Dar es Salaam, located on the Indian Ocean in Tanzania, means ‘Haven of Peace’ in Arabic, and compared to many of it’s war torn neighbors, it lives up to it’s name. Its relative safety, however, doesn’t diminish the necessity to be aware at all times of the potential dangers that exist for everyone, and especially women.
Since living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I have become familiar with the threat of the ‘bag and drag,’ and have even met several females who have lived through the experience. Strangely, the area of the city that most expats and travelers reside and go out at night in has minimal lighting, nonexistent sidewalks, and long walks between restaurants and bars.
Women are targeted because they are typically the ones wearing larger, easy to spot, off the shoulder bags. When walking on a dark street, even with other people around, a car pulls up close so the passenger can grab your bag. When he has a firm hold, the driver takes off, often dragging the victim alongside the car until she releases the bag or becomes disentangled from the straps. In the time it takes for the victim to be free, she often already has severe road burn, bruises, and scrapes, let alone the trauma that accompanies being attacked.
In order to avoid, or at least lessen, the probability of this happening to you, I’ve outlined a few steps:
- Do not carry a large bag at night. A money belt, fanny pack, or wristlet is your best bet, or if you can, stuff your belongings in pockets or in your bra.
- Try and avoid walking on unlit streets at night, but if you have to, always make sure you walk with a group.
- If you are alone, don’t take the risk of walking somewhere. It’s much safer to jump in a taxi right away.
- It’s best to walk against traffic in order to see a car approaching, but regardless of the side of the road you walk on, always make sure your bag is on the opposite side of your body from the road.
- If you do feel someone tugging at your bag, immediately release it if you can. Having your stuff taken totally sucks, but it’s better than being hurt in the process.
Unfortunately, the high number of incidents combined with a corrupt and ineffectual police force means you won’t get much help in finding your stolen belongings. Going to a hospital can also prove to be unhelpful – one girl told me no doctor would see her without a form of payment, all of which had just been stolen from her.
Constantly fearing what could happen is no way to live, so the threat of the bag and drag should not stop you from enjoying Dar es Salaam’s surprisingly thriving night life. Go out there and dance til 4 am, but follow these steps when going home and always be cognizant of your safety.