A Running Robbery at 2:42pm

(15.03.17) 2:42pm. A thick arm wraps around my neck – I get yanked to the ground, somewhere in Johannesburg’s inner city.

1:07pm. I sit at a café in the center of South Africa’s hipster haven. A reclaimed neighborhood in Joburg’s heart, I’ve landed in Southern Africa for the first time. And just looking around, at the fusion restaurant in the reclaimed shipping crate, the rooftop garden bars, it’s a lot, coming from Liberia. Too dangerous to walk outside the neighborhood, I learn at the hostel front desk. Really? That theory must be tested. Empty the backpack of valuables, and let’s go exploring everything Johannesburg has in store.

2:42pm and a half. I am lying on top of my backpack, not able to breath, trying to scream, as I stare at dozens of people on the street around me, all paralyzed by a fear incited by the gang of thieves that surround me. I hold my pockets, as the arm on my throat gets tighter. The punches begin. Right into the center of my chest, a consistent pounding that gets harder with each passing blow. I realize at that moment I am not in Liberia anymore, and that these thieves are not only opportunistic youth, but experienced criminals. I let go of my pockets, and $40 and my cracked iPhone 5 disappear into the bustling afternoon of inner city Joburg.

2:43pm. I stand up, happy my backpack wasn’t touched, unsure of what to do next. A group of kindergarten-aged students who had a front-row seat to the events of 2:42pm stare at me warily. I start walking towards the historic site I had been running towards, at 2:41pm. I get stopped by an elderly woman carrying a bursting plastic bag of clothes. She asks if I’m ok. “Yes?” I don’t inspire confidence, and a second elderly woman stops and together they assess the damage. I am fine, just a sore neck and back, I repeat. Without asking my opinion, these two women begin walking me back in the direction of my hostel. I learn I had tried running through the most dangerous neighborhood in Johannesburg. 45 minutes later, we reach my hostel, and they insist I take their numbers, just in case.

6:29pm. I sit on a garden-covered rooftop at sunset. Rays of light shoot out from the shadows of skyscrapers, high into a blue sky spotted with sunlit clouds. No phone to capture this beauty, just this ripped, old notebook. My confidence was no match for the Joburg thieves.

Travelling to new places, it’s never easy, or comfortable. Yet, in the most intense moments, we learn. Who we are and what the world around us can be. Those sixty seconds on that Joburg street taught me to be constantly conscious of my surroundings, to always trust local advice, and to value my life over my stuff. And most importantly? To always keep exploring, as long as it’s my stuff, and not my life, that disappears during a moment like 2:42.

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