6.08.2014

The Bandit of Lomie

Amadou the Trouble Maker
Aw, isn’t little Amadou so cute? No! This child is a thief! And a sneaky one at that. Here is a brief story of the ongoing saga of catching this little bandit.

I’m not the biggest fan of the children here in Cameroon (hence why I’m not a YD or ED volunteer). For one, most of the children annoy me by asking me for things (no, I don’t have candy for you!), and two, I don’t enjoy being peed on, which seems to happen every time a Cameroonian child comes into my possession (most likely out of fear of my red hair, white skin, blues eyes, and my ‘disease’ aka. freckles). While there are the exceptional children who manage to somehow break through the Berlin Wall that protects my stone cold heart (my adorable 10-year-old neighbor boy Yaya being one of them), I tend to nonetheless get annoyed or exacerbated by the majority of small children in Lomié.

Amadou is perhaps the child I dislike most in Lomié. I must give it to the boy – he is smart, he is calculated, and he knows how to get what he wants. He also knows how to be cute so that white people like him, white people such as Grant. I, on the other hand, could smell his scheming from miles away.

Amadou is perhaps 10 years old (nobody knows, but that’s my guess) and he goes to school…occasionally. When not in school, Amadou sells pistache on his head. Pistache are ground up pumpkin seeds into a tofu-like texture with dried fish and hot peppers stuck in the middle, all bundled up in a large banana leaf.

During my first three months in Lomié, Amadou made it a habit to go through the same routine with me. Everyday he would show up to my house and knock.

I’d say, « C’est qui? » - “Who’s there?”
He’d say, « C’est moi! » - “It’s me!”
Me, exacerbated, « Qui est ‘moi‘? » - “Who is ‘me’?”
He’d reply, « C’est moi, C’est Amadou. Il y a les bouteilles ? » - “It’s me. It’s Amadou! Do you have any bottles?”
Me, « Non ! Laisses-moi ! » - “No! Leave me alone!”

Every day, he’d ask me for empty bottles. I never have empty bottles, but he never got the hint. When Spencer was here, he asked Amadou what he uses the bottles for. Amadou says he uses them for ‘Mauk-eau’, but when we asked him what ‘mauk-eau- is, he said he didn’t know. What a great salesman!

Despite his daily visits, I made it a rule that Amadou is never allowed to enter my house. I actually make it a rule that nobody is allowed into my house unless I explicitly invite them over. Only my neighbor Didja and my counterpart Sylvia are allowed to drop by when they want and come into my house without an invitation. While I didn’t trust Amadou off the bat, I realized his untrustworthiness when one day I was in my latrine taking a bath and I heard some noises in my living room. I called out “C’est qui?” to see if someone was at my door, but there was no response. My front door was locked, but with the key still in it, and I was showering with my latrine door open so I could hear if someone came and knocked on my door. I initially disregarded the small sounds I heard and attributed them to the neighbors. But as I continued showing, the noises seemed to be far closer than if they were my neighbors, so I felt like something was out of the ordinary. I peaked my head of my latrine and found Amadou in the middle of my living room with a bar of soap I had just bought in his hands. I threw my towel on and began making my way towards Amadou, all the while yelling about how rude it was to unlock my house, enter in without permission, and to attempt to steal a bar of soap. I could tell he was scared (both to be caught and perhaps to be getting yelled at by a dripping wet, towel-clad redhead) and his excuse was, “but I thought this soap was candy!” - as if that would be a logical excuse for entering into my house without permission and permit stealing. After that incident, he became generally afraid to come to my house - which is exactly what I wanted. I was again reassured of his bandit-tendencies when he tried to steal our painting supplies during our HIV/AIDS mural in February. From that day on, I took a hardliner approach with Amadou.

My postmate, Grant, on the other hand is a bit more naive when it comes to Cameroonians and their intentions. Despite being here for nearly 2 years, Grant trusts everyone and lets everyone into his house. Amadou and his friends enter Grant’s house, play with his things, and are allowed to hang out while Grant reads or journals. Danny and I have warned Grant not to trust Amadou, and if that weren’t enough, many neighborhood kids have warned Grant that Amadou is a thief. But despite this, Grant was intent on trusting Amadou.

A few weeks ago, Baba, the son of my friend Zakari, came buy to warn us that Amadou was bragging to his friends at school that he stole money from the Whites (us, obviously).  Baba is another one of the few kids that I trust and like. He is a sweet, smart, and hardworking boy, so when Baba told us this, I believed him. Danny and I knew that Amadou couldn’t have taken money from either of us because we both keep records of what money we have stashed in our houses, and we also don’t allow Amadou in our houses. So that left Grant.

Over dinner, Grant was insistent that he wasn’t missing any money. He did admit that Amadou was hanging out in the room where his money is hidden for quite sometime one day, but that he didn’t feel like he was missing any. Grant said he was running low on cash, but that was because he did a lot of camping and had guests for a few weeks. He insisted that the amount of money gone from his stash just about matched what he would’ve spent over the last month. When Danny and I broke down the prices of everything, we tried to convince Grant that it was impossible to have spent that much money. We also pointed out how strange it was that Amadou hadn’t shown his face around our houses since he was hanging out for a long time in Grant’s house that one day. But despite all this, Grant still didn’t believe that Amadou stole any money.



One day, Amadou was walking by our house and Grant called him over. He decided to just accuse Amadou of stealing, and see if he admits. When Grant firmly said, “I know you stole my money, if you give it back, you won’t be in trouble”, Amadou denied it. But when asked again to return the money, Amadou finally cracked and said “It wasn’t me, it was my friend!”. Shocked that his interrogation methods worked, Grant now had evidence that money was indeed stolen. Grant told Amadou to go get his brother and come back with the money, which of course didn’t happen.

The next day, we told Baba that he was right about Amadou stealing money and thanked him for keeping us informed. When Baba was at the boulangerie near our house, he saw Amadou and started yelling “Voler! Voler” - “Thief! Thief”. He chased Amadou down with  some of the boulangerie staff and brought him and his brother to Grant’s house.

Grant decided to use Game Theory and separate the two kids. He told each boy that the other confessed everything, and that if they admit to what they stole, he would go easy on them. Through this tactic, it was discovered that each boy stole $20 from Grant - making it 40$ that was missing from his stash. When asked if they still had the money, they said they had already spent it.

During all this, Didja, my neighbor, told me about how Amadou is a known child thief. Amusingly enough, Amadou shows up to the boulangerie that her husband works at and steals loaves of bread when the staff isn’t looking. Didja’s husband always counts how many loaves of bread are missing and notes it for the future. The next time her husband sees Amadou, he always calls him over and starts eating some of the pistache that Amadou sells from his head. If Amadou stole 500CFA worth of bread, her husband eats 500CFA worth of pistache. He then asks Amadou how much he needs to pay for the pistache, and when he is told the price he replies, “Okay, great, that makes up for all the bread that you stole yesterday”. Apparently this has happened on several occasions with Amadou. “He is a known neighborhood thief!”, Didja insisted.

Grant marched the boys, along with Baba, the boulangerie staff, and a small group of curious people, down to Amadou’s grandpa who sells meat brochettes in centreville and told him what the boys did. The grandfather didn’t seem surprised - he merely sighed and admitted that these boys are a problem. Allah help them! When Grant said he was going to take them to the gendarmerie to be punished, the grandfather consented. “Take them to the gendarmerie or take them to his mother for her to handle it!”. When Grant said, “Okay, let’s go to your mother first”, Amadou pleaded to be taken to the gendarmerie - apparently his mother is worse than police interrogation!

Grant conceded and told the boys to go home and return with the money in two hours, leaving it up to them to explain to their mom what they did. Grant told them if they didn’t show up with the money in two hours, they would be taken to the police. We waited, and waited and they never returned. While we couldn’t get Amadou out of our hair for months on end, now we can never find him! If we do see him, he runs instantly in another direction. This incident happened a month ago. Grant is still waiting for his money to be returned from the 10-year-old thief, and Amadou has begun selling his pistache far away from our neighborhood. Moral of the story: Don’t trust cute little kids.

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