A Not-So-Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there arrived a lovely POV (pronounced P-O-V), known in other parts of the world outside of the State Department Cult, as a Privately Owned Vehicle, or for short, a car, which in this case is a truck.

Now this POV, affectionately known as The Taco (as in Toyota Tacoma), was carefully loaded onto a vehicle-hauling-device in Denver, Colorado, many long moons ago, to make the lengthy journey across land and sea, to a place far, far away, where two vehicle-less (spoiled) Mzungus anxiously awaited its arrival. See Exhibit A.

2014-03-25 14.41.42


Exhibit A

Now if you could see into and around Exhibit A, you would see that the seats are clean, the bumpers are spotless, it is wholly devoid of scratches and dents, and the POV has clearly been lovingly cared for by its previous owner (thanks, Adam), and is in overall great shape and worthy of making the journey to the other side of the world.

What transpires from this point on will forever remain a mystery to you and to me, for all we will ever know is the end result, which was not a pretty sight (or smell, it turns out). And how we arrived at the viewing of this not-so-pretty-sight is fodder for perhaps the best, and for sure most-Burundian blog post yet. 🙂

So first came the anxious wait. It went something like this (the shipping guy at the embassy is in italics):

“Your POV is in ELSO (European Logistics Support Office in Antwerp, Belgium).”

“Oh, really? That’s good news. What happens next?”

“It will be sent to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, by boat, then shipped overland to Bujumbura.”

“Really? How long will it take to get here?”

“Hmmm, could be any day now.” (The key take-home phrase there was ‘could be’.)

And then it progressed to something akin to this:

“Your POV arrived in Dar and is being shipped here. Should arrive Monday.”

Monday arrives. No POV. “The truck hauling the container broke down.”

[Of course it broke down. We would expect nothing else. TIA. (This is Africa.)]

Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. “Your POV is supposed to arrive at the port in Bujumbura tonight.” 

Friday: “Can we go to the port and check on the POV?”

“Not today. We work half days on Friday.”

Monday: “Not today; there’s another container in front that has to be unloaded first.”

Tuesday. 3:30 pm. “Let’s go to the port and get the POV out of the container right now.”

“Woohoo! Let’s go.” (And we drop everything immediately and go.)

We arrive. The first sight is not a good one. See Exhibit B.



Exhibit B

You’ve heard the term “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire”? I think it’s safe to say that where there’s a dent in a container, there’s a dent in the contents. And a scratch. And a broken taillight.

And due to the location of the dent, the door of the container can’t be opened. And here’s where it starts to get interesting, as in interesting, Burundi-style. Fourteen Burundians quickly amassed. It reminded me of the crowd that gathered in Alice’s Restaurant. Check out Exhibit C:



Exhibit C

Now in America, if fourteen people showed up to solve a problem, chances are there would be fourteen chiefs and no Indians, but in Burundi, there were fourteen Indians and no chiefs. And a few hammers. And a crowbar-like instrument. And a strap. And a chain with a huge hook. And a forklift. And voila! After a few thwarted attempts, the bent door opened…)

And the broken taillight and the dents and scratches we expected were there, as expected. But so were some things we did not expect. I present to you: Exhibit D:



Exhibit D

Seats covered in bird poop?!?!?! Are you kidding me? Who left the windows open in some port somewhere and let a family of seagulls move it? Seriously.

But like in many Not-So-Fairy Tales, the story continues and in fact, the plot thickens.

After we managed to push the truck out of the container (because the shipping guy couldn’t get it started), he told me to come around to the front to take another picture of the scratched up wheel well.

“Sure. Wait. What? Are you kidding me? No phone (camera) in my pocket? One of the fourteen Burundian men stole my iPhone right out of my pocket while we were trying to push the truck out of the container??

This has suddenly gone from really bad to way worse.

