at Mianzini Big Bite, across the street from Jordan Institute. At 1:30, I went over to Jordan for my Swahili lesson, and Ally walked away down a busy street to find an internet cafe and check his email. He met up with a friend, a guide coming from his office who had just returned from a safari and was carrying an expensive camera and $200. They walked together to the Golden Rose Hotel, a fairly nice hotel with an internet cafe. Four men attacked them, in broad daylight on a road that is always busy with traffic, pedestrians, and people shopping. They knocked down Ally's friend and stole the camera and cash, and injured him. They stabbed Ally with a screwdriver, leaving two deep puncture wounds in his chest and shoulder. Bystanders rushed to help, and chased away the four robbers before they stole anything from Ally. Ally and his friend were put into a taxi and taken to the hospital.

Meanwhile, I was on a crammed-full,  noisy dala-dala riding home. Ally called me, but I couldn't hear anything he was saying. After I got home, I found that he'd texted me, saying he'd been attacked and was in the hospital, that his cell phone battery was dead and he was using his friend's phone. I called his friend's phone, but he was no longer with Ally and he didn't speak English. Through a brief (which is all I can handle so far) Swahili conversation, I gathered that Ally was at the hospital and would be OK.

Next morning, back at Jordan, I called Ally's phone. He answered and said he was still (or back?) at the hospital. It's frustrating sometimes, but with cell phone calls in noisy places (most of Arusha is noisy), I often can't really understand Tanzanian-accented English or Swahili, because I just can't hear well enough. But Ally's best friend Boni was with me, so I told him what had happened and handed the phone to him. We ended up going to the nearby hospital and found Ally very distressed, and waiting for an x-ray to check for internal damage. He was in pain and tired, but he was ambulatory and seemed to be OK. He sat down next to me and told us what happened. I tried not to, but I started to cry a little bit. Ole, our third companion, saw me and gave me the gesture of a hand spread palm-down, patting up and down, which I know from K2 means, "Tulia, tulia" or "calm down, calm down." Then Ally saw that I was crying, and it upset him more. Boni and Ole were very uncomfortable that I cried, which I've noticed is a common reaction to tears here. Boni stayed with Ally to wait for the x-ray and help him with whatever he needed. Ole escorted me back to Jordan, and gave me a lecture about not crying and trusting in God to take care of Ally.

The x-ray showed internal bleeding, but not bad enough to require surgery. But they needed about $30 for drugs to stop the bleeding. These are the times when it's good to have an older American friend and Boni called me to ask for money. So, as my English friend Anna pointed out, now I'm buying drugs for my students! I talked to Ally this morning, and he is recovering well and just needs to rest awhile longer.

This incident really disturbed me. First, because I feel very motherly towards Ally, who is so sweet that I feel outraged at the idea of anyone even dreaming of hurting him. Second, because this dangerous, violent attack happened in the middle of the day, in a really busy area that I walk through a few times a week, and where I've always felt comfortable. That does make it unusual. Boni speculates that perhaps the robbers had been following the guide, because they knew he had tips and salary from his safari, and Ally was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This type of robbery is common in Arusha. When I asked Beatrice, another student from last year, for her phone number, she told me she didn't have a phone because robbers had broken into the house she shares with other female students in a bad neighborhood near Jordan. They stole everybody's phone and cash, and were threatening to rape somebody when neighbors responded to the screams and chased the robbers away. Maurius, a student who moved here from Rwanda, came to English class one morning with a big bandage over his temple. He'd been beaten with a board and robbed. I've heard similar stories from so many Tanzanians, including K2. They're very accepting of it as something that happens, and then you don't dwell on it, and go about your business. But they are always subdued and distressed when they describe what happened, and some are reluctant to describe the incidents at all, but will only say, "I was robbered." Sometimes the listeners will make a joke to help the victim get over it. When I hear the jokes, I'm shocked. Sometimes the victim laughs, sometimes he doesn't. It's distressing to me that people I know and like are routinely subject to such violence.

But am I subject to this, too? Of the many stories I've heard, none of the victims are foreigners, but always poor or middle-class Tanzanians (and the one Rwandan). I talked it over with Anna, because I was a little freaked out when Ally was attacked right where I frequently walk. She said she also has never heard of a foreigner being "robbered." Logically, we'd be ideal victims because we typically have more money and expensive electronic gadgets, we're a bit clueless as we wander Arusha, and white people are easy to spot here. Anna speculates that the robbers are actually scared of us because they think that we have more power to ensure that they're punished, possibly through our home governments. This seems true to me, because I've heard stories that imply that American and European governments would be wreaking havoc with any Tanzanian that dared to harm one of their citizens. I tend to doubt that, myself, but if it keeps the robbers away, I won't correct any misimpressions. Also, rich neighborhoods are safe neighborhoods, because it's too hard to break into the houses. They all have big walls with locked gates and private security guards.

(When I'm puzzled about Tanzania, I usually ask Anna. She's 26, so really I should be dishing out auntie-like advice to her. But she's lived here for 3 years and knows everything. And since she's English, our cultural frame of reference is close enough that she understands why I'm puzzled.)

I just got off the phone with Ally, and he's feeling better. I said I hoped we could get together again, soon, and then, before I knew it, I was telling him a joke, saying, "But maybe it's bad luck for you to have lunch with me!" He laughed so hard at that one, that I said, "They weren't very good robbers. They didn't even get your phone!" And we hung up laughing.


  1. Im sorry for the sad news Barbara, let Ally know your american friends say good tidings and get well

  2. Thank you, Joanie, I'll tell him...

  3. Thank goodness that Ally is doing better. Are they giving him antibiotics? Does he know what to watch for with regard to infection? I'm just glad you were able to help him get the drugs he needed. You are always so good to help friends. Just be sure that you continue to stay safe.

  4. Sounds like you're in Detroit.

  5. @Shanna-I don't know what drugs he is taking, I think something to stop bleeding, but there must be antibiotics, too. And probably a tetanus shot, too. He was at the best hospital, where many of the rich foreigners go. The doctor has actually visited him at home twice to check on him and says he's doing fine and told him to start walking some.

    @Tim--I think in Detroit, the bystanders wouldn't have helped and the medicine would have cost more than $30!!

  6. Barb - glad to read Ally is doing better. And I hope you are as well. ~ Carol ~