John and Bethany Arndt

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Monthly Archives: June 2009

This Malungu Got Mugged

June 7th, 2009 by | 5 Comments

Well, it finally happened to me….heart1

16 months in the country with the second highest crime rate in the world and I had gone untouched…until now (technically not true, there has been one butt grabbing incident, but the perp was only a 9 year old & I told his mom and I guess I did have my Mac stolen on my first trip here). Rest assured I never walk in Masi all alone. Even if it’s just me and another white person, I am always with a local or I drive to where I am going. However this day, I saw a bunch of Americans from the team we had here. We hosted a team of 28 from Oklahoma and Kansas (SIDE NOTE: They were such a refreshing dose of fun and tore it up with Jesus love in the wetlands). I saw a group from the team, so I parked and four of us were walking to where I was meeting Lungile.

Two of the guys from the team asked if they should wait with us, until she got there. Christianne, an All Nations intern was going to wait with me. I said they were fine to go because Lungile was to be there any minute. This was my mistake. They left and I immediately had an agitation within… it was Friday at 4pm. The atmosphere in Masi on the weekends is dramatically different from the week. And its starts to get hectic near 5pm, when people get off work and immediately start to drink. Within the two minutes that we were waiting, a close talking drunkard approached, and then an aggressive beggar. We decided not to wait any longer and to walk back to my car, which was only a block away. The streets were filling up fast with people and with my car in sight… two young guys emerged out of a crowd of several, from across the street. I saw the first one go to Chritianne and slide right into her sweatshirt pocket for her phone. Quite humorously he looked at her phone, which has to be the oldest Nokia in Africa, his face said, “ I won’t get nothing for this” and so he started pulling on her purse. Simultaneously the other guy grabs my purse with his two hands and starts pulling. My pit bull reflexes kicked in and an all out tug-o-war ensued. My super human tenacity only stemmed from the fact that I just happened to randomly have my ipod and camera with me this day, my two most valued possessions.

Only minutes before the mugging, I said to one of the team members, “I’m packing it! I can’t believe I have my purse with me, walking on the street, with my ipod and my camera in here.” In retrospect, I actually had such a discomfort and I totally should have listened to it. I always bring my bag with me, because it seems more vulnerable in my parked car, but I never take my ipod into the township…and my camera only sometimes, but that morning I had driven far to a maternity hospital in Retreat, and of course I needed some tunes for the road. heart3

Many people who are robbed are threatened with knives or guns. I looked at his hands and saw there were no weapons. While a part of me thought that my phone, keys, ipod, camera, wallet, and adorable vintage purse might actually be worth a scratch or two, I didn’t want to be stupid. So finally I let go, mostly because my hand got twisted and I had too. I never thought it possible, but apparently missionaries do drop the f-bomb post mugging. Those who know me well know that I use my ipod and camera constantly! My sorrow quickly evaporated and was replaced with a glimmer of hope.

The two young punks ran off in different directions. There were so many people around who did nothing but we immediately saw two guy friends who stay in Masi. They were in a car. It was quite theatrical, we yelled, “We just got robbed!” They yelled, “GET IN!” We drove around searching…The streets were so crowded though. We went back to the scene of the crime, but with no solid leads. Before Tim & Patrick dropped us, they confidently assured that they will get our stuff back.

I left very unconvinced and after figuring how to get into my house, get my spare key for my car, and go back for my car in Masi, call my bank, etc. it was 7pm and I started to realize more of the extent of the loss. One thought started to cascade upon the next…all the keys I would need replaced; hospital rooms, the church, offices, houses in Masi, the baby safe… My cell number is plastered all across Cape Town on Baby Safe posters and bumper stickers, for which I get calls from regularly. Having to get a new Baby Safe number would erase over a year of aggressive public relations I have done. I needed to notify my Baby Safe volunteer to be on duty for the safe, but I have no way of calling her, nor did I have her number to even call from someone else’s phone. I had lost all my numbers…more than friends, a social worker’s phone contacts are a precious goldmine of resources. I was driving and thinking of these things when I drove past some friends, Mike & Kalyn. They said that Vovo in Masi just called them. She said that some children ran to her and said, ” The Malungu got robbed!” and apparently these kids knew me and who the thief was. Mike said he was going to to Masi to get Vovo and a guy Vuyani to confront the thief; I said, “I’m coming too!” They said, “Jump in!” The theatrics didn’t stop here. We drove into the Friday night streets of Masi, and picked up our community insiders, with the peculiar addition of a rather brute character named Mali, who I have never seen before. I was smashed in the back seat of the car with these 3 Africans determined to help recover my things. Lots of Xhosa was spoken, as their plan was put into place.

But then Vovo handed over my purse! The actual purse that was stolen…I was freaking out. My keys were in it, and my planner, but not the other goods. I was so confused. Confusion is my familiar companion with the language barrier. But what I think really happened is a bit of a miracle. When the thief went back to his house, he dumped out the loot. In my purse, I had a photograph. This was a picture of Vovo, Wendy and I . I had printed it for the both of them. I had already given Vovo hers, but even though I had seen Wendy several times, I kept forgetting to give it to her. Well, some children were in the thief’s shack and they saw this picture, and they recognized Vovo. They ran to tell her that they knew the man who robbed the malungu, which means “white person”. But first they saw where he dumped my purse on the street by the library. The children took her to the purse and to where he stays. I was amazed at how this went down and the fact that I was on an African style recovery mission. Unfortunately, “African Style” refers to the use of violence to obtain information and the lack of confidence in the police rectifying situations.

We waited in the car while they went to the guy’s house but he wasn’t there; although his sister was and she confirmed his identity. She came out to the car and walked just ahead of us to show us where these guys hang out and take all the stolen goods. As we conspicuously crept along behind this informant the only thing that concealed the abnormality of 4 blacks and 3 whites in the shiny, white, Toyota Camry on the swarming streets was the cover of darkness. Vuyani started making phone calls next to me, to the “buyers” telling them to look out for my stuff. All we could hear was the familiar muddle of Xhosa words, with the occasional “ipod” thrown in. We then left our friends in Masi, not sure of what would happen.

It’s been two weeks since this incident and none of my things have been returned, beyond the purse and my keys. There have been several leads, close encounters with the thief, and many offers for me to have him “tortured”. LOL! It’s no laughing matter but its hard not too, when people have said this, I am like, “No, no, no, no. no ” I have been touched by how many people I know in Masi feel responsible for what happened and how upset they have been that I was robbed. This incident helped me realized how much I love Masi and how well I know the community now and of course how I can never get comfortable with my safety. I have really surprised myself with how unemotional I am about the loss of my treasures. I was able to buy back my phone number, which was a tremendous relief. My computer just happened to break the same week I was robbed, which is kind of amusing and flustering. I am tech-tronically hindered at the moment but so thankful to have been unharmed!


Portia, my dear friend from Masi was mugged only days after me, as she has to leave for at 5:45am to get to work by train and taxi. Upon walking from the train station to her job, she was attacked by 4 men, who threw her on the ground and kicked her in the face. Her tooth is broke and she is now terrified, but she has no options but to keep this job and continue on the same route each morning. Her reality, like so many others, prevents me from getting anywhere close to complaining. I think I am less than 1% of the world who even has access to the luxuries of an ipod, camera, and computer. I don’t understand His protection and favor but I gladly walk in it.

This malungu is grateful.