Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

3/4: The Aftermath

During the rest of my placement, I fought against my anxiety.  Reports of crime were increasing.  The taxi driver who brought H to me on that awful night told us that a similar thing had happened to his friend in the area a few weeks earlier.  We heard stories of men in motos (motorcycles) following cars and waiting to rob them or men waiting outside certain restaurants to follow patrons home.  A friend of my host-sister had someone with a moto drive in front of her so she thought that she hit him.  She got out of the car to ask if he was ok, and he pulled out a gun and made her give him everything in her car. Some of my expat friends still drove motos at night and said things like, “I don’t carry much money anyways so there’s nothing to steal.”  But when someone is holding a huge knife and demanding your money, the worst part isn’t what you lose.  It’s how you feel.  Often a friend in a truck would follow a friend’s moto home, since thieves usually only strike if no one else is around.  If someone did jump the moto, though, what would we in the truck do?  Try to run over the robber?  Honk the horn?  It’s unlikely we would have gotten out, even if we had time. The danger felt worse than in Joburg, where everything is set up against crime.  In Jozi, there are private security guards everywhere and we all had automatic garage gates so we didn’t have to get out of our cars.  Here, though, crime was evolving as the value of the cedi (Ghanaian currency) fell and most people weren’t ready for it.  For instance, thieves are now cutting holes in the roofs of homes to enter because windows are barred. We have lots of theories about that night and what could have prevented it.  Everyone thinks the thieves are “local boys” – guys who live in the area and hang around, waiting for an opportunity.  S thought that they’d been watching me for a while because they didn’t even ask for his phone or wallet.  All they wanted was my backpack.  Maybe, but a backpack is also a quick thing to steal.  Even if I’d taken a taxi, they usually made me get out and walk those last 10m to the gate anyways because of the muddy road.  We decided that the only safe option would have been to stay overnight at Heather’s, but it never occurred to me that Tamale would be this dangerous. I don’t like feeling scared.  For weeks after being mugged, my heart jumped every time a young man drove by on a moto or groups of men greeted me.  I tried to laugh at myself: even at night, the two men on the moto wearing neon green and bright pink were unlikely to be thieves.  But it was hard.  This has been an emotionally exhausting trip. When she picked me up after the incident, my coworker probably thought it was silly of me to be so fixated on work. “How am I going to get anything done without a computer?” I sobbed. “I have one you can borrow,” she soothed.  “We’ll get it from Accra at our team meeting next weekend.” “That’s another whole week of doing nothing!” Maybe I should have focused more on appreciating that no one was hurt – but work is the only measure of success I have here (and, perhaps, surviving).  I only had 3 months to accomplish what I can.  On slow days I read my transportation texts, but the hours crawled by.  With no work, I would quickly become depressed.  I have friends, but not traveling after 6:30pm put a damper on my social life. These past three months have been a struggle, but they’ve also been wonderful.  I have made some wonderful friends and had lots of fun times.  Although this incident definitely affected me, it wasn’t the defining moment of my placement.  To be honest, I’d rather not talk about it so please don’t ask me.  Instead, ask me about the work I ended up accomplishing (despite my slow start).

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