I ventured up to Baltimore for the day on Friday to present my research at the Association of Africa Studies Meeting (expect a brief post on that tomorrow). It was great weather, I like to save money, and enjoy getting myself places on my own volition so I walked from the Greyhound Station to Harborfront hotel where the conference was being held. It was a confusing walk (due to construction and the waterway) on my way there in the morning and it was downright terrifying on the way back at night. Keep reading for some of my personal reflections on scary walks to public transport in Africa or in the US to attend African events, in descending order of terror.
1. Tete, Mozambique: Several years ago, I visited Tete, a rapidly developing coal mining town in northern Mozambique, with my then Zimbabwean girlfriend. We spent one night in a hotel right by the Zambezi waterfront – all the hotels away from the river in town were booked full of white South Africans.
We were traveling on to Beira, in the south of Mozambique, and our bus was slated to leave around 4 in the morning. Very soon after we walked out of the hotel, we observed a car with 4 guys pull up behind us, it tailed us for several minutes as we walked toward town (presumably looking for a time to jump us), only pulling away when were approached by two men in what appeared to be police uniforms with guns asking us for our passport. Fortunately, it turned out they were actually legitimate authorities.
2. Baltimore, MD: A close #2, my walk to the Greyhound terminal was just after 8pm, but it was dark and eerily silent (note of disclosure: I’d done this walk once before, but with two other guys) and there was construction blocking the normal path. Leaving the perfectly normal feeling Light Street, I turned on to Ostend Street, which abruptly made a sharp zigzag, and took me on a bridge with the sidewalk on only one side. At the end of the bridge, I came to the Ravens football stadium on my right and some train tracks and vacant warehouse looking building to my lift, one of which I had to navigate with a 90 degree turn. I finally crossed under a major highway (below), walked up the alley above and got back to a normal looking road where my heartbeat returned to a more normal pace.
3. Johannesburg, South Africa: A distant #3, I once walked from Wits University to Park Station at midnight to catch a Greyhound bus to Harare, Zimbabwe. I was accompanied by a Wits student, a very slight female, who walked at an incredibly quick gait, which only further increased my concern. I had walked the same path in the daytime and the change in environment was quite transformative. I felt almost like I was in a zombie or some other sort of post-apocalyptic movie, all of the buildings were boarded up and gated and there were numerous people on the streets, none of who inspired confidence in the nature of their intentions.
* Note that nothing bad happened to me on any of these various nighttime walks to public transportation. I am a strong advocate of walking and encourage all Americans to do so more. For westerners visiting African countries, I think that walking and taking local transportation is something that can reveal a lot and I encourage more of it.