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.