Mugged in Africa. Adventures in the African Bush.

 (sanjay austa austa)

It all went wrong from the word go. We had to bribe  our way into Africa . The mandatory yellow fever shot was supposed to have been injected  15 days prior. Not a week as our papers showed. The custom’s officer  at the Dar-es Salam airport  threatened to send us back on the next flight but after a bit of filibuster extended a greasy palm.

In  Zanzibar there was a power crises. The undersea cable had snapped, plunging the island in darkness. We spent sleepless nights in mosquito invested , hot and humid hotel rooms and when we asked for bath water the surly  waiter  told us to  take a swim in the ocean.

Our  safari jeep  stalled in the middle of Serengeti and two-days later deep in the Ngorongoro Crater, just a  gallop  away from the Crater lions.   And in the end , at the office , Musa, the quite, polite guide     metamorphosed into a bellicose  bully  and almost thrashed us all for demanding refunds.

It had only been a fortnight and  Africa had begun to seem like a scary place already. But there is nothing more scary than a girlfriend who has been dragged willy-nilly into  the African bush. She would rather have us spend the  money shopping in a DLF  Mall and had begun to nag  even before we saw our first giraffe.  Partly to placate her, and partly for my love for curios ,  I took her shopping on the penultimate day, in a handicraft bazaar in Arusha, Tanzania.

The Masai have been evicted from the Serengeti National Park, most of them forcibly. You won't find any herds of Masai cattle in Serengeti not will you come across a Masai village of `Boma'. I was surprised to find these three Masai at the entrance gate of Serengeti. They were walking in the fields and right into the savanna grass. There was no trace or their cattle nor boma. I wonder what they were doing there at all. (sanjay austa austa)

The Maasai whom I had shot extensively in the morning. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

On the way back to our  hotel,  loaded with  African object de arts , I thought we had had our share of adventures for one trip. Tomorrow we would take the long road journey back to Dar es Salaam to catch our flight back to India.

Slung over my shoulders was my   Nikon  D700 attached with my   newly acquired  24-70mm Nikkor lens. In it,  the   32gb memory card had   the exploits of the day- ; photographs of the exotic Maasai in their villages or bomas.   In one distant village,  the Maasai even danced for my benefit. The tall lean men swirled  in their rhythmic war-formations jumping high and  hissing reptile-like  and humming drone- like,  while their women rotated  giant shell- necklaces around their necks.  It had gone on well towards the end.

And then it happened.

“They came from nowhere”, I told the police later. But I am sure the muggers  had been following us for a while.  Most of us have filmy notions of street-muggings.  You are walking down a dark deserted alley when hooded hoodlums waylay you.  They  pull  a gun or knife on you  and say stuff like “Your money or your life’.

But it took me a couple of minutes just to realize that I had been mugged at all. It happened so fast  that my memory of it is  a sort of blur.

I remember   we reached an intersection when I felt a tug on my camera strap. A stout man materialized in front of me and whipped  out a knife.  I slipped into a fuzzy nebulous state.

 He   said something in Swahili.  Maybe it was, ‘’ Your camera or your life’’. But I heard only a  dull  buzz in my head. Having lulled me into a shock with the knife, he snatched the camera.  Then I felt a hand go over my  trouser pockets. His accomplice was making a  bid for my wallet.  Fortunately his hand did not slip through and the duo ran across the street, swerved into an alley and disappeared.

When i first shot this painting i thought it was a man in an erotic embrace with a woman. But I  realised it was actually a warning about pick-pockets. It couldn't be more ironic

When i first shot this painting i thought it was a man in an erotic embrace with a woman. But I realised it was actually a warning about pick-pockets, Moshi- Tanzania

I looked on zombie like.  Did I just get mugged in broad daylight?  It was the most bustling part of town. The two dozen or so people who saw the heist walked on without batting an eye. At the shop opposite, unemployed youth stood smoking casually just as before. A lady on the payment two feet from me,  continued to sell  corn and the cars  whizzed by just as lugubriously.

My girlfriend’s  shopping bags were intact and she  looked somewhat relieved. After what seemed an eternity we found a cab to take us to the police station.  The driver knew little English and as he raced down a lonely stretch, I thought he was part of the gang. But thankfully he was just trying to get us  to the station fast.

At the police station, a pot-bellied inspector took down my complaint. He said he had to get the evidence the traditional way. He  took us in his jeep to the crime spot and   in a style reminiscent of Indian police, picked up random people   on  the  street.

I asked  the inspector why had he  caught  innocent  bystanders. He said some of them must know the culprits. My report  was lodged so the inspector had to show he had done his duty by me.  He would not listen.  He threatened the young boys in the station for over an hour with dire consequences.  These young boys hated me. A foreigner who could not take care of his stuff and getting them into trouble like this. I could not look them  in the eyes.  I was lucky to be  leaving  town by an early morning bus the next day.

I lost the camera and sometime later the girlfriend but I carry a bit of Africa with me. The stories and the adventures you experience in life are far more valuable and makes life all that more exciting and meaningful.

Recardo the Brazilian guy gets down to think when the car breaks down again. (sanjay austa austa)

The Jeep breaks down again and puts Recardo the Brazilian into deep thought, Ngorongoro, Tanzania.

Prison island is called so as it was originally ment to house convicts. Much like the famed `Alctraz Prison' this was going to be the perfect island for hardened criminals. The jail was constructed but it was never used as one. Rather it came to be used by the British as a quarintine station for those who came from Asia or other parts of the world to Zanziba and were infected with diseases. The visitors would be housed here until they were treated for their diseases. (sanjay austa austa)

Soft white sand beaches of Prison island, Zanzibar.



The lioness gives chace to the Zebra. From this angle it looks as if she almost got the zebra but there is a distance of almost 10 feet between them.. (sanjay austa austa)

The lion hunt. The moment wildlife photographers live for.  Serengeti, Tanzania.


Wildebeests run across the plains of Serengeti during their annual migration. (sanjay austa austa)

Wildebeests stampede  across the Serengeti plains during their annual migration, Tanzania.



This woman was perhaps not getting the customers one should get. So she let her legs up and napped. (sanjay austa austa)

Dar es Salaam, Slipway Market, Tanzania

6 Responses to “Mugged in Africa. Adventures in the African Bush.”

  1. S M ALEEM says:

    That was sheer bad luck, I guess! And a high-price to pay for trusting your ‘expectations’. But I guess it made you a lot more alert and watchful since the incident!

  2. D says:

    Pity. And on the last day too. Guess it was wise of you to let the camera go.
    Your article reminds me of my trip to Ethiopia a few years ago, or rather of all the dire warnings in LP prior to the trip.

    Lovely photos by the way. Esp like the second one from the top, of the landscape with the Masai walking.

    Safe adventures.

  3. Ajay Jain says:

    Have you received any advice for the future? Does insurance cover such thefts? Do you insure your equipment?

    And when are you having coffee at Kunzum? 🙂

  4. Amrita Das says:

    Stories of travel going bad. But I hope we never see those times again and you’re camera is always safe. Safe trails!

  5. Dipanwita says:

    Living now in world’s 2nd most crime prone city Johannesburg for the last 1&1/2 yrs I would say that the 1st thing u don’t do in Africa is appear like a tourist with yr camera hanging down yr neck or on yr shoulder.. or brandish yr latest smart phone..I wonder why LP doesnt mention as a dont.

    Anyways Cameras can come n go …thankful u r safe!…

    Lovely pics i must say..n u r lucky to see a lion chasing his kill…after 3 visits to Kruger I am yet to see any chases!

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