The Argonauts: An Exploration of Life

Meeting with a machete | Big Africa Cycle

Here’s a little story from Peter Gostelow, a friend cycling Africa that recently had a misadventure. As an interesting side note, Peter had a standing invitation to join his adventure, and had I more money and more time, I would have been there with him. We are all wishing him a speedy recovery.

I probably would have walked away unscathed had I not put up some resistance. It was a natural reaction to hold onto my camera bag and ruck-sack as they were being pulled out of my hands. I let go when the machete slashed through my wrist.

I ought to start at the beginning. This post was going to be about my impressions of Dakar and the nearby island of Goree, instead it is a description of how I was attacked by five men, two of whom were wielding rather large machetes.

It happened around 8pm last Saturday night, right outside the International School I’d been speaking at the previous week here in Dakar. I was walking along the corniche – a large, well-lit and usually busy road that runs along the coast.

My assailants were wearing flip-flops. It was the sound of their footwear along the pavement that I heard first. When I turned round the five bodies had surrounded me. They were all black, young and two were wielding large machetes. The blades looked old and rusted. There were shouts, possibly in Wolof, as hands began to tug at my bags. I was wearing a small black day-sack on my back and an SLR camera was in a bag across my shoulder.

Those first few seconds were surreal. I didn’t accept it was a reality until I’d moved backwards into the road and fallen onto the tarmac. I watched car headlights approaching and wished they would come quicker. When they did the horns sounded and the vehicles swerved around me. I thought the vehicles would stop and deter the five. At first none did.

The bags were still in my possession at this moment. It was when the machetes started slashing in front of my face and one connected with my wrist that I let go. It was probably at this moment that my wallet, buried deep within a zipped pocket of my trousers, was taken too.

Within seconds the five had run across the road and jumped over a wall on the sea-ward side of the corniche. I got to my feet in an attempt to chase them. One of the attackers had yet to jump the wall. I cried out from several metres away. He turned and looked at me nervously, then threw the empty camera bag back, before disappearing over the wall.

It was then that I looked down at my arm and saw the gaping slash. My left foot had also slipped out of my sandle. I thought it was sweat that had caused this, but a pool of blood was collecting here too.

By this time (about 30 seconds later) a number of cars had stopped. A French woman opened the car door and yelled for me to get in. She said she had seen everything.

Blood was oozing out of the wounds as she drove me to a hospital. “This is the best one in Dakar. Don’t worry”. I didn’t really register the words so clearly. I soon started to feel dizzy and was moved onto a bed in an operating room.

I don’t know how much time past before I woke up. The Director of the International School, who’d arrived shortly after me at the hospital, was still there. It was good to see an English-speaking face.

The hospital discharged me yesterday. My wrist and foot have been stitched up and I have a course of antibiotics and painkillers to ease the discomfort. I can’t put any weight on my left foot and know it will be some time before I get back on the bike.

Very fortunately I’m being well looked after by an American couple from the school. I entered their house as strangers last week and they now feel like the closed people around me.

Now that I’m out of the hospital and reflecting back over the incident I realise things could have been much worse. I know I should have let go of my bags instantly. It is what my host, who was also mugged with a machete along the corniche last year did. Judging by the looks of their faces I don’t think it was their intention to really use the machetes. They were possibly as scared as me.

There was a moment, whilst I was awaiting the anesthetic and looking up at the fluorescent strip-light above me in the hospital bed, that I said to myself – “now would be a sensible time to quit”. What the hell am I doing riding a bike through Africa when in the space of two weeks I’ve had both my cameras stolen, all my money taken and my arm and foot slashed with a machete? Sure there were incidents of theft when I cycled from Japan-England, but nothing like this.

The truth is I’ve put a lot of thought and energy into The Big Africa Cycle. I’m determined to complete what I set out to do at the start, and continue fund-raising for the Against Malaria Foundation. Senegal has dealt me some blows, but to quit in the face of them is something I feel I’ll regret down the line.

Tomorrow I will see the Doctor and hopefully get a better knowledge of how long I’m looking at for a full recovery. My mum has booked a holiday to see me in The Gambia in several weeks. It is not far from here, but I don’t think I will be riding my bike there somehow.

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