"South & East Africa 2011" story # 32

Makotapora, Tanzania           September 27, 2011

"The army's the army, and if you stuck gold stars on a warthog, he'd be a general." - writer Karel Capek

The blows rained down on me, from all sides.
     Soldiers stomped on my chest. They pushed their feet into my upper and lower back. They smashed their boots into the back of my head. They slapped and punched me.
     I lay on my back on the ground. Other than to cup the back of my head with my hands for protection, I hadn't moved since being brought down by a handsome, plain-clothed soldier.
     There, in the tall grass, as I lay on the ground, he untied the sleeves of the sweatshirt I had wrapped around my waist and used it to bind my ankles. Then, with the quickness of a bomb diffuser, he pulled the lace out of my shoe and used that to further bind my ankles. He and another soldier lifted me up and carried me back to the road. Before or after that, the beating began.
     When I'd attacked the commanding officer, I was ready for whatever punishment would follow. Meditating, I absorbed the blows with little pain. I rolled with the punches.
     I neither screamed nor cried nor bled. The beating let up for a second. It seemed like I'd already withstood many kicks. But, then, a new onslaught began.
     My abusers were mostly young. One put his thin, triangular head in front of my face and seemed to be examining something peacefully, humanely; and then, he raised his hand and slapped me. He retreated.
     A stout soldier handled a silver dagger-like blade. A demon, he smiled at me. I squirmed to get away. He thumped my chest with it. To my surprise, the dagger was dull and didn't harm me. Was it a weapon of psychological torture?
     It surprised me that all the soldiers got involved in my beating. I would've thought that some would've sided with, or at least sympathized with, me. (Maybe I'd overestimated my charm?) I was reminded of the Mofolo novel, "Chaka". In one chapter, King Chaka taught his soldiers they must kill in battle; or else, their fellow soldiers would later kill them.
     Only the commanding officer had yet to arrive at the site of my beating. The other soldiers stopped hurting me ... and we waited for him. It was a terrifying wait, as I couldn't imagine the pain he was going to inflict upon me.
     He came strolling up, slowly and patiently.
     Whether it happened or not, I got an image in my head of this giant terrifying man punching jabs at me and me somehow blocking them. He indeed stomped on my chest. Two of the weaselly soldiers took advantage of this new onslaught to hit me again. And then the violence was suspended.
     Throughout the beating, I was comforted by the thought that striking the commanding officer was one of the proudest things I'd ever done.
     As I lay on the ground now, bruised and friendless, the fat-faced oompa loompa with a gun said of me, "You're shit! You're shit!"
     I should've said:
     "And you're a bad shot."
     My other shoe lace was used to bind my wrists behind my back. I assumed they were going to kill me - or do something even worse. I was lifted to the floor of the back of an army truck. We drove a short distance, and then I was taken out and dumped in the middle of an army cell.
     In an effort to kill myself, I tried to hold my breath until I'd die. But, my rapid breathing came out my nose.
     With great difficulty, with my wrists and ankles tied, with my upper body sore, I pushed myself the six inches to the wall and propped myself up to a sitting position. It appeared as if things had calmed down by this point. I'd gotten in my licks; they'd gotten in theirs.
     My belongings were dumped out and sorted through, outside my cell. Young soldiers-in-training asked me unimportant questions.
     One asked if I couldn't help him get to America.
     The commanding officer briefly entered my cell and stated, "I think he's a terrorist." His tiny eyes expressed paranoia. The light brown skin beside his eyes, where I'd hit him, seemed swollen and reddened.
     It disappointed me to realize my goodness hadn't been enough to overcome this man's badness.
     And the others were just his pawns, his mercenaries, his prostitutes of sadism. They meant nothing to the world. The black eyes, scratched face, and dented back they'd given me would all heal quickly. Only my two slightly chipped teeth would remain, as a reminder ... of the time I'd taken on a whole army.
     And lost.
     Still, my future was uncertain. Due to thirst and the tight wrist bindings, I began to feel light-headed. I asked for water and to have the ropes slackened, and my wishes were granted. Soon afterwards, my ankles were untied, too; I was allowed to sit in a chair. A soldier bought me some water and a pack of biscuits.
     Police from Dodoma City arrived. I was told I'd be going with them. I felt happy to be leaving the military area. But, I also worried I'd be leaving this army cell of solitary confinement for a crowded cell that was uncomfortable and unsafe.
     My belongings were returned to me in a torn-apart mess. People were being nice to me now. But, I wasn't given enough time to re-pack my things. I was rushed.
     First, the police chief and I sat down outside with an immigrations officer and the military commando. This latter man seemed to be walking more timidly and speaking more meekly now. I was nevertheless still afraid of him and his hatred. He whined like a big baby, though. He said he was going to send me his hospital bills.
     We rode together to revisit the forest I'd hidden my tent in. Afterwards, the commanding officer asked if I was hungry. Of course I was. "A little," I said.
     The plain-clothed heads of police and I were led into the big house nearest to where I'd pitched my tent. It was the commanding officer's. He reminded me that I should've knocked on someone's door the previous night.
     "See? You could've slept in my house."
     Soft, red sofas filled the large living room. A portrait of the good Julius Nyerere, "Baba wa Taifa" (Father of the Nation), hung over one wall. The commando's short wife called us to the large dinner table. She served us: a watery salad of tomatoes and onions, boiled plantains, weiner hot dogs, rice, and morsels of well-done beef. It was the best meal I'd had in Tanzania. And this was the nicest house I'd ever seen a black African living in.
     We then traveled to Dodoma City. A kind-looking and fashionable Muslim police officer called this "an interesting story" - as I began to write a long police report.
     Because I'd attacked the commanding officer first, I felt like I had no rights.
     My police report got a few laughs. I wrote that I'd been struck "25 to 30 times", and the policemen laughed to think I'd been counting. I wrote, "I punched the commanding officer two or three times. I hope he'll be all right."
     ("No. I'm NOT all right!" the commando would say upon reading this. That was the last I'd ever hear from him.)
     The chief of police - who called me: "my friend" - asked a few questions:
     "Why don't you have a flashlight?" (I showed him my flashlight.)
     "What do you use this for?" (He was holding my clove of garlic.)
     I said, "I eat it."
     "Why did you keep running while they were shooting at you?"
     This question seemed akin to asking: "Why didn't you willingly give yourself up to the people who hated you?" It seemed that if someone was shooting at me, that was reason enough to keep running.
     I wrote the police report well into the dark evening. I became fatigued. I still didn't know what was going to be done with me.
     The elderly immigrations officer and policemen spoke a lot in Swahili. I recognized words like ... "trespassing" ... "knowingly trespassing" ... "tarifa" (which I took to mean: a fine) ... even "assault". But, they also talked about me going on to Arusha to be a volunteer.
     Finally, they announced I'd be released for the night. I'd have to come back at ten the next morning, just to finish up the police report.
     They drove me to a guesthouse. I exhaled a breath of relief upon closing myself in my room. It was a miracle I hadn't been seriously injured. I laid my aching body on the hotel bed.
     That night, I kept hearing a song from Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock opera, about a revolutionary:

