Archive for May, 2014

Lucky Me

I have been living in and out of Addis Ababa for about six months now. I have been warned on a few occasions about the Street Kids of Addis Ababa, someone even said you should fear them more than the grown up thieves. Don’t misquote me, Addis Ababa is one of the safest place on the continent, but you can not always rule out these bad elements.

I have lived in Lagos, Nigeria a long time and I always bragged about my street credibility to whoever cared to listen. Although I have not really had time to put this street cred to the test until today, but I knew somehow, I have it.

There are a few things I do to guard myself against pick pockets and street thieves. If I am carrying a wallet, I empty the wallet’s cash into my one of my pocket, and sometimes a few valuables like credit cards, so if I somehow lose my wallet, it’s fine because I still have cash. One of the most painful things about losing your wallet I’ve heard is that you don’t have cash to even get from where you are to a safe place. Another thing is if I am carrying a bag, I constantly switch the bag from my right hand to my left hand. It makes it difficult for snatchers. Another thing I do is, if I have anything in my back pocket, I constantly tap my back pocket.

So on this day, I went for a tea break some minutes after 5pm with a friend from work. It was still pretty broad daylight. After the tea break, they decided to stay and relax some more, but I had some work pending, so I told them I’m leaving for office. We went to a park called Ambassador Park and it’s some 10 mins leisure walk from my office. Immediately I stepped out of the park, I saw these three kids follow me, one of them was trying to sell me a book or something, of course I wasn’t interested.

I was putting on a traditional Nigerian dress with pockets on two sides, my phone was in one pocket and my wallet in the other. When the kids were persistently following me, I increased the pace of my walk. This is another thing I learnt, walking fast and switching between a fast pace, a slow pace and a run puts pick pockets off. They needed you to be in a rythym of pace so they can calculate their move. As I was running, and walking fast paced at the same time, the kids find it difficult to keep up and I lost them for a bit. But I got to an intersection where I needed to cross the road. I put my phone and my wallet in my side pockets and I have my hands also in both pockets, again another trick I learned. I was waiting for the lights to turn red so I can cross. After a few minutes, the intersection was getting full of people waiting to cross and the kids caught up with me.

The kids were good. When the road cleared and I wanted to cross, one of them came in front of me and stopped suddenly, I took my hand, the one on my wallet out to gently shove him aside, and at that same time, one of them removed my wallet. How I knew I still don’t know, but instead of shoving the kid in front of me, I grabbed him by the arm, at the same time I turned around quickly and grabbed one of the two behind me, the third one was half way across the road by this time, so I half dragged the two I held across and cornered the third one. So I have two of them and the third one in my line of sight. Now my two hands are free and I know my phone is also at risk, just in case they have other accomplices. I kept moving from side to side and saying as loud as possible, “Where is my wallet, where’s my wallet”.

We are almost in front of the popular Ethiopian Hotels by this time and a few crowd begin to gather; some were asking me in Amaric, what is it? what happened. I kept my eyes on the crowd looking for the accomplices, while I make sure the third kid didn’t dis-appear. Someone came and spoke to the kids in Amaric and the third kid dropped the wallet. I released the kids, picked my wallet, checked that I still have my phone and walked away.

I believe I am extremely lucky, I still think I have street cred, but these kids were good, and I think they were just unlucky.


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Using WGET to download whole website

Recently, I came about some e-books that are html only (sucks yeah), but they are good books and I want to really have them locally. So I need to download ’em.

I know. There are GUI tools for it. But what if you are stuck in a terminal only server? I am behind a very strict proxy, but I have a server that I can FTP into and the server is not behind the proxy. But the server is terminal only, hence the wget option.

wget can download the whole internet if you so wish. and it’s simple

wget -r url

Now before you go there are a few caveats.

The sites will be downloaded, but will not be really suitable for offline viewing. To enable relative links do

wget -rk url

The above will convert the files to be suitable for offline viewing as necessary. You might want wget to keep the original files.

wget -rkK url

Also another caveat. This option will only download the html file. To tell wget to download all files necessary to display the page properly (images, sounds, linked css etc) use

wget -rkp url

Again, don’t go yet. The default level of links to follow is 5. This might be too much (or too small in case your plan is to download the whole internets). you can specify the link level thus

wget -rkpl 5 url

Finally, you might want wget to do all the hard work of downloading the internet and delete the files immediately after.

wget -r –delete-after url

man wget

is also a good place to start learning more about the things that wget can do.

That’s it. Happy interwebs downloading.

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The Accidental Spy (Part One)

The Accidental Spy (Part 1)

I have been out of job for the past 6 months. Things are so difficult that I have to move in with a friend in one of the slums around the busy Idumota market in Lagos. My friend’s name is Seyi, but I was shocked when he told me never to call him Seyi, he said his name is now Spironto. I asked him what it meant and he tried to explain to me, but his explanation was too bizarre to be remembered, I just want to concentrate my brain power on getting that new job. Spironto works as a baggage boy in Idumota, his job is basic, help people move their heavy luggages from one point to another, without asking questions and get paid for it. Of course sometimes the luggages are within the law, but most times, the contents of the luggages are way above what the law allows. Spironto makes about 1, 000 naira (less than 10 USD) on the legal luggages and makes about 15, 000 (100 USD) on the illegal ones. They also have these terms they use to describe the luggages, if you want him to move a legal luggage for you, you call it “Fufu” and illegal luggages are called “Ororo”. It wasn’t long before I had to join him in his trade. But I told him I don’t have the wit and experience to start moving Ororo yet, so I just moved Fufu.

After about a month of moving “Fufu”, I decided to move “Ororo” for a change. The danger in moving “Ororo” is that, if the goods was seized by the Customs or the Police Officers, you MUST pay the bail on them. If they are not bailable, you must refund the owner. The consequences of not doing both are grave. A lot of people who move “Ororo” have suddenly disappeared without trace. There is this fable that if you move “Ororo” long enough, you can buy a house on Banana Island; so it is popularly believed that those that disappeared are actually living a good life in Banana Island. But Spironto swore to me that he has witnessed an “Ororo” boy being beaten to death and being thrown into the nearby lagoon.

Well, I was moving my first “Ororo” when I saw it happen for the first time. It was getting late, I was moving the “Ororo” to a part of Idumota I have never been, mostly because of the stories of the evils that go down there, especially at night. Anyway, this guy came to his car, he was carrying a bag, as he took his keys out to open the car, I heard a shout of “Oga fire dey under your motor, fire, fire, Oga, fire dey under your motor” (which means, Sir, there’s fire under your car). I quickly ran into a shop and told the owner, “Ororo ni mo gbe” (I am carrying Ororo), he said “Elo?” (How much), I said “Owo kan abo” (literally it means – One hand and a half, but translated it means 1, 500 naira). He said “Owo meji abo” (2, 500), I thought quickly and said Ok. He opened a back door, and I dropped my luggage, I also gave him 2, 500 naira and I quickly dashed out. To my surprise, there was no pandemonium outside, there were a few boys around the man’s car trying to help him put out the fire (or so I thought at first), but other than that, people were moving about their businesses as usual.

After about 2 mins, the fire stopped. Someone had sprayed a generous doze of fire extinguisher gas on the fire, there was a hazy smoke in the air and when the smoke cleared, all the boys have disappeared, only the owner of the car was standing beside his car, looking right and left, touching his pockets as if looking for something, then it hit me, he has been robbed. Even the passenger door of his car was open, it seemed he saw it at the same time as I did, he ran over to the other side and looked in the back seat. He immediately shouted “Mogbe ooo, Moku ooo, Egba mi oooo etc etc” (I’m done for, I’m dead, please help me). This screaming and wailing continued for some time, then someone walked over to him, they talked a bit in hush tones, then the man entered his car, with this new guy he was talking to and they drove off.

I went back to the shop where I dropped my luggage, picked my stuff and delivered it. But I couldn’t keep my mind off how that man was robbed. I couldn’t wait to get back home and tell Spironto all about it. But Spironto has been living here for some time, so he has seen it all. He told me those guys are called ‘Fire Brigade’, he said the man that got in the car with the man that was robbed is a police man, he will take the robbed man to their station, get his statement and estimate of how much he was robbed, he will use this list to collect his own percentage of the loot from the Fire Brigade.

I just stood there, mouth open, unable to close it. I knew the police men were corrupt, but this is taking corruption to the next level. Now it all made sense, nobody could do anything, or stop the Fire Brigade because they have Police Protection of course. It still amazes me how far people will go to make money in this part of Lagos. Even the police? I told Spironto that I don’t believe those guys are real police men, he shrugged and said he is going for dinner.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept playing the events in my head over and over again. I promise myself that I am going to learn as much about the Fire Brigade and their police protectors as possible. The most pertinent question on my mind was, how do they make the man believe there was truly a fire. It seems I also saw something like fire under the car, but I wasn’t sure anymore now. I hate to be fooled, so I decided I am going to visit that part of Idumota, everyday until the incident happened again.

I picked my watch post, it was what we popularly call a joint. It’s basically a bar, where you can buy other things (weed, cocain etc). The setting is very local, there are usually banters and once in a while a fight. The fights never get too far though as the trouble makers are quickly pushed out of the joint. Nobody wants to attract too much attention to the joint. When I visited the first time, they treated me like a stranger, and some were skeptical at first. But after a few days and a few shared drinks, plus I took Spironto with me one of the days, I began to gain their trust.

It wasn’t until after about 10 days later that it happened again. This time to a woman and what seems to be like her young lover. I have been watching them since I saw them for the first time. The boy could be half as young as the woman, but he seems to be in charge. I was thinking to myself, he couldn’t be the son, he was too controlling to be the son. If he is the son, he must be one spoilt child. Anyway, they went into a gold shop and I turned my attention to my drink, listening to the banter of the joint. When the woman and the young man came out of the gold shop, they are having an argument over an object the woman was holding, from the shape of it, it looked like a neck lace. They walked towards the joint and entered a shop where they sell wrist watches. I again turned my attention to my drink. They came out about 5 mins later, and this time, the young man was grinning from ear to ear, holding a heavy looking plastic bag. After shopping from about six more shops, buying several things, they walked past the joint and I had a better look at them. The woman should be in her late fifties and the young man in his early twenties. The young man was definitely happy about the whole trip because they were talking and laughing animatedly as they walked past us.

This time, the other people at the joint noticed them too, one man asked the question on every one’s mind; “You think say na her pikin be that?” (Do you think that’s her son), and another replied; “Tah, for where?” (No, can’t be). And this sparked a discussion that went on for about a minute until someone said, “Fire Brigade dey follow dem” (Fire Brigade is following them). It was like I was given a jolt of adrenalin, my blood began pumping fast, this is the moment I have been waiting for. There are some discussions about the Fire Brigade and how they are giving the market a bad name, I wasn’t listening, my attention was on the two people that are about to be robbed and their intended assailants. I kept looking around for suspicious characters, there were also a few cars parked and I kept my eye on the cars too.

Then I saw someone walk past one of the cars and threw an object under it. As the object touched the ground under the car, it began to give out a bright glow. So that is how they created the fake fire. If you are standing, you won’t notice the glow, the only reason I saw it was because I was sitting, and of course paying attention. When the young man and his partner (or whoever the older woman was) go to the car, I was expecting a shout of fire, nothing. They stood beside the car talking for a few seconds, and I can see the glow gradually dying, again, another mystery revealed. I saw someone throw another object under the car, again a bright glow. This time, the young man took out the car keys and opened the car, as soon as the door was opened, it began – “Oga, Madam fire dey under your motor” (Sir, Madam, there’s fire under your car).

It took about 3 to 5 mins, the smoke cleared and the robbery operation was completed. Once again after some mins, a guy walked up to the just robbed couple and spoke to them in hush tones, the three of them entered the car and drove off. I was determined to really get to the bottom of how they carry out this operation. I noticed that as soon the car drove off, some boys came to the spot and picked up what seems to be the fire device. So they left no traces, nice.

(to be continued)

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The Accidental Hero

The Accidental Hero

I was having a late lunch, as usual. There are several reasons for that, first, it seems everyone in Addis Ababa have lunch at the same time, so the restaurants are always packed to the brim. The second reason is because, you can eat a 30 mins lunch, but it can take you 1 hour to commute to and fro. Plus another 30 mins waiting for your lunch. So I normally eat my lunch late.

This day, I was driving to a restaurant about 10 mins by road from my office, I usually use these driving times to think about the project we are deploying for the client in Addis Ababa. They are fine with the functionalities and the User Interface, but they are really hagging us about the overall user experience, so these 10 to 15 mins drive are usually think sessions for me.

There was a taxi in front of me, who was driving very slow, barely about 30 KPH, I didn’t mind, so I was just slowly driving behind him, thinking. The driver behind me wasn’t that patient, he was hooting as loud as possible. When I got the chance, I pulled a bit to the side and he passed, but the taxi driver wasn’t that considerate. The car was a Toyota Vito, and he was pushing his horn as loud as possible. It was comical at first, but then it became annoying, and after a while, I gave up my thinking session, concentrating on the drama going on in front of me.

What I am going to describe next is my opinion of what actually happened. The Vito got a chance, probably because it was a small car, he floored the accelerator and he started overtaking the taxi. Halfway through, when he was side by side with the taxi, he slowed down and started saying something to the taxi driver in Amaric. The taxi driver didn’t keep quiet either, this exchange of words went on for about 30 seconds; then I saw it. Both drivers couldn’t see it because they weren’t concentrating on the road. The was a stationary lorry on the road, right in front of the Vito.

What happened next was pure magic. If the Vito had not accelerated more than the 25 KPH it was going, it would have been fine. But the Vito driver decided he’s had enough and floored the pedal again. Just seconds before reaching the lorry. All the while I had my hand on my horn, at the same time flashing my light, trying to get the attention of the angry drivers, but it didn’t work. The Vito driver floored the acceleration, his eyes still on the taxi driver and in a split second there was a big bang, a big noise, metals flying everywhere, the taxi driver braked. I braked, people scrambling everywhere and it was all chaos for a moment. The Vito had ran straight into the lorry. And then silence.

Then I started hearing a faint hooting from the distance. The hooting started growing louder and louder and louder until I realise it was from me. I still had my hands on my horn. I removed my hand and then once again silence. I looked at the taxi driver, he was gripping his steering as if his whole life depended on it. His mouth wide open. I looked back at the Vito, now barely recognisable. I saw a faint smoke coming from the car, and something moved at the passenger seat.

Then it hit me, if there’s smoke, then there’s fire, or there will be fire. The driver was still in the car, and that something or someone beside him in the passenger seat. I couldn’t remember him having a passenger. I started pushing my horn again. This time the taxi driver was jolted back to life, he moved his taxi. I drove a bit away from the accident scene, parked my car, took off my shoes and my jacket and in a split second I was running bare footed with only my socks on towards the scene of the accident.

At first people were trying to rescue the Vito driver, but by the time I got back to the scene, the smoke from the car was beginning to get thick and people started moving back in case there was an explosion (or so I thought).

I tried the driver door, but it wouldn’t budge. I knocked on the window and the driver moved. Good. This time, my brain must have been in overdrive. I took off my shirt, rolled up my jeans and climbed into the lorry, looking for something, anything to open the doors with. I found something like a wrench, but it was heavy enough. I climbed back down quickly. This time the smoke has filled the car, so I couldn’t see properly. I smashed the rear windscreen several times with the wrench like tool, and finally it gave way. Hot smoke blew in my face and for a moment I was stunned. I quickly regained my composure and I found that smoke was clearing from the car.

At that point, I was afraid to go into the car. But then I remembered I have a fire extinguisher in the car. I ran back to the car, found the doors ajar and wondered if I lock them or not. My brain told me I couldn’t care about that now. I took my fire extinguisher and ran back to the scene. I unhooked the fire extinguisher, and tried it to see if it works, it did. I placed the extinguisher at a safe distance, hoping that if a fire started while I am inside, someone wil be brave enough to use it. I climbed into the car, and found that the thing that moved was a Dog. I later learnt that the driver was rushing the Dog to the veterinary. I looked at the driver, he has his seat belt on, and the air bag didn’t deploy. I tried the door from the inside, it gave way a little. I gingerly took the Dog and place it on the back seat. I didn’t know how injured it was, but it was in a bad shape. I sat on the passenger seat and started kicking the driver door as had as I could. My feet was hurting because I was barefooted, but I didn’t care.

Two of the braver onlookers must have summoned up enough courage. The came to the car and started pulling the door while i kicked. It helped. The door came off. One of them unhooked the seat belt and two of them carried the driver out. I took the Dog and came out.

They were speaking Amaric, so I started shouting “Who Speaks English”, “Who Speaks English”, one of them came to me and I told him, tell them to take him to my car. He told them and they did. We place the man on the back seat. He was bleeding, but we don’t know from where, I placed the Dog on the floor behind the driver seat and then I couldn’t find my car keys.

By now I was getting physically tired, but I ran back to the scene, one of the guys was putting out a small fire from the engines with my extinguisher, i looked in the car, no keys, I looked on the ground no keys. I quickly climbed back into the lorry and I found the key on the floor. At that point, I heard a very familiar but sooting sound, the sirens. The emergency services are on their way. Apparently someone had called them.

I didn’t know how far they are, so I went to the car, started the engine, and told the guy that could speak to climb in the passenger seat. I told him to direct me towards the sound of the siren. I must have been driving like mad, Or so the guy told me later (His name is Yohannes). We met the sirens after about 2 mins of driving. I waved them down, they slowed down and the guy spoke amaric to them. They stopped, took the man from the back seat, put him on a stretcher, put him in the back of their bus and started driving off. Instinctively, I drove after them.

When we got to the hospital, they didn’t allow me in, two policemen came to me and started asking me questions. I was too tired to speak. I looked at myself, the blood on me, on my backseat and all I could say to them was, will he be ok? They told me, he will be ok, thanks to me, they told me their was a big fire now at the scene and the fire service are on their way there. They said they would like me to come with them, they want to take my statement etc etc etc. I just sat there, thought about the whole incidence and tears started streaming down my face. I cried like that for about 5 mins before I got in the police car and they drove me to their station.

It’s now been a week, I am still in shock. The police men recommended I should see a therapist, but I know I will be fine. I still couldn’t bring myself to drive past the scene though. I later learnt from Yohannes that the man is OK, but his Dog didn’t make it. I am planning to visit him at the hospital before he gets discharged.


DISCLAIMER: This story is purely fictional. Thanks for reading this far.

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