I wish I had gotten the next scene on video. For a solid hour, my embassy shipping guy and the guy who appeared to be somewhat in charge of the thugs trying to open the damaged container literally yelled at each other. Just stood right there in the middle of the port and yelled at each other. In Kirundi. I kept asking my guy, “What is he saying? What is he saying? Tell him I’ll give him money if he recovers my phone. Really. They can have the phone. I just want my photos and my contacts.” But he would never stop and translate. (The next morning he told the nurse at the Health Unit that the reason he wouldn’t translate was because they weren’t really saying anything; they were literally just yelling at each other, each trying to intimidate the other. I’m pretty sure there was also some language that a nice young man wouldn’t share with someone like me.)

So now if you’re following this twisted tale closely, you’ll be asking yourself, well, how did these photos make an appearance here as Exhibits B, C, and D if my phone was stolen?

The tale twists and turns.

Here’s the end of the tale, as it was related to me the next day:

(a few of the details may have gotten lost in translation, but here’s the gist of it.)

Apparently there is a store here in Bujumbura that purchases phones, presumably stolen phones. And apparently, the guy who lifted it out of my pocket during the truck-stuck-in-the-container fiasco sold it to that store. And apparently, everyone knows about this store. So my embassy shipping guy (my new hero, who received a large box of Whitman’s chocolates for his heroic efforts) went to the store the next morning, called my phone, it rang, he bought it back from the store owner, then called the police, who then surrounded the thief’s house (because remember, here in Buj, everyone knows everyone, so the thief was easily identified), and they arrested the guy and put him in jail. (I didn’t even know Bujumbura had police.)

And a few minutes later, my phone, with all my photos intact, was in hand.

But here’s the clincher: guess how much the guy sold my stolen $450 iPhone 4S for? SIXTY THOUSAND BUFRANCS. THIRTY-EIGHT DOLLARS. I would have gladly paid him $50-no questions asked. No jail time.

And here’s the other clincher: who has ever recovered a stolen phone in the United States? I dare say hardly anyone. I guess there are some things about living in Africa that aren’t so bad. And recovering a stolen phone appears to be among them.

And so the Not-So-Fairy Tale ends on a happy note. The Mzungus got a car, albeit a dirty, dented, scratched up, very smelly one. I got my iPhone. Emmanuel, the embassy shipping guy became a hero and got chocolate. And we only had to wait two more weeks for our diplomatic plates and Voila! The McQueens are back in business.

Living Happily Ever After.

The End.


5 thoughts on “A Not-So-Fairy Tale

  1. Babette and Randy,
    Hang in there, 93 days and the culture is still unfolding before you everyday. It looks like quite an adventure and they treat you quite respectfully, that’s good. I just got back from a hurried trip to Tel Aviv before the rockets started flying near my friends’ houses and glad to be in Denver again.

    The environs and scenery look amazing. Are you doing any walkabouts?? Wild animal spotting? Will you get an in the continent vacation period to explore Kilimanjaro? Capetown? Other?

    Avett Brothers at Red Rocks tonight, Spence and I. Quinn graduated in May as planned and decided to take 4 months with his remaining $$ and go to Thailand, Bali, Australia and Japan, doing 8 weeks of various “work-away” programs and play a lot. In a perfect world I will fly to Japan to climb Mt Fujii with he and his former CU roommate, Keohe.

    Can’t remember if I told you, but Quinn passed his actuary test.

    Cheers from Denver.

    Be careful,
    Love Jon (and Destyn)

  2. Babette,

    Love your blog!

    TIA is a commonly used acronym here in Kinshasa, DRC too.

    Just wanted to let you know that I have a guest room, and it is available should you ever find yourself in Kinshasa.

    First bit of HHE came in last week, and my apartment is currently a disaster area, but hopefully it will soon look liveable.

    Thanks for sharing all of your great stories and observations. I am enjoying comparing and constrasting them all to my experiences.

    Be well.

    Your neighbor to the west,


  3. What an adventure. When we moved to Okinawa, I remember our sponsor telling us to take pictures of the transportation when we first got there because after a while it would become normal. Now your transportation has its own story!

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