Thus far, I’ve spent most of my time on this blog focusing on the zany aspects of Tanzania. But I have a serious post today about a tragic story. The events we witnessed yesterday certainly had some zany elