A bar brawl
Adelaide Di Nunzio
When Ibrahim punched Bekele in the face, I found myself in a weird position. Bekele is a very skilful hustler, one who is able to create a scam or set up a confidence game out of incidents or embarrassing situations. His speciality is cheating tourists and the fact I am a faranjii – a foreigner – made me one of Bekele’s potential targets. Bekele also had other businesses. To make some extra bucks, he sold ganja to tourists and in the neighbourhood. In addition, he ran a small khat bet (khat chewing house) in his one-bedroom house. He described it as a ‘cultural house’ where tourists could chew khat, drink coffee and take it easy. Tourists would be invited to come to Bekele’s to experience inner city life to then discover that they were going to be able get out only after they had paid an incredibly expensive bill. When I was there, in 2009, a bottle of coke, a couple of cups of coffee and a bunch of khat, which usually cost not more than 50 birr ($3 at the time), might cost 500 birr ($30) at Bekele’s.
The night Ibrahim punched Bekele was one of my first nights out with Ibrahim and his circle of friends. We started the night drinking at a tajj bet (honeywine house) then to a club to listen and dance to hip-hop tunes and, finally, to a bar to end the night drinking gin. This is where Ibrahim saw and punched Bekele in the face. It all happened in a few minutes. Said, a parking guy and a good friend of Ibrahim, pushed me to the wall, to save me from random punches landing on my face. Then, with the help of others, Said tried to calm the situation down, taking Ibrahim outside. All of a sudden, I found myself sticking to the wall, trying to figure out what had just happened. On my left were two strangers. They kept drinking as nothing had happened, laughing, enjoying the show. When they saw me frozen, they looked surprised, amused even. They did not expect to see a geeky faranjii in the middle of a bar brawl. Hence, one of them said to me: ‘hey, you, faranjii, have a ‘cultural experience’, punch someone!’
The outcome of the bar brawl was surprising. Bekele called me the following day telling me that Ibrahim had broken the tooth of a street tourist guide sitting with Bekele and had to pay a few thousand birrs to fix it. Bekele suggested that I pay for it because he knew that Ibrahim had no money and, after all, I was the cause of the fight. ‘Last week, Ibrahim and I fought together against some guys of another neighbourhood’, he told me to make his point about the fact that my presence had affected Ibrahim’s behaviour towards him. When I talked to Ibrahim, however, he disagreed with what Bekele had told me on the phone. ‘It is not for you that I punched him. I have been looking for Bekele for a long time… this guy thinks he is the gangster […], but he is nothing!’ In Ibrahim’s eyes, Bekele, with his phone call, was just trying to do a mella (literally, a ‘formula’, a ‘system’), that is, setting a way of making some money.
Ibrahim was right. Bekele, in fact, did not mind that Ibrahim had punched him that night. Bekele had not lost face. He was a hustler after all, not a fighter who could compete with Ibrahim, who was known in the neighbourhood as a street fighter. Trying to take advantage of the situation, Bekele wanted to make a deal with Ibrahim in order to extort some money out of my embarrassment. Said, who also understood what Bekele was after, decided to help me to deal with the situation. After all, Bekele and I were neighbours. A solution was needed. First, we went to look for Bekele’s friend who had allegedly lost a tooth. He turned out to be fine. Then, we went to Bekele’s to tell him that I was not going to pay for anything. Bekele accepted that the deal was off, then explained to Said that he owed money for his ganja business and that he had seen the fight the previous night as an opportunity to cover that debt. When Said heard this, he felt we needed to deal with it to avoid any trouble in the future. He took me to another neighbourhood to find the person Bekele owed money to. Said explained to him the whole situation and then he said to me and to this man: ‘You and this guy are at peace.’ We shook hands and it was all over.
The names of individuals who appear in the text have been changed to protect their privacy.
Dino Caruna is the pen-name of a would-be author and part-time illustrator.