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Stop the Train


December, 2004



stop trainEnglish traveler Amanda Kendle. experienced a horror on the very fist day of her visit to Africa. This is her story, as aired by "Habari!" program.

She was travelling from Mombasa to Nairobi, sitting in the first car behind the engine. The dusk fell over savannah. Her journey was smooth and uneventful, but suddenly the train began to slow down violently, somewhere between Makindu and Nairobi. When she looked out of the to see what was going on, she saw four men on horseback. The train stopped right in front of them. Three of them were armed: she clearly saw large rifles on their arms. First she thought that they must have been local hunters, but "why the hell would hunters stop a train right in the centre of the savannah", she asked herself. Red alert lamp started to blink in her mind. "This must be a hold-up! " - realized she. She immediately recalled all stories about train hold-ups in Africa which she had heard earlier, particularly the one about robbers derailing a train in Rwanda to rob the passengers and steal the equipment. Amanda had no valuables except her life and she decided to defend that treasure. She snatched a fruit knife and concealed it in her sleeve. When she was telling the story on air she was howling with laughter, but at the time of the hold-up she did not think it funny by any means. So, she was sitting there with the fruit knife in her sleeve, waiting for developments. Peeking through the window, she saw that two of the men were white and two were black; after a short while, they were joined by the engineer. She considered it a good sign, perhaps the beginning of negotiations. However, instead of negotiations, somebody dropped two large sacks from the top of the railway car, and one of the riders gave the engineer a small linen bag in return . Then, they chatted briefly, probably in Swahili. After a while the train took of, as if nothing had happened. Well, welcome to Africa, she thought, laughing to herself. Only 24 hours earlier she was pushing through a crowd in the London underground, hurrying to catch her plane - immersed in a totally different reality; in that reality, no armed person would stop a train right in the middle of nowhere for purposes other than a hold-up.

By way of explanation, we would like to add that one of the riders was Barthe Cortes, owner of a local vineyard (Bvcvineyard). The engineer told us that he regularly supplied Cortes with fertilizers from Mombasa and Barthe just collected them on the way. In return for the favour, Cortes usually gave the engineer "a little something" in the linen bag. It was not money, the engineer explained, however he preferred to keep the contents of the bag secret..

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