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Booted out of the Mall

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Holding the Rope in Prayer:

  1. Pray for DeDe’s tutoring.
  2. Pray for Curt as he writes As the Crow Flies.
  3. God’s guidance for our precious children and grandchildren.  Thanks for praying!

Booted out of the Mall

I have contracted with several places in Alexandria that have become my writing offices.  At the end of this post I’ll share them.*

Yesterday, my office was in the food court of the Alexandria Mall.

I arrived early. Long before the businesses opened.

It was just me, the custodians, and mall walkers.

It was a rainy morning and a fine crowd of folks were getting their exercise indoors.

It reminded me of getting booted out of Victoria Mall in Entebbe, Uganda.

We lived in Entebbe due to its proximity to the International Airport (Scene of the famous Israeli raid in the seventies) and the smaller Kijabe airport from which our bush flights originated.

Because of a strong UN presence and other aid agencies, there’s a high population of ex-pats in Entebbe.  These are foreigners who are working in and near Uganda.

They opened a mall there in late 2014.

One of my greatest disappointments in Africa was never being able to walk without being stopped. There is no privacy in Africa and this is true in both urban and rural areas.  The sight of an outsider brings well-wishers, the curious, beggars, and everyone.

You cannot walk from point A to B without these interruptions.

They are the rent you pay to live in such an exotic way.

I always took time to speak, smile, and listen.

But after the tenth time of being asked to supply school fees, I would return home exhausted.

So I had an idea:  the second floor of the mall was mostly unoccupied except for a small food court and several Indian-run businesses.

So I began walking in the mall.  It made for a good circuit.  I plugged in my headphones and listened to podcasts and music.

I’d found a place to stretch out and walk.

I thought.

On about the third day, a group of uniformed security workers blocked my path.  “You are not allowed to walk in the mall.”

“Why?”

“You are making our customers and store owners nervous.”

I understand about mall security.  The terrible terrorist attack the year before in Kenya Mall was still fresh on everyone’s mind.

But I was bumfuzzled.  “Do I look like a terrorist? I’m not in Al Shabob.”

“I am sorry, Mzee. We must ask you to leave.”

I could think of ten smarty pants things to say, but I bit my tongue.

“Who told you to make me leave?”

“Our director of security.”

“Go get him.”

A nicely dressed Ugandan appeared and introduced himself as Frank.

“Are you really asking me to leave?”

“Yes.”

“Why do you want to make an enemy of a customer? In America, they encourage mallwalking.”

He didn’t say it but I knew his thought:  this is not America.

“We can’t let every Tom, Dick, and Harry that wants to just roam around our mall.”

I didn’t appreciate that statement one bit.

Under a Thoreauian civil disobedience mindset, I left the mall surrounded by the officers and their boss.

I didn’t say it but my thought was: you won’t catch me back in this mall again.

I left in a huff and stayed that way for several days.

But my sweet wife and the Lord worked on me. I weakened on my one man boycott.  That boycott wasn’t hurting their business but stopping me from shopping at Nakumatt, Africa’s version of Wal Mart.

Later that week I returned to the Mall.  Wounded but walking upright.

In front of the mall stood Frank and another officer.  I approached them.

“Welcome back.”  Frank said it with sense of irony.  His smile was sincere.

I shook his hand.  “Well, I guess we’ve all been properly introduced, we might as well be friends.”

That was the beginning of a sweet relationship with Frank and the entire security team at Victoria Mall.

We had a history together.  I came to realize that they were simply doing their job the best they could.

During the last months of our time in Uganda, these men worried deeply about my illness and how much weight I’d lost. They became our friends.

I made many trips to the mall but never mall walking.

And since we were in Rome, I might as well do as the Romans.  Visit the mall and spend my Shillings.

If you’re ever in Entebbe and go to Victoria Mall, find Frank and tell him that Tom, Dick, Harry, and Curt all said hello.

 

*My Alexandria area writing offices:

Alexandria Mall food court near wall plugs

New Courtyard Marriott lobby near our home.

McDonald’s on Jackson St. Extension.

Tamp and Grind Coffee shop in Downtown Alexandria.

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My stand up writing stump in our back yard.

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About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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