Night action

Insecurity in Lusaka during the 90’s was prevalent and, apart from daylight robberies like the ones I mentioned [1], there was the threat of house break-ins during the night, something that worried us a lot. There were rumours of armed gangs and shooting could be heard almost every night. Some of these were house owners that would deliberately shoot in the air as a way of advertising that they were armed. We also learnt that robbers were very brutal with the watchmen that often got killed trying to stop them.

The second part of my earlier post “The bowtie country” [2] describes our security arrangements in our house. In addition, we learnt that a neighbourhood watch [3] was active in our area so we were quite confident that we would have peaceful nights.

Our dogs did not bark much and certainly did not sound like the dogs that woke us up one day in the middle of the night. “Something is happening! The dogs are barking differently” were the words said by Mabel that woke me up. I immediately left the bed and, in the dark, I went to look through the window facing the front gate of the house.

What I saw was rather worrying. The dogs were furiously barking at the gate and, as there was no reason to expect friends at that time of the night, I assumed that they were robbers. So, as agreed with our watchman (Mr. Nelson), I blew the whistle for him to retreat while pressing our alarm button. Immediately, I also reported the incident to the UN security.

Despite the dogs’ fury, I saw a few men climbing over our wall, so I reacted fast and tried to get my shotgun just in case while Mabel continued watching the developments. As I did not (and still do not) like guns, I had dismantled it in the three pieces that I could detach [4] and stored it inside a trap in the ceiling, not a very convenient place from where to retrieve it in the dark of the night! Eventually I got a chair to climb on and retrieve it.

Despite its potential gravity, in retrospect the scene was quite funny. While in the bedroom Mabel kept watch peering through the window at the outside developments, I frantically tried to assemble the gun without success, getting my fingers pinched in the process and spending a few of my swear words in both Spanish and English. Outside, we heard a metallic bang and saw a man attempting to climb the front gate followed by another bang and the man disappeared. I was still messing with the gun.

Suddenly the dogs stopped barking and calm was restored. Then, we saw Mr. Nelson walking towards the gate holding his catapult, ready to shoot!

The calm did not last long as a couple of minutes later the security team, alerted by us by pressing all available buttons, arrived and climbed over our wall and gate in an impressive show of force. We were saved and I was still holding the three shotgun pieces in my hands while following the events!

We let the security team know that we were well and, after a thorough search around the house and garden, when they were satisfied that no one was hiding anywhere, they left us to attempt a return to our rudely interrupted sleep.

The following morning there was a lot of excitement among our employees as, while all the action took place, they were of course hiding themselves in various places around their living area. It transpired that Mr. Nelson, despite our instructions to join them in hiding, was the hero of the night by confronting the aggressors with his catapult! He shot his rounded clay balls at them (explaining the loud bangs we heard when the balls hit the metal entrance gate). I had seen youngsters at Lutale killing bushbabies with a catapult, so he probably hit one or more of the attackers as well!

So it was that the Bible-reading and veteran Mr. Nelson became our hero from that day on and that I put my shotgun for sale!



[3] A neighborhood watch is a group of people living in the same area that support the local police to reduce crime.

[4] I now learnt that what I had in my hands were the stock, the fore-end and the barrel that are meant to latch together.

Car robbery!

I have already described our misfortune regarding our first car in Zambia (see: and now comes the end of the story.

I have already mentioned that at the time we were there, Lusaka was rather insecure. The situation did not spare us.

It happened when Mabel, heavily pregnant with our son, accompanied by our daughter Flori (about one year old) were returning home after a shopping trip. As usual, on arrival to our gate she stopped the car and hooted, waiting for Lemek (the gardener) to open it. While she waited, two men approached the car and, pointing a gun at her, asked her to give them the car.

Despite her initial shock, Mabel managed to lock the doors and, showing great courage, told them to go away! Unfortunately, as expected, the robbers not only did not move but became increasingly aggressive, so she decided to give them the car as they were becoming violent and threatening to shoot her. It was at that time that Lemek opened the gate and closed it immediately, fearing that they would go inside and attempt to steal one of the cars parked inside or even to break into our house.

So, Mabel was on her own with the robbers! While agreeing to hand over the car, she unstrapped Flori from her child seat and left the car while pleading with the robbers (to no avail) to allow her to take her handbag and even her shopping!

So, the moment she opened the door she was grabbed by the arm and pulled out with the gun still aimed at her. Luckily, she was not injured physically but it took her a while to recover from the scare that she experienced.

So it was that our car that had started its life giving us problems disappeared from our lives and left us with the money of the insurance. Luckily, we managed to find a replacement very fast. It was another Land Cruiser and, despite being older, it was much more comfortable. We soon forgot the stolen car and enjoyed our “new” one with which we did most of our travel until we departed [1].

Our replacement car during a trip to Namibia in 1992.

The robbery was still fresh in our minds when a copycat one took place about ten days later. This time the victim was our colleague and friend Giuseppe. Unfortunately, he was being driven by Mr. Mutale and the latter tried to resist the attackers. He was punched on the nose by the robbers but, luckily, nothing else happened, considering that robbers were rather rough on the local people. This time it was Giuseppe that got traumatized and needed to get through the insurance claiming process and to get a replacement car.

After that spell, we tightened the security measures at the house and, fortunately, no more cars were taken! Although shocking at the time, it was a small price to pay for two armed robberies!

[1] We left Zambia for Italy, so it was with great regret that I sold the car. A young Italian bought it and also got attached to it. When he was transferred to Kenya a couple of years later, he took the car with him and enjoyed for a few more years.