The Pickpocket

This last Sunday I got my wallet stolen. I had finished some shopping in Kariakoo and was walking down a street thick with people.

This was taken just a few minutes before it happened.

This is the street where my wallet was stolen.

I was feeling apprehensive about my messenger bag which held my two high value items, my camera and laptop, so I had swung it around to the front so I could have my arms around it. I get to an intersection that is clogged with people, and there is a car coming towards me, though it’s coming very slowly due to all of the people in its way. As I am trying to shimmy out of its way a guy smoking a cigarette and standing next to me grabs my arm. Now this alone is not really that unusual, people here will use varying degrees of physical contact to get my attention and I just assume he is trying to pull me out of the path of the incoming car. But it doesn’t stop with the arm. So next he puts his foot on the side of my right knee. What goes through my head is this: “What is he doing? Some sort of convoluted gang handshake(not that out of the norm)? Oh shoot if he pushed down with his foot he could break me leg! Does he want to fight me? Oh crap lets get away!” At that point he let go of my arm and I walked away about as fast as I could, crowd permitting. Throughout this whole exchange my arms have been wrapped around my bag in front of me and exactly zero attention has been paid to my front left pocket. Once I am out of the intersection it only takes me a few seconds to realize that my wallet is gone. I do a quick check of all of my pockets and bag but it’s not there. Again my mind races: “ok what now? I have to go find that guy! And beat him up! I am in no condition to fight with this heavy bag containing all of my valuables. Hell I would probably loose more stuff if I went back. And he’s already gone.” At this point I am a little freaked out over the loss of my debit card, which is my only way to get cash. Nowhere takes credit (and all of those cards were in the wallet too) so I am now left with the little bit of emergency cash that is stored with my passport. As I am contemplating the ramifications of all of this I decide there is nothing to be gained by hanging around, so I turn to leave, taking one last look back towards the intersection. What I see is a young man with a bundled up package on his head walking towards me and hurriedly patting his pockets as if he has lost his wallet. I instantly get the message and nod that “yes, I have lost my wallet”. He hands me the wallet, sans cash, but with everything else intact! I thank him profusely and count my lucky stars. It’s time to head back to the hotel.
So what did I loose? In all about $10. On the shit-sucks-o-meter this doesn’t even register. It really could have been much worse. For instance that morning I had a lot more cash in there but I had used it to prepay for two more nights at the hotel. My passport and yellow fever card which were (stupidly) in my other pocket could have been a massive headache to replace, especially being in a yellow fever endemic country. And the photos on my camera would have taken an emotional toll.
So what have I learned from this episode? Maybe don’t have all of your valuables in the same place at the same time? Though if they’re not on your person how do you know they’re safe? I am going to be less lax about always stashing my passport under my clothes. The biggest lesson I take away is to always return to the scene of the crime. You won’t catch the guys, but you might get some of your stuff back. I was a second away from just leaving when I got the wallet back. The young man who returned it said it was just left on the ground, so it makes sense to take a good look around when something gets stolen.

Posted in Stories
9 comments on “The Pickpocket
  1. Theo says:

    GLAD YOU’RE OK WATCH OUT FOR THE PICKPOCKET ZEBRAS TOO

  2. Adrian Dunn says:

    OMG, Austin, you were SO lucky! For God’s sake, keep all your valuables in your passport belt. At least it would be harder to pickpocket. They would have to work harder to take it off you.

    Be safe. Love, Adrian

  3. Tom Pollock says:

    Good fortune! Maybe using cards makes it easy for authorities to find pickpockets, so going for help might work. On the other hand, with no grease money … We always kept most of our money in the moneybelt w the passport.

    The write-up on Dar was fun. So many faces look so hardened, though. Food good?

    • austinwestyoung says:

      There is some pretty good indian food, but it tends to be really pricy. There is also some okay western food, pizza, etc. What I’ve grown fond of are the hard-boiled eggs you can buy from guys on the street.

  4. Joan says:

    Hi Austin, thanks for the miraculous story. As for walets; My old friend, Travis, carries an empty walet in his back pocket, that he can give to thieves if held up, and his real money in weird duct-tape enveloppes in his lower pocket in his kakhi army pants.Come up with a solution. Its not a bad idea to have something to give people, if they want something……love, Joan

    • austinwestyoung says:

      Thanks for reading! I’ve been working on getting some sort of fake wallet worked out. I just don’t want to spend too much. Some of the people here charge a ridiculous amount for basic leather goods.

  5. Jbot says:

    Dude. Be careful.
    I agree on the fake wallet.
    Stuff it fat n convincing.
    Have fun man!

  6. Adrian says:

    Hi Austin,

    What’s the latest? I’m wondering where/how you are.

    Love, Adrian

    • austinwestyoung says:

      I’m still in Nairobi. Mulling over where to go next. Being in the same place for so long it’s hard to find stuff to write about.