Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sorry, Rina

Cintsa, South Africa

We're in another backpacker haven in South Africa, relaxing mightily in a safari tent overlooking the Cintsa Bay. We'll be spending a few days in this area of the Wild Coast, learning to surf and maybe trekking a bit around some local Xhosa villages. These "out in the boonies" tours seem to be the only way to get some enjoyment out of South Africa, cause the cities just ain't doin' it.

Two nights ago, the OC had another brush with lawlessness. This time, though, it wasn't directed at us. It was one of our friends who was the in the unfortunate shoes of the robbed.
We had arrived in Durban the night before with Mignon and Anouk, two Dutch sisters who had joined us on our horse-trek through Lesotho. We had planned to go out the night we arrived, but were stymied by a lack of cash. When I suggested to the reception lady at the hostel that we needed to get some clamolas from a nearby ATM she just looked at me with big, incredulous eyes and exclaimed, "On a Saturday night!?". Apparently, using an ATM in Durban on a weekend night is just asking to get your head caved in. Anyway, long story short: no money, no outie.
The next night, though, we hit the booze. We cashed up early, made ourselves pretty, warmed up with a beer-soaked game of Mexican, and eventually made our way down to a beach-side club known as Joe Cool's. Shortly after we arrived, we were joined by our South African lady-friend, Rina. She was the girl in charge at Sani Lodge, the hostel we had stayed in near the Sani Pass. She had heard about our going to Durban and was the one that suggested that we party down in Joe Cool's.

In general, the places that we have gone to in South Africa that our considered "safe" for tourists are also invariably full of white people. Despite being like 80% black, South Africa still follows the general rule of the Western World which is that white people get most of the money and black people get most of the crime. Predictably, Joe Cool's was no different. When we first walked in, I didn't see a single black face. After two or three hours, though, I did notice one black girl on the edge of the dance floor. She wasn't really dancing, and she seemed a bit uncomfortable. She wasn't even talking to anyone; just standing there looking understandably lonely. I briefly flirted with the idea of striking up a conversation with her, but I was quickly swept away by the bootie-shaking sisters from Holland. It's hard to maintain any coherent thoughts when you're in a Dutch sammich, so I lost track of the mysterious club patron and plunged into the dance.
Fast forward one hour and three drinks, and we're all having a great time. Except for Rina. She stopped me in the middle of my best Saturday Night Fever impression to tell me that she was leaving. The night was young, so I asked her why. She blurted out that someone had stolen her cell phone, and ran off towards the exit. I followed her out to find her standing in front of the club arguing heatedly with the mysterious black girl. She was accusing her of stealing it. Great.
I immediately went down to try and mediate the situation. My first assumption was that I was seeing ingrained racism in action. Apartheid only ended a decade or so ago, and Rina had a heavy Afrikaaner accent. The only black girl in the club made for a nice target. She was crying, and Rina was yelling and pointing fingers. I tried to help by calling Rina's cell phone, but Rina said that she keeps it on vibrate. So, while I called, she quite aggressively patted the crying girl down and searched through her purse, hoping to find her vibrating phone. The whole time, the black girl was denying everything, but not really putting up much of a fight. I didn't know what to do. The way Rina was rifling through that girl's stuff seemed really invasive, but I wasn't sure what kind of evidence Rina had, so I just stood there and held my cell phone.
Eventually, Rina went back inside muttering that the girl must have stashed the phone somewhere in the bathroom, and I had a chance to talk to the black girl alone. We made some small talk, and she told me her name (which I have forgotten, of course), and started giving me her story. That's when I got suspicious. She immediately began telling me some very elaborate stories that seemed designed to build sympathy. The first was that she had been pepper-sprayed by the club bouncers on her way out. She had been crying a little, but her nose wasn't running and her eyes weren't red at all. The next one was that she was visiting from Kenya, and had come to the club with her twin(?!) sister and "a white guy". When I asked her where they were, she said that they had left, and she didn't have enough money to get back to where she was staying. We spent quite a few minutes talking outside while Rina was doing her thing in the club, and the whole time, she kept slipping and saying little things that set off my bullshit alarm.
Eventually, she asked to use my cell phone so she could call her brother, who was a policeman in the city. Earlier, she had mentioned not knowing anyone else in the city, but I gave her my phone anyway, hoping that her conversation would give me more of a clue as to what was going on. No dice. While she was on the phone, she spoke to whoever was on the other side in an African language that I couldn't recognize.
After about ten minutes, a shitty car came slowly rolling through the parking lot with a black driver. When I looked at the girl, she seemed to be studiously ignoring the car, looking everywhere except at the car. It never even stopped. It just slowly cruised by and then exited the lot. A minute later, she asked to use my phone again and called the same number and spoke the same language. The conversation was very short and afterwards she handed the phone back to me, she said, "I'm going for a walk. I'll be back." I was sure she wasn't coming back, but Rina was still inside, and I didn't really feel like illegally detaining anyone. So, she walked off.
Predictably, she did not come back.

That whole situation sucked, and my being half-drunk didn't help. I'm still not entirely sure what happened, but my guess is that the girl had in fact stolen the phone. And I did nothing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just got this SMS from her phone:


3/21/2006 12:53 PM gmt

Blogger Mik3 said...

Nice one on the 419 tip.

Fear The Front.

3/22/2006 3:29 PM gmt


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