(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Wild West

I've never thought Kigoma to be a tough town. It has dirt roads (though bisected by a 5k stretch of tarmac), ditches full of garbage, loads of poverty, etc. but the inhabitants are generally a rather sedate bunch of people. It's perched on hillsides overlooking the beautiful Lake Tanganyika and, when clear enough, the hills of the Democratic Republic of Congo across the water. Traffic is generally slow and relatively orderly. There are a few beggars but they generally just sit there and hold out their cupped and hopeful hands. Sellers, for the most part, wait for you to come to them rather than following you around as they do in Zanzibar.

Generally it's not a threatening place. Yesterday, however, was a different story and it's quite possible I've been missing the seamy underbelly of Kigoma town. We were sitting at our hotel eating our much delayed dinner overlooking the lake. The sun had set and it was rather a business-as-usual evening. One other Tanzanian couple sat across the way, finished with dinner and sipping on sodas. Suddenly a very large man enters the circular eating area, approaches the couple and starts scuffling with the much smaller, seated, younger man. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the movement but it initially seemed to be the jostling of friends rather than the commencement of a bloody fight. It actually shouldn't be considered a fight which implies that both sides were engaged. It was basically one tall, muscular guy pummeling the smaller guy until a large group arrived to break it up.

Carmen, Priya and I rose to our feet as we began to realize what was going on. Things were happening quickly and I wasn't sure what to do. There are no clear patterns for how these play out. Sometimes they flare up and then calm quickly once a point has been made. Other times they flare up, others join in and true chaos ensues. This was somewhere in between. Though they were able to separate the big guy and eventually get him out of the gate of the hotel compound, he returned occasionally looking for the younger man (who had subsequently been hidden somewhere within the compound behind the hotel) and before again being forcefully escorted back out.

From the time I realized what was going on, my mind was immediately taken back a few years to when we lived in Dar the first time. I think it was one of my early blog postings where I described an incident when, awoken at 2am by the sound of a woman screaming from within our apartment compound, I descended the stairs and went to an adjacent house to find a woman being punched in the head by a fairly large man. I entered the room, past a motionless guard, to try to break up the fight. Long story short, we found out later that it was a prostitute apparently trying to get a higher price that was initially agreed upon. He refused. She screamed to pressure him to pay. He started beating. Hard to know whether or not to get involved when something like this happens – especially when you don't know exactly what's going on and you are in a culture other than your own. In the case of this woman, it was probably the right thing to do regardless of what we found out later.

In the case of the big guy and the little guy, I'm still not sure. He was pretty well smacked around before we realized what was going on. After it was broken up they took him behind the hotel (within the compound) to hide him. The big guy and is posse continued to wait outside the gate. It eventually ended with the little guy apparently being escorted out by police a couple of hours later, possibly for his own safety. Not sure what would have happened if the big guy got his hands on the little guy since, even after sending a bold message by messing the guy up pretty badly, he was determined for more. I'm thinking he might not have stopped. It was sort of a sick thought for all of us as we did our best to finish our dinner a few feet away from the blood-splattered floor.

The same evening in Kigoma there was a fight in a bar where one of our colleagues was having a drink and earlier in the day a man killed his wife with a machete. Don't know Kigoma well enough to know if this is common. No full moon. Maybe it was just a bad day out in the West.

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