A stolen moment of amusement
In 1974 I was young, reckless and adventurous. I had “done” Asia and Europe on the cheap. Now it was Africa’s turn. Finances were low, so I decided to hitchhike from Nairobi to Johannesburg. The first day went well and I was dropped off in the early evening on the outskirts of Arusha in Tanzania, a sprawling, dusty town. It grew rapidly darker as I trudged from one hotel to another in search of inexpensive lodging.
I was having no luck; compared with Asia, prices were high. I tried to bargain, but with no success. Finally, one innkeeper mentioned that he had a “share room” that might suit my budget. He led me to a large concrete space, quite bare but for a bed against each wall.
On one lay an old Kikuyu man, wrapped in a dusty greatcoat, with a felt hat on his head. Beneath the bed were his belongings — a cluster of knobkerries (fighting sticks) and what appeared to be a short spear. He glanced at me with complete lack of interest. On the other bed sat a young high school student. He had a cheerful grin and spoke some English. I settled in for the night, but not before squeezing my rucksack between the bed and the wall and surreptitiously tying it to my watchstrap (prudent in any dorm accommodation). We all dozed off.
Suddenly I woke with a start. The door had burst open and the naked light bulb flashed on. In the centre of the room stood the innkeeper with a decidedly shady-looking character, inebriated and with a large machete hanging from his belt. I must have gone quite pale. “This is it,” I thought. “I’m done for. This is what you get for being such a cheapskate.”
The two intruders had a heated exchange. And then, suddenly, the new guest mumbled something, spun around and left. The door slammed shut and the light went out. My room-mates whispered together and burst into raucous laughter. “What was that about?” I asked the student. “The owner was trying to sell him the last bed,” he replied. “I thought so,” I said, “but why did he leave?” “He said he couldn’t possibly stay here. It looked too dangerous. He might get robbed.”
I, too, chuckled and then slept well. In my minuscule travel diary is a short entry: Arusha — didn’t get robbed. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: firstname.lastname@example.org. Columnists will receive a boxed set of five x 7. 5ml signature scents from French fragrance house Atelier Cologne, $79. More: (02) 8002 4488; agencedeparfum.com.au.