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Armed Robbery in Malawi on July 31st/August 1st, 2015
@ Safari Beach Lodge Camping, 7½ miles (12km) South of Nkhotakota at Lake Malawi
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latest picture: August 1, 2015

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A robbery, armed with pistols, in the middle of the night at a common campsite in Malawi
How it happened:
801  July 31st, 2015: In the evening
the full moon rises with an
orange-red ball over Lake Malawi
802  Shortly after midnight the nightmare of
the armed robbery starts: Bended grille and
smashed window on the left hand side …..
803  ….. the same on the right hand side
The huge orange-red ball of the full moon is rising, reflecting beautifully in the calm waters of Lake Malawi. It is a dreamlike mood on this July 31st, 2015. We are camping alone at the Safari Beach Lodge in Nkhotakota on a tiny grassy square just above the white sandy beach, surrounded by rondavels (round huts) and a room complex. A couple of hours later, about five minutes after midnight, the dream turns into a nightmare. We wake up from the lights of torches that scan our LandCruiser entirely. Is it the watchmen? Emil opens a little bit the rear door and shouts: “What is going on?” This very moment somebody tries to tear up forcefully the tailgate. He immediately realizes that something is wrong outside and slams the door down, locking all of them from inside. “Money” demands a voice. They tear at our doors and we hear how they start to destroy forcefully with a crowbar our window grilles. Then there is a shot. We hand over all the money through broken-away grille rods, which we withdrew a few days ago at an ATM in Lilongwe (around Kwachas 100’000 – US$230 [~€210] ). We do not have more, but they want more. During the whole time we scream and yell for help knowing that the rondavels and rooms around us are occupied. But nobody appears – no sign of anybody. A second shot it fired. Then there is breaking glass and it rains splinters of glass onto our sleeping bags. And now we look through the already heavily damaged protection screens into a gun barrel that is pointed directly to Emil’s head. He moves like a flash to the side when there is a third gunshot. Miraculously they miss and Emil ends up with a graze in his forearm, while the bullet is perforating the down-filled pillow. At least now we know that we have no chance to entrench ourselves in our LandCruiser. We have to get out.
804  The shot into the car was luckily
only a graze on Emil’s forearm
instead of his targeted head …..
805  ….. the bullet perforates
his down pillow
806  Documents and identity cards,
clothes and the content of our toilet
case lie scattered on the ground
Emil is the first leaving the car. He is ordered to knee next to the two watchmen who huddle besides our car. Their hands are tied on their backs and apparently – what Emil doesn’t see – their feet would have been also tied up (at least that’s what they put on record to the police). Because I am still hesitating to get out, one guy pulls me out by my legs and then grabs my slip. Falling out of the car I just break free and run away into the darkness, still calling for help. Each of the NGO-Group “Habitat” from Salima, staying in their accommodation next to us, must have heard the shots and the cries for help, but no door opens (in the morning an elderly couple apologizes and two ladies give us some cash to bridge the day. “Are you OK?” I suddenly hear Emil’s voice. A huge stone falls off my heart – he is not hurt! “After I saw you running away, I did the same, completely unexpected for the robbers” he explains. He left the whole content of the LandCruiser to the criminals. As he cautiously walks back they are just disappearing in the darkness. After our escape they obviously grabbed what they could and run away in a hurry leaving behind a chaos. Also the two watchmen, only the hands still tied to their backs, walk away. Who took their fetters of the ankles off? Scattered around the car is the content of our necessaire, as well as clothes – and thanks god – also the passports and documents. Also all the personal permits, including the carnet, are lying on the ground. Further away we find our credit cards in the sand (only MasterCard is missing). My Nikon camera is also gone. Emil’s Panasonic is still here. Very bad is the brutality with which the four attackers have treated our LandCruiser: Bended window frames, broken windows and protection grilles.
807  Page 1 of the handwritten
police statement in the morning
of August 1st, 2015 …..
808  ….. page 2
809  Official statement received on
August 3rd, at the police station of
Nkhotakota; the whole robbery was
likely plaid down due to touristic
and political reasons
After the two watchmen left, we are traumatized and alone in the darkness of the night. Our fear is that the four assaulters (two of them with pistols) could return any moment to finish their “job”. After some time, the two watchmen showed up with Travor, the hotel manager, coming from the neighbor lodge. He informs immediately the police and advises us to leave the scene of crime untouched because of the securing of evidence. It is shortly before 1am of August 1st, our Swiss National Day. One hour later there is still no police. “Their car is not running; they will borrow one of their friends” the manager consoles us; “but they would have informed all the road blocks”. At 4am we still sit in the cold of the night. Now even the manager doesn’t believe that the police will appear before the morning. He offers us a room. We decide, that I will lay down there and Emil will stay with the LandCruiser after we gathered all our things and cleaned the bedding as good as we could from the thousands of glass fragments. However both of us cannot find any sleep; too many problems are running in our heads. At 6am, when the red ball of the sun rises, we are on our feet again. Shortly afterwards one of the lodge's employees shows up with my camera – he apparently found it in the bush; presumably the gangsters lost it while fleeing. Some moments later the missing MasterCard credit card is found also.
810  The peaceful sunrise in the
morning thereafter is like balm on our
souls – how beautiful everything can
be, particularly on an early morning
811  The emergency repair at the
workshop of the Pottery Lodge:
Plywood is adjusted …..
812  ….. the window is
put back into the frame
It is already 10am when we and the two watchmen tell the four policemen – one with a huge gun and another with a camera – the progression of events during the armed robbery. They take pictures of the car’s damage and write by hand a statement of the night’s attack, which Emil has to sign and of which we are allowed accommodatingly to take a picture. “You can get the official typed version in the afternoon at the police post in Nkhotakota” we are told. Not a bit of it! Also on Monday, August 3rd, anything was done. “It costed US$50 – this is the price in Malawi for a statement” – we are told. “We do not have insurance, which would need it, thus we leave it”, is our answer. The boss then agrees to issue it without charge, and two hours later we leave with the official, not anymore so accurate statement. It became understated and generalized.
The emergency repair:
Emil hammers and bends the window frame so far that we can close at least the two doors again. Monday afternoon, August 3rd, the adjacent workshop of the Pottery Lodge to which also the Safari Beach Lodge belongs, takes care of the damages free of charge: The broken glass is replaced with 4mm plywood until we find “somewhere” a glass factory. The suspension devices of the grilles are repaired and attached, after the protection grilles are more or less welded together. Everything looks now “needy to get repaired”, but it’s better than before.
813  The grilles are welded and
put back into shape …..
814  ….. it needs three to put it back
into the newly welded mounting –
everything is just temporarily!
815  Temporarily finished: Plywood
will have to do it until we find
a glass solution somewhere
Open questions and rumors:
Were the watchmen participating in the attack? Who loosened their ankle fetters?
One version goes that the attackers were looking for a “special” car with people with lots of money.
An other version doesn’t exclude the police, which wants to force herewith the lodges to hire a policeman for 10’000 Kwachas (~US$23/€21) a night.
Somebody guesses that the attack on us was only due to the fact that bandits noticed us at first, because the “NGO group Habitat” was their actual target.
We don’t exclude that someone from the settlements along the 2½ miles (4km) long and bad access track could have been involved too. When we drove on Friday afternoon to the lodge the mood of that public wasn’t switched to “Welcome”! – we got the feeling that the residents would appear rather hostile. By all means the many children were shouting “give me money”!
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