Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

All Hallow’s Eve

It was Halloween night in Johannesburg. The moon was full and the wind was blustering. Even though the city is on the southern hemisphere, there was a chill in the air that did not feel like the promise of summer coming. Instead it felt like a mild autumn night before the cold weather sweeps in.

As usual on a Wednesday, by 10pm the streets were empty. No trick-or-treaters or late night revelers in Joburg.

I had spent the evening at the other CA interns’ house for a small Halloween party. Now I was driving myself home to the Bachelor’s suite where I live alone.

My parking spot is in a church parking lot around the corner from my house’s gate. I drove up to my space and got out of my car to open the fence. I unlocked the padlock, swung open the gates, got back in my car, and drove in. Once parked inside, I turned off my car and reached over to the passenger seat to collect my stuff, but my house keys weren’t there.

That’s impossible! I just used them to open the gate, I thought to myself.

I looked under the seat, in my purse, around the car. I walked outside the car cage to see if I’d dropped them.

I used my cellphone as flashlight as I searched the pavement. At the other end of the parking lot – where it opens up to the road – I saw a man walking by, watching me. He turned and walked into the parking lot.

Suddenly I was very aware of my tight pencil skirt and bright red scarf.

I got back into my car, locked the doors, and put the key in the ignition, prepared to drive away if necessary. Or run him over.

The man stopped in the shadows behind a pole about 5m from my car. He was smoking a cigarette and the red spark glowed brightly in the darkness.

My neighbourhood has a Tactical Force that patrols the streets 24/7. My landlady continually encourages me to phone them if I see something suspicious or feel scared walking from my parking spot to my front door.

This seemed like to ideal time to introduce myself. I dialed their number while continuing to stare down the man in the shadows.

“Hello, Tactical Force, Officer ___ speaking.”

“Hello. I’m in the church parking lot on 2nd Avenue and unfortunately I’ve misplaced my keys. There’s a man watching me and I’d appreciate if you could send someone while I find my keys.”

“Can you describe this man?”

“It’s hard to see him in the dark. He’s smoking a cigarette and carrying a large bag. Now he’s walking away. He’s walked out of the parking lot and turned right down 2nd Ave.”

“I’ll send one of my officers.”

“Thank you.”

By the end of the conversation, the man was no longer in sight. But for all I knew he was around the corner, hidden by the trees.

After 10 minutes the Tactical Force truck drove by, but didn’t turn into the parking lot. I had hoped that the officer would wait with me while I continued searching, but at least he’d driven along the street the man was on.

I resumed the search for my keys. It’s hard to look under the seats effectively when you have to keep popping your head up to make sure you’re still alone. Finally I found them lodged under my seat.

I sat back in my car while I contemplated what to do. At no point during this incident had I been scared, but I also didn’t want to do anything stupid. I had an armful of things to carry back to my place so I couldn’t run around the corner and quickly open the gate. I took stock of my stuff in the backseat: purse, pie plate, candles, cutting board, huge container of pureed pumpkin. The purse would sit on my shoulder and everything else was expendable so at least I could drop it or throw it at him if he was still there.

But, as I said before, I didn’t want to do anything stupid. Thoughts swirled through my head:

It’s not that far a walk. But it’s Halloween. I don’t want to be attacked on Halloween. That’s too fucking ironic. Plus there are two pumpkins worth of puree in that container – that’s at least 6 pies! I’d be pissed if I lost that. Ag man, I have cat whiskers drawn on my face. How embarrassing would it be to go to the police station looking like this?

In the end, I called the Tactical Force again.

“Hello. I called about 15 minutes ago from the church parking lot on 2nd Avenue. I saw one of your trucks drive by, but I was wondering if you escort me to my front door.”

“Yes we sent an officer and he’s outside the gate.”

“Oh, ok. Thanks.”

According to the operator, the truck had stopped in front of my gate around the corner. Which I thought was weird since I’d told him I was at 34 2nd Ave., not 36 2nd Ave., but I’d also told him I was one of Mrs. Martens’ tenants and maybe he knew we all lived around the corner from her place.

I gathered my stuff in my arms and walked through the parking lot to the road. I turned left towards my gate and found an empty street. No Tactical Force.

Even though the man was gone and I walked to my gate without incident, I was still angry at the Tactical Force. What if I had been attacked because I’d thought the neighbourhood watchman was there when he wasn’t?

Whatever. Useless fuckers. I can take care of myself, I thought as I finally entered my house.

It felt good to lock the door. In my mind, “home, sweet home” has become “home, safe home.”

There are a few reasons why I chose to tell this story. I debated including it on my blog because I don’t want to worry my friends or family (sorry Mum). But I think it’s important for women to realize they don’t need to be scared of suspicious circumstances. It’s also important not to let your fear take over and dictate your behaviour. You need to stay alert and aware. Furthermore, don’t be afraid to believe your intuition or ask other people for help.

I’m particularly bad at that. Even though it’s dumb reasoning, one of the biggest reasons I called the Tactical Force was because of the cat whiskers on my face. Often I do or don’t do things because I’d be embarrassed to explain the story to someone if shit hit the fan.

Would I have called the Tactical Force if that had happened on another night? I don’t know. Maybe. Probably.

In the end, however, everything turned out ok. Maybe it was beneficial that I misplaced my keys; otherwise I might have met the man on the street while my arms were full of stuff. Or maybe he didn’t have bad intentions but wanted to make sure I was ok, then walked away when he realized he was freaking me out. Who knows?

Even though Halloween was a little more “exciting” than I had anticipated, it still concluded with a happy ending.


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3 thoughts on “All Hallow’s Eve

  1. Kim Swisher on said:

    Hi Beth! It’s Kim Swisher in KS. I got scared for you just reading this! I’m glad you weren’t approached! Can you carry Mace with you? It is good to be so aware & not be afraid to call for back up. Proud of you! I’ve not read a lot of your adventures but plan to check in once in a while. What a great experience for you.
    I hear from your Dad occasionally. It’s always great to touch base with you all. Be careful over there. Love, Kim

    • Brenda on said:

      hey Kim, so good to hear from you! Yeah, I shudder reading posts like this but then I worried about Beth in East Van. as well – it’s the worst part (maybe the only bad part) of being a parent.

      The US is certainly going through interesting times – good luck tomorrow.
      We think of you often,

  2. Hi Kim,

    Great to hear from you! Hope you and everyone else in KS is doing well.

    Too bad this was the first post you read. Honestly, most of the others are much happier. Don’t be scared for me – everything is fine.

    Yes, my mum wants me to start carrying mace or pepper spray as well. But if I have something like that in my bag I’ll probably end up spraying myself!

    Love Beth

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