Hakuna Matata Bwana, it means “No Worries Man”

Hakuna Matata Bwana, it means “No Worries Man”

Frankie (Prologue)

Africa truly is a wild continent.  Visiting as a tourist, even for a short time, can vastly impact the way a person views the world for the rest of their life.  Living there changes a person in ways that cannot be undone, usually for the better.  Being born and raised in Africa, regardless of skin colour, will forever make a person African in mind, body and spirit.  Frankie is the perfect example of a white African who would always be a true bush-woman, no matter where she lived in this crazy world.

A descendant of the infamous Italian world explorer, Marco Polo, Frankie was born and raised in Kampala, Uganda.  She grew up fearing all snakes.  She resented the influences of Western society on African culture, and she aspired to live as naturally as possible.

Despite still having to exist in a world clearly defined by lines of separation with race, class and status, Frankie always considered herself African before anything else.  She simply understood from within how life continued to operate on a daily basis in dangerous and highly unpredictable places such as Africa.

Frankie met her husband Bon in Kampala, where he had been working on an aide mission.  They lived through the massacres commandeered by Idi Amin in the mid-1970s.  They also narrowly survived a horrific car accident in a Kenyan safari park in 1978.  After moving back to Canada to grow their young family, Frankie suffered the tragic loss of her father in 1983.  He was politically assassinated only days before he been planning to move to Canada with her mother.

Crippled with severe depression and an eating disorder one degree shy of anorexia, it was early in 1987 when Frankie and her two children landed at the international airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  Through tears of hope, relief and joy, she whispered into Danny’s ear “Finally, we’re home.”

Jumping ahead another 7 years saw her family add another sibling.  Now at the tail end of Bon’s 2-year aide mission in Tanzania, Frankie and her kids, Danny, Nat and their baby brother Tito, were waiting to return to Canada.  Danny had just completed 2 years of boarding school while his younger sister Nat had been away from their parents for a year, both of them attending the International School of Moshi.

They had just lived in or close enough to 3 war-zones over the span of 8 years.  They had experienced multiple near-misses with tragedy and even death.  The horrific killing fields of the Rwandan genocide had recently spilled over in to Tanzania, and the ensuing influx of refugees and despair that followed them had broken Frankie’s spirit.  They were all more than ready for a civilized life back in Canada.

Dar

The school year had just ended for Danny and Nat, and Frankie had decided that she wanted to treat her kids to an adventure before they made their way back to Canada.  Frankie’s best friend since boarding school in Kenya, Sharley, owned a boutique shop in a resort community on the beautiful beaches of Mombasa, Kenya.  The plan was to spend a week with Sharley before flying on to Heathrow where they would visit Frankie’s mom and sister for a few weeks in the UK.  From there they would fly to Vancouver.

It was a busy Saturday afternoon in Dar Es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania.  Walking next to a main road that separated the Indian Ocean from the rest of the city, Frankie was holding Tito in her arms while Danny and Nat trudged along behind, complaining about the heat and the fact that they were walking.

Frankie didn’t think twice about the two boys who passed them on the side walk.  She was hot and tired, and Tito was heavy in her arms.  Danny and Nat had been bickering all day, which was nothing out of the ordinary, but when Danny had started to fret about the boys who had stopped walking a little bit behind them, Frankie nearly lost her cool.

“Oh shut up Danny!  You’ve been reading too much damned Stephen King!  There is nothing to worry about, now please, let’s just keep moving towards that road up there.” and with that, Frankie surged on.

“MOM, we need to stay on this road, or, we need to get a cab right NOW!  Those guys are following us!  I think they’re going to rob us!”  Danny was usually quite good at being able to keep a cool head, but she could sense the panic simmering just beneath his surface.  Was this really a threat?

Frankie told herself that he was being paranoid, probably from smoking too much dope.  Tito started to shift around in her arms uncomfortably, picking up on the fear from his older brother.  The last thing she needed to deal with right now was a screaming and kicking temper tantrum in her face.

“Would you PLEASE give it a rest?  You’re scaring your brother and I’ve had enough of it!  Let’s just keep moving.  We’re heading back into the city down this road through the golf course and we’ll come out by the embassy.”

With that, Frankie turned them onto a deserted side road, away from the traffic and away from safety. To this day she can look back and realize that this was a critical moment, the point at which their lives would forever be changed.  This was where she chose to turn left instead of staying on the main road.

Mwizi

As soon as they had turned on to the deserted road, Frankie felt a knot tighten in her stomach.  Tito started twisting in her arms, clenching his hands tightly around her neck as he started to cry.  Danny pushed past her, muttering something to the effect of how her idea was “just plain stupid”.

