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The dog ate it

What some girls have for shoes, I have for rugs. Old, dusty, antique floor coverings make my heart pitter-patter like an untrained little lemur. This is why any rug dealer can see me coming a mile away and why, when we moved to Uganda without any of our stuff (which 3 years later is still sitting in a warehouse in Jersey), we ended up with 6 antique rugs  that cost as much as a pure bred stallion. One Mrs. Ali and her husband import (sneak) them into Uganda from Iran and Afghanistan and know their worth to empty-handed arrivals, especially to ones jumping up and down on top of them.

One carpet in particular made me want to wrap myself up in it and roll around like a flea. Partly the color of cream, it did not match well, however, with the red dirt of Uganda. After a while, I called Mrs. Ali to see if she knew someone who could clean it, and of course said she could clean it,  for a small fee, say closer to the buying of a pony.

I took the rug to her and was told to pick it up in a week.

Here’s what happened when I did:

“Hello, Sabrina.”

“Hello, Mrs. Ali. I am here for my rug.”

“Ah, yes. You did not tell me you have a dog. “

“Um, I don’t have a dog.”

“Yes you do.”

“No I don’t.”

“Yes you do.”

“No I don’t.”

“Then who ate it?”

At this point I started to well up. Not for the woman who was now accusing me of having a murderous dog, but for the fate of my dear beloved rug. Pulling it out from under the counter, she showed me the gaping new hole right in the middle of my masterpiece.

“What happened?” I asked her through gasps.

And this is where it starts to get weird.

She starts screaming at me that I have tried to trick her and brought her a clean rug that needed no cleaning after all and that my dog ate it.

“But, I don’t have a dog.”

“Yes you do.”

“No I don’t.”

Her eyes became enraged and I just wanted out of there because it was all so surreal, so offered to pay for my now ruined, but at least clean, carpet shred. “No,” she screamed and I feared smoke might soon shoot out of her ears, so I did what anyone would do in that situation: I grabbed my rug and ran.

And she gave chase.

Here I am, a small white girl with a large rug under her arm, running through a mall in Uganda, with an older Iranian woman chasing me.

Now, for any of you who have been to an African country, you know how quickly a crowd (or mob) can form. I was certainly  cause for that.

I ran to the parking lot, started my car, and just as I was about to drive out—and you can’t make this stuff up—Mrs. Ali threw herself on the hood of my truck! I slammed on the brakes and the crowds swarmed. A very large cop came to my window and asked what was going on. I tried to explain what I did not even understand, but it was hard to be heard over the screaming of Mrs. Ali. The cop finally said to her,

“She is offering to pay you for the cleaning, even with the damage. Take her money or leave her alone.”

But Mrs. Ali didn’t want my money. She wanted a dog.

The cop made her leave the front of my car and I started to drive away gently, parting the sea of onlookers, but here comes Mrs. Ali again.  She runs ahead of me and actually grabs a young man and throws him in the middle of the road. By this time there is a gaggle of cops and all I am thinking is, “Oh s^*t.”

I am ordered to pull over and here we go again. The new cop asks what happened as we each take our turn.

“I don’t have a dog.”

“Yes she does.”

“No I don’t.

And so on.

And this is why I love the officers of Kampala (or at least this one): he looked at her and said, “So, you are saying she brought you a clean rug to be cleaned and that she has a dog she’s not admitting to? Excuse me lady, but I think your nuts.” And then looked at me and shook his head.

But because the situation was so out-of-control by this point, he would not, could not let me go until UN security came to mitigate.

I called my husband.

“Um, baby.”

“Yeah, honey.”

“I’m in trouble. There’s this dog that doesn’t exist and I ran away with a rug and a woman jumped on the car and now the cops have me surrounded and could you come and help please?”

I think it says a lot that my husband did not find this strange coming from me at all.

Finally he arrives, and here is what he sees: hundreds of people gathered around our truck, cops at every window, me sobbing behind the wheel and an irate Iranian waving her finger.

I’d never felt so far away from Kansas in all my life.

They hashed it out. Forced Mrs. Ali to take the money for the “unneeded cleaning,” made me write out a receipt for “rug received” and finally let me go.

My husband told me to go home and let the dog out.


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