Getting Robbed at Gunpoint

Photo of ugly Kenyan bird in lieu of ugly robbers.

I actually wrote an entire blog about my apartment getting broken into but never hit the publish button. Now I find myself in a similar situation, wondering this time if I should share the incident of getting robbed at gunpoint. What it really boils down to is that I’m kind of embarrassed about it. It was stupid and on the cusp of the time when I really should not have been walking. I should have taken a taxi. It also coincided with a very bizarre incident that happened earlier in the day, and I’m quite frankly just not really sure what to think.

Honestly, I was more pissed about the situation because of losing my bank cards and my phone. And the fact that I had my apartment broken into just the month before, it was like, ‘Here we go again.’ But then when safety reports started trickling in, and I found out that a foreigner was actually shot by thugs trying to rob him at 9:30 at night on the very road I live on now, I realize that it is a very serious situation. I always assumed that my biggest dangers in Nairobi were a.) a traffic accident or b.) getting robbed. And while I have experienced both, I realize that people are not afraid to use those guns. Thankfully, at the time, those thoughts were not running through my head.

So here’s what happened:

After spending a morning in Kibera with the women, I left just after lunchtime to meet up with someone for coffee whom I had met a few weeks earlier. He, supposedly, was Kenyan by birth, adopted to Norway, and living in LA, but spending a few months back in Nairobi. The story was actually pretty believable. He speaks Norwegian and knows a lot about the country as well as LA. And he has a personality that I think anyone would find hard not to like. He asked to come see my project, and he met the artisans. It all seemed very normal and since he seemed interested, I thought he would be a good contact to have in LA. We spent the afternoon having coffee, discussing more of my business, and discussing his family. Around early dinner time, an American friend of his, who I had met before, came up to the table and asked to speak to me. She seemed really ticked off and didn’t even acknowledge her friend that I was sitting with. I assumed that maybe they were dating and she thought something was going on. When we went around the corner, she told me that she thought he had wiped her bank accounts, stolen lots of money from her, and that the US Embassy was finally investigating him.

Well that was a slap in the face I didn’t see coming. I asked her what happened, and at first she wouldn’t tell me. But after further discussion, it turned out that her apartment was broken into (before he had ever been there) and that she went to stay with him and his sister for a week. She believes they were taking her bank cards at night while she was sleeping and withdrawing money. It was one of those moments where it was just really hard to believe. I truly believed that what she was telling me was what she thought was the truth, I just wasn’t sure if I believed it as well. We made up a story of what I was going to tell this guy and agreed that I would call her when I got home to tell her if he seemed nervous or how he reacted. I basically told him that I thought she was jealous, blah blah blah. He thought it sounded ridiculous and kept pushing, as if, is that really what she said. But I just kept insisting and pretended like I thought she was a bit of psycho, like ‘you know how some girls are,’ and left it at that. As I started mulling things over in my head, I thought it was odd that he had discussed computer security and debit card security with me that very afternoon in depth, and seemed to know a lot about both. Maybe there was a bit of truth in what this girl told me. Now that it was getting late, our coffee meetup needed to end, and I was freaked out. I planned to take the bus home… which he knew. Then after I got to the bus stop, I considered going back into the mall to buy airtime and just take a taxi home. But stupidly, I didn’t. I took the bus to my stop and went into the shopping center there to get airtime. Then I walked the two blocks to get home on a well-lit street. My sister called while I was walking, and I told her that I thought “Kenya was trying to kill me,” (oh the irony) but that she should call me back in 15 minutes since I was walking home. I opted to put my phone in my pocket instead of back in my purse… just in case. As I got near the end of the street, I saw shadows of two men behind me that were practically on top of me. I immediately crossed the street and they didn’t. Phew. I was just being paranoid.

As I got to the corner, the flower seller, who I greet every day, was just packing up to go home. We had a quick chat. The two men crossed the street and were now in front of me but continued walking. I rounded the corner, and they turned on me. The one in front of me pulled a gun on me and told me that if I screamed he would kill me. The other stood on my side. I just remember saying, “Ok ok ok!” I took off my purse and handed it to him. He then asked me for my phone. I gave it to him, and then he searched my pockets. I asked him for my keys. A motorbike driver pulled up and the two hopped on. I begged for my keys again. After saying no the first couple of times, he asked me where they were. But of course they were in a zipper within a zipper, and well, no thief waits around for that. I ran down the hill to my gate, and tried through gasps to explain to the security guard what happened.  Of course the guys were gone, and I’m not sure calling the police would have helped. If I had had a phone, maybe I would have. It took a while for me to get my landlord to come to the next gate to let me in. Luckily, she lent me her phone, and I called my sister to inform her not to call my phone.

It could have been some thugs from the shopping center who followed me. It could have been this guy who I met for coffee. After all, someone broke into this other girl’s apartment to steal from her which led her to stay at his house. Maybe he was hoping that I would ask for his help. The thing is, I will never know. The good news is, I have learned NEVER to walk at night again. This guy has also finally been arrested as he was caught on camera using her bank cards. It turns out that he had a Norwegian girlfriend and lived there for two years. His whole story was a lie, and he had stolen from her as well.

I went the very next day and filed paperwork to have my phone cut off. This means, even if they tried to wipe the phone to use it, it won’t work. That is my way of saying F- you to the people who did this. I had about $35 on me but that was it. Split that three ways, and it’s not going to get them very far. What they have cost me is about $120 in wire transfer fees and $80 to get new bank cards shipped to me (which still aren’t working!…I take that back as they are now working the day this posted) and a lot of headaches to get a new SIM card, a new phone, etc.

While I hold these people personally responsible and honestly don’t care if the police were to catch them (which most likely means they would be shot and killed), I do realize this is a symptom of poverty, corruption, and poor leadership. Compare Kenya to Rwanda, and it is like night and day. If the police would crack down, if bribery and corruption weren’t so rampant, and if there were more opportunities, this would not be happening nearly as much. But, like I said, these people made a choice and I hold them fully responsible and think justice can come in many forms, including karma.  Jail time would be nice too, but not likely. Hopefully, they change their ways or get caught.

Either way, I am still alive and kicking and need to continue to worry about myself. So I’ll just add it to my list of ‘That Year I Started a Business and Everything Went Wrong but I Still Survived.’

Have you ever been robbed?

13 thoughts on “Getting Robbed at Gunpoint

  • It’s scary to know that several of my travel blogging friends have been robbed at gunpoint. You’re all okay, thankfully, but I can’t imagine being in that situation! And I know I’ve walked alone at night when I would have advised others not to do the same. This can happen in broad daylight too — you just never know, I guess!

    I’m glad that they caught the guy and that you’re taking some new precautions now!

  • It is scary how many blogs I have been reading lately where this has been occurred, although they all survive. Yet the other day, someone in Dallas was killed in the same situation.

    It is very scary, and I am glad you are ok, I can only imagine how you felt and everything that truly ran through your head. That is completely insane, but thanks for sharing the story, I think it is important to hear things like this just to remind people that while everyone is not out to get you, sadly you have to still be careful.

    Again, glad to hear you are ok!

  • Thanks for sharing your story. How terrifying! I too have been robbed whilst travelling.

    My husband and I were robbed when we were travelling Central America back in 2007. We were taking a bus from Antigua, Guatemala to El Salvador. We had to change bus in Guatemala City, where we went through a metal detector before being allowed on the bus.

    5 minutes into the journey, the bus driver; who was definitely part of this whole thing, pulled over at the side of the road to let 3 men board the bus. One of the men stood at the front with his gun whilst the other 2 robbed everyone on the bus. They didn’t get as much as they might have as my clever husband managed to hide our passports. :) The most stinging part was that they got our cameras and we lost a lot of photographs from our trip. To this day, this has been the most terrifying experience of my life. I had no idea what was going to happen and if we would make it through. We survived though. It has made me more cautious but has certainly not stopped me from exploring the world. :)

  • How scary!! I’m glad that you are okay at least.

    Oh, and ugly bird at the beginning of the post looks like a marabou stork. Possible one of the ugliest creatures I have seen!

  • Wow. Thankfully you are OK. I appreciate that you share both the good and the bad of your travels and experiences. Thank You, and take care of yourself!

  • Sorry to read this, Laura. It sounds like it was scary. I’m really glad you’re OK and I’m sure that on some level, it was therapeutic to write this.

    How long have you been there for? How much longer will you be there?

    Stay safe…

  • Travelling is all about having amazing experiences, picking up a few stories to tell the grandkids and learning a thing or two. You certainly got that from this experience! At the time it is an awful thing to happen, but with the fullness of time, it just becomes another piece of the puzzle of your life. Cool.

    Anyway, you asked if any of us had been robbed. I have. And I sort of thought that the way it happened with me would never happen. I was robbed on a bus. Pick pocketed. I thought I was immune to that sort of stuff because I’m quite careful, but the way it happened with me was so unexpected. Had one of those wallets on a chain and two guys worked together over the space of half an hour to get the wallet out of my pocket, open the Velcro, ubzip it, take the money and then trip it. Pretty crazy, but it could happen to anyone. Would not how to copy with the gunpoint thing though. I shit bricks I reckon.

    Thanks for sharing the story. Helps us learn too.

  • Yikes. I have been robbed before, but never in a confrontational or agressive manner, let alone at gunpoint *knocks on wood*. I have no idea how I would handle it. Props to you as it seems like you handled it well and kept your cool!!!

  • Oh, how scary for you! It sounds very suspicious that you were having coffee with that man and then you got robbed… Anyway, the good thing is that you are safe! I’ve been held up at gunpoint as well. It was in Mexico a couple of years ago. Surprisingly, I was very calm but it all still feels like a blur when I think about it.

    Living in Port Moresby, I face the potential for these types of things to happen every day so know the feeling of being on guard all the time. And what happens when you let down that guard for even a few moments.

    Stay safe!!!

  • I stumbled across your blog via boots n’ all. I’m glad you got out ok. I was robbed at knife point by two guys in Malaysia, knocked them unconscious and then decided to go home instead of getting locked up. Totally ruined my travel plan.

  • I was robbed recently in Nairobi as well. Similar situation except we weren’t walking at night, it was in the middle of the day. My partner is Kenyan and I am not so we were just visiting. Even though I knew crime was rampant, after the recent Westgate incident (that happened while we were traveling) I saw the gun and thought we were going to be killed. It was only after they took my purse that I realized it was a simple robbery. I was so shocked and scared, I freaked out. I give you credit for keeping your head and cool. You even had enough thought to ask for your keys, wow! I was screaming and shaking, it was terrible. But, I survived and am now home. Replaced my cards, am in the process of getting a new phone. Life goes on. Thanks for sharing!

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