Typical teenage mentality, always thinking they know everything.  Danny had almost broken into a run towards the golf course, frantically looking around for something or someone, and then Nat ran also past Frankie, yelling after her brother to wait.  Her voice was shaky and cracking with fear.

Frankie opened her mouth to yell at Danny when suddenly someone else burst past her, chasing after Nat and Danny.  “HEY, watch it!” was all she managed to shout before she felt two hands grab her from behind.  “HEY! LET ME GO!” she screamed, instinctively shifting Tito onto her other hip to get him as far away from whoever was grabbing her.  That was when she saw the blade; an old rusty machete was pressed up against her ribs while frantic hands tried to yank the money belt from her waist.

The kid who had run past her was holding a knife up to Danny’s throat, while Nat was standing in the middle of the road, screaming hysterically.  Frankie tried to unsnap the money belt with her free hand but the attacker continued to shove her while his knife pressed against her ribs.  After what seemed like an eternity, he cut the strap.  As he released his grip on her, he yelled at his cohort to run.

As fast as the attack began, both thieves disappeared into the bushes along the side of the road.  Frankie quickly checked Tito over for any cuts.  Once assured that he was okay she began to scream “MWIZI!” at the top of her lungs.  Mwizi means thief in Swahili.  Both Danny and Nat also started screaming it over and over, as loudly as they could.

Very quickly, people began to appear, most of them running from the golf course.  As soon as the first rescuers reached them, Frankie put Tito in Danny’s arms and then with a group of men armed with golf clubs, she charged into the bushes in hot pursuit after the thieves.

It’s important to note that crimes like this regularly happen in Africa but as a thief it’s never a good thing to get caught.  Vigilantes beat criminals to death, particularly thieves, before the real police even show up.  These two boys were very close to being caught and that was probably why they decided to drop the money belt on the path, in a desperate attempt to call off the hunt.  After recovering the money belt Frankie took out all of the cash and gave it to the men who had come to their aid.  Money wasn’t all that important, but their plane tickets and passports were.  Thankfully everything was still there.

As a wave of adrenaline surged through her body, she bent over with her hands on her knees in order to keep herself from fainting.  “Mama, you okay?  Are you cut?  Mama, come sit down.”  The men were paying close attention to her, checking her for any cuts or injuries.  They began yelling “Get the police!  Where are the thieves?”

Frankie realized just how far she had rushed into the thicket.  What had she been thinking?  She could have been raped or murdered while her kids were left on the side of a road.  Nearly sobbing, she burst through brambles and bushes back on the dusty road, and in to a whole different situation.

There was Nat, standing alone with her baby brother in her arms.  Frankie rushed over to her and scooped up Tito as she fell to her knees, consoling her daughter who began to cry in bewilderment.  “Nat, where’s your brother?!  Where’s Danny?!”  Frankie patiently waited for Nat to get the words out between her sobs.

From what Nat could remember, Danny had given Tito to her and then run back towards the highway just after Frankie had bolted into the bushes.  “What the HELL?”  Panic began to build up again.  She was just about to ask one of the men to help her look for her eldest son, when all of a sudden two police cars turned on to the road and raced towards them.

She couldn’t believe her eyes.  Danny was in the front seat, and in the back was one of the thieves.

Polisi

The cruisers pulled up and Danny jumped out and ran over to them.  Frankie was at a loss of words.  She wanted to hit him and kiss him at the same time.  He was furious though, and refusing to look at her, but she was just relieved they were all safe and nobody had been hurt.  She couldn’t believe it.  Somehow he had single-handedly caught the boy who had been holding up a knife to his throat, and then flagged down the police while he dragged the young thief back to the scene of the robbery.

Sitting in the back of the police cruiser while Danny was in the front seat, Tito was curled up in Frankie’s lap and Nat was snuggled into her side.  They were all completely exhausted, her back was seething with an excruciating pain, and all that Frankie wanted to do was to smoke a cigarette.

They arrived at a police station that was little more than a shack on the side of a road.  The officer in the first car dragged the young thief out of the car by his hair, driving the butt of his rifle into the kid’s face while he kicked and screamed, feebly attempting to escape.  The officer tossed him like a rag doll into a tiny cell, only a few feet away from a solitary desk and pair of chairs in the bare room.

“Mama, please, come sit down.  We need you to fill out a report.  Please start with your name, and where you are from.”  Frankie tried to answer the questions being asked while Tito squirmed and cried. The police officers were becoming agitated, and they started to yell back and forth while the young thief was wailing and begging them for mercy.

“Mama, please just pay attention to me.  You said that the other boy was older.  Do you remember what he looked like?”  Frankie tried to explain that everything had happened so quickly and she never had a chance to get a good look at the other thief’s face.  The boy in the jail cell began crying inconsolably and the other officer began to bang on the bars of the cell with his baton, but the boy wouldn’t stop sobbing.  Without a warning the cop flung open the cell door and swung the butt of his AK-47 into the boy’s head.

The cracking of his skull was sickening.  In what seemed to be slow motion, his body slumped against the wall and crumpled to the floor.  Blood oozed from his head into a drain in the middle of the cell, and the boy never moved again.  For a moment that felt like forever, nobody said a word.  The officer stepped backwards and slowly closed the cell door.  He muttered a few words to the other officer sitting behind the desk, pulled out a cigarette, lit it, and walked outside.

“Mama, look at me.  Don’t worry about that.  Tell me, how much money was in your wallet.”  Frankie didn’t know what to do.  She could feel the hatred boiling up inside of Danny.  Nat buried her face in  Frankie’s shirt and began to sob.

Frankie took a deep breath, and then told the police officer that they needed to leave right away.  The officer was clearly irritated once he realized that he wasn’t going to get a bribe or a handout.  Frankie was visibly shaking as she walked her children out of the decrepit office, past the cop who had just killed a 14 year old boy in front of them, and into the taxi that was waiting for them.

Danny was traumatized.  He was fighting back tears, biting his tongue and refusing to look at his mother, but she was past the point of caring.  She needed to get herself and her kids back to their hotel so that she could call Bon to tell him what had happened, and get him to wire her more cash so they could get out of this accursed city.

Holy Sheraton

Once safely in their hotel room, Frankie let her emotions wash over her, crying softly to herself while she changed Tito’s diaper.  Danny had already disappeared, probably off to smoke a cigarette or find a beer in the lobby.  Only 16 years old but he had grown up faster than most kids would ever want to.

All of the excitement of the day had finally caught up to Tito, and his cries of fear turned to whines of exhaustion and hunger.  Once he was wrapped in a fresh diaper and fed a bottle, he would be out cold within a few minutes but then Frankie would have to wake him up to burp, otherwise he would end up puking in his sleep.

The hotel operator finally got a clear connection to Bon’s office in Mwanza.  Although a little chafed at Frankie for giving away all of her cash after she had recovered her wallet, Bon’s main concern was that everyone was safe.  The money and possessions could be replaced, whereas life could not.  It was only a few thousand shillings and not the end of the world by any means.  Frankie hung up the phone feeling stronger and more assured that they were still going to make it to Mombasa where she could connect with Sharley, and hopefully give the kids a chance to unwind on the beach.

It was going to take at least 2 days for Bon to wire her more cash, so Frankie decided that they would take a ferry to Zanzibar on a day trip, as that was something she could pay for with her credit card.  She called down to the lobby and purchased the tickets.  The hotel concierge confirmed that they had seen Danny leave in a taxi.  Where did he get all the money for that?  She hung up the phone and took a few minutes to clear her mind with some breathing exercises and meditation.

Nat had started watching a movie and Tito was asleep on the bed.  She gently picked him up, propped him up on her shoulder and began to pat him on his back in order to get the burps out before he barfed all over the place.  He never enjoyed this part of the feeding process, especially if it meant that he had to be woken up, but luckily he gave up a couple of deep belches and then immediately went back to sleep.

Frankie lay next to Tito on the bed and listened to his congested breathing as she drifted in and out of a restless sleep.  It was well after midnight when Danny finally crept back into the room, dragging in a rancid smell of smoke and booze with him.  He stumbled into his bed and was snoring loudly after just a few minutes.  Frankie’s last thought before she fell asleep was that amidst all of the confusion, they had forgotten to have dinner.  Thankfully, only Tito had anything resembling an appetite.

All of them had awoken early and with a ferocious hunger the next morning.  They wasted no time filling up at the hotel’s breakfast buffet before they took a taxi to the port and boarded a ferry to Zanzibar, an ancient island which, hundreds of years before, had been a major slave trading hub.  They spent the day exploring ruins, castles and other historic landmarks before catching the last ferry back to Dar Es Salaam.

After dinner, Frankie packed up their luggage and put Tito, Nat and herself to bed.  Danny went out to do his own thing again, but he was back in bed before midnight, and Frankie was relieved knowing that it was their last night in the city.

The next morning she picked up the cash that Bon had wired to her, checked out of the hotel and loaded the kids and their luggage into a taxi to take them to the train station.  The trip to Mombasa would be long and arduous, with numerous stops along the way, likely with a few hours of being detained at the border.  Bon had given her a thousand dollars and she had been careful to split it up into 5 separate stashes in her luggage, keeping a couple hundred handy to pay for their visas at the border.

Frankie had phoned Sharley in Mombasa to let her know that they were on their way and that they should be arriving sometime in the late afternoon.  They boarded the train and as the final whistle blew, Frankie muttered under her breath that she couldn’t have cared less if she never saw the city again.

Dar Es Salaam had just become one of her least favourite places in the world.

Hakuna Matata Bwana

As expected the train did stop almost every hour for at least 15 to 20 minutes, allowing passengers to embark and disembark in a completely disorganized but somehow functional process.  She had bought second class tickets, so at least they were in a private booth on a car that wasn’t smelly or overrun with chickens, goats and thieves.

The wait at the border wasn’t as bad as she had anticipated.  After paying for their entry visas they were on their way to Mombasa.  Once they had arrived at the station they hired a very enthusiastic taxi driver to drive them half an hour south to the resort community where her friend Sharley lived.  Frankie didn’t realize just how beaten up their taxi was until they turned off the highway on to a bumpy dirt road that took them the rest of the way to Tiki Beach.

The taxi wasn’t driving all that fast, but it felt like they were racing along in a rally car.  They were hitting their heads on the roof while the blown out shocks made the car bounce around like it was riding on pogo sticks instead of tires.  Frankie looked over at Nat who started to giggle with glee as the crazy taxi lurched ridiculously over every little bump on the road.

Danny turned around to catch in on his sister’s laughter and his eyes met with Frankie’s for the first time in days.  Tears welled up in her eyes as she saw just how hurt he was, and how hard he was trying to keep all it together.  He barely managed to give her half of a crooked smile, just enough to let her know that despite everything, he still loved her unconditionally.

Suddenly a grinding sound emerged from the driver side door as the rusted hinges snapped and the entire door fell away from the car.  Frankie yelled out in alarm which made Tito jump in her arms and clasp his hands around her neck.  Nat gawked and squealed in a frightful delight at the fact that one of the doors had just fallen off of the taxi yet the car was still bounding along like a bouncy little gazelle.

Danny started to utter “What the f-” and then burst into a gut splitting laughter as the taxi driver turned and looked at him with an ear-to-ear grin that revealed 2 yellow teeth barely left hanging in his mouth.  He laughed heartily while he tried to shout over the sound of the roaring engine “HAHA this taxi is BEST taxi in Africa! This taxi, NEVER stop driving!  Don’t worry, we keep going.  I get the door on my way back, okay?  HAKUNA MATATA BWANA!  Hey Mama!  You okay back there?  You like my number one taxi?  Best taxi ever, YES?!  HAHAHA!” he roared.

“Hey, Bwana, you like my special floor?” he asked as he lifted up the floor mat under the front seat and revealed a gaping hole that had been eaten away by rust, wide enough for a person to fall through.  Danny howled and clutched his stomach as he watched the pot-holes zip by under his feet.

The emotional trauma from the past few days poured out of them in an overwhelming flood of hilarity and a complete acceptance of the utter absurdity of Africa.  Danny was bellowing, almost choking on his laughter, while Frankie laughed out loud uncontrollably, her eyes streaming with tears.  Nat ended up laughing so hard that she started to pee her pants, which of course made them all laugh even harder.

All of the excitement and bewilderment was too much for Tito and he started to cry in confusion, so Frankie gently hugged him and soothed him between the fits of laughter that had gripped them all.  Even their taxi driver joined in on the cackling and it wasn’t long before he had to wipe the tears from his eyes as he tried to keep his hilariously dilapidated car on the road.

It was in this dusty heap of a rust bucket missing a driver side door and a floor under the front seat that Frankie and her kids pulled into a shopping centre at Tiki Beach, laughing and crying like a bunch of escapees from a mental asylum.  “Wow, we made it!  What a crazy ride!”  Frankie couldn’t find anything else to say that seemed quite right.

It was exactly what they had needed in order to bring them back to reality, from one wild extreme to another.  Frankie paid the driver and then huddled her kids in a group hug that they would remember for the rest of their lives.  This was life in Africa, and as much as it was totally insane, it just made sense.

Hakuna Matata Bwana, it means “No Worries Man.”

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