17 July 2007
It happened, as I was told again and again it would; I was mugged in Cape Town, and it happened in broad daylight. Well, it started out as two guys mugging me and it finished with them apologizing and me giving them business cards and encouraging them to start venture teams.
I had just dropped off the stupid Mercedes that has been nothing but trouble the past three days and knew I was already a target before leaving Avis. People watched me drive that bubble car in and they watched me walk out. I moved swift and confident, but what local returns a rental car then wanders toward “backpacker land?” Exactly.
So I was walking down the street and a guy turned out of a warehouse lot, walking toward me. He was looking over my shoulder, so I followed his eyes and realized there was a guy walking about ten feet behind me. I knew immediately what was happening.
The guy in front pulled out a knife and told me to “give him all of my money.” The guy behind stood there so I couldn’t get away. Now, I’ve been robbed twice and a friend of mine who lived in Cape Town explained that it is usually possible to negotiate some arrangement where I give them my money but I get to keep my camera, phone, etc. (as if I had done something wrong in the first place – “keep” my own phone? Come on!). So, rather than be frightened I found myself irritated that I would be targeted considering the work I’m doing to help curb the situations that create thievery and so forth.
Without thinking (total gut reaction) I blurted out, “Hey man, I’m not the problem. I’m just trying to help, okay? I don’t have money to give you and if you take my camera, then I can’t do my job and I’m trying to help you and people who aren’t being taken care of. You don’t want to do this.” They were shocked, to say the least. I just kept going on and on and on about Ashoka, Youth Venture, inspiring change, empowering young people, spending time in the townships and trying to get individuals to take ownership over their communities. A good minute or two into my speech and the knife lowered.
The more I talked, the more the tension de-escalated and by the end of the whole ordeal, we were apologizing to each other for the whole thing. I learned they were only nineteen and twenty, in the city from their township because there is no work. Both their fathers left years ago and they’ve been involved with gangs, drugs and now this. I listened. I showed empathy. By the end of it all, I was giving them my business card telling them all about Youth Venture, encouraging them to get in touch with me and think about ways to improve their own lives and the lives of their friends.
I realize this story sounds totally impossible and sadly, there was no witness, except for the Avis guy who was sitting in his office watching with his mouth open while everything happened. I don’t know how my mind and body knew that was the way I should react, but it did and maybe now we’ll get some teams out of it. The moral of the story? If you’re being mugged, claim that you’re trying to help, push blame onto someone or something else and ask them if they’ve heard of Youth Venture. (I had no pictures of “the incident” so I included a photo of the horrific Mercedes that got me into deep, deep trouble. Ish…