"Jesus Christ
Who are you?
What have you sacrificed?"

In the early morning, I went out to buy food. Alone and hungry, I sought the flat tortilla-like bread known as chipati. I finally found it in a restaurant, but it cost twice as much as I thought it should. I rudely waved it and the waitress away from me. Gee, I seemed angry.
     Maybe it'd been when I first felt hatred for the commando that the anger had grabbed hold of me. I wondered: would it ever leave?
     I spent the daytime finishing my police report. Forced to be humble, I apologized to people many times. Nobody apologized to me.
     But, I was free to go.
     It even seemed, through the way I'd been released, that there was some degree of guilt and accountability felt by Tanzanian law enforcement. I felt like this wasn't such a bad country, and that I could go, undisturbed, and settle down peacefully in Arusha for a few months.
     Unfortunately, the previous night, I'd realized my flash-drive and some other worthless items hadn't been returned to me. I just assumed, or believed, the flash-drive had been lost. But, this evening, I noticed something else missing. The African Camera Debacle of 2011 would continue ...

Sep. 1 - I notice I no longer have any of my rolls of film from the past four months. Along with my flash-drive, they were obviously stolen by the suspicious Tanzanian law. I now understand I will have no photos from the last four months, not even fuzzy ones ...

The Tanzanian law had stolen from me, a mere misdirected traveler. I now felt like I had not rights here. I couldn't stay in this country ...
     The following day, I called my Mom.
     I expected her to cry to hear I'd been beaten. I figured I'd probably cry when I told her about it. But, once she heard that I was all right and not imprisoned or anything, she was in a good mood. This put me in a good mood. I would never feel sad about my beating again. I was lucky to have such a cheerful Mom!
     That afternoon, a scrawny local named Bernard recognized my black eye.
     He said a Russian friend of his had been walking, in the same village where I had my accident. The Russian argued with his girlfriend. A soldier came. The soldier and the Russian fought. The soldier hit the Russian in the face with the fuselage of his gun. The Russian went home and was now still in the hospital, six months later. And Bernard had lost his partner in an orphanage / dance-studio.
     Bernard said, "You did the right thing by fighting back. Otherwise, they would've killed you." But, he wanted me to sponsor him, or at least buy him a soda; so, he might've been just buttering me up.
     A lot of people would notice my bruised face and ask what had caused it.
     At first, I told them the whole story. But, it was too long.
     Then, I told them, "Soldiers did this. They're monsters." But, that made me sound like a victim. And I didn't want that.
     So, I changed my response to:

"I attacked a commanding officer of the Tanzanian army -
while he was surrounded by ten of his soldiers,
two of them armed."


"I didn't like the tone he was taking with me."

peace and love,
Modern Oddyseus

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