The Ponty. Dakar. Senegal. West Africa.
My favorite bar in one of my favorite countries. It sat on Independence Avenue, the High Street / Main Street in the downtown area of this city of 3 million. A busy street cluttered with pedestrians all day and night. Cluttered with traffic of every type imaginable; old cars and trucks with no exhaust systems, motorcycles and motorscooters that weaved their way through the mass of humanity.
I was a regular at The Ponty. Day and night. My table was on the outdoor patio, five feet from the sidewalk of this busy thoroughfare, situated just behind a wrought-iron fence. The fence was supposed to keep the locals off the patio; the locals who hawked trinkets and illegal copies of tapes and CD's. I was known and recognized by these locals as I spent so much time there. They usually left me alone, knowing that I was not a mark. They could concentrate their efforts on the visiting tourists and other unknowns.
On this day, I got up to speak to a friend who walked by on the sidewalk. Within seconds of joining the crowd outside the fence, a small boy tore the watch from my left wrist. He began running. I began chasing him. Running after him through the traffic and finally catching up with him 50 metres down the road. Bystanders watched as this white man held a small black boy in his clutches. He held my watch in his hand. He was scared, not expecting to be caught. He couldn't have been more than 10 or 11 years old.
At this point, I had choices. I could have just taken my watch back and let him go. But, for some reason, I didn't. I hailed a passing taxi and got in with the boy; he very reluctantly of course. In Dakar, there are no patrol cars; the few police must patrol on foot.
In my worst French, I told the driver to take us to the nearest police station. We arrived just a couple of minutes later. A police station underneath a bank, on the main square. I had never known it was there. It was hidden from view. I was met by an officer in charge. He barely understood my English, but knew instinctively what had happened. He and 2 other cops took the boy and began beating him. A cop handed me my watch and continued to beat the boy. He was now on the concrete floor, crying out for them to stop. After a couple of minutes, the cops let up. One of them asked me what I would now have them do to the boy.
I simply said for them to call the boys' father. I was then told that the boy had no father, no family. Not knowing what else to do, I told the officer to let the boy go, that there was no real harm done.
I turned and departed. Back to the bar. It was 10am, by my watch.
technorati tags: travel/crime/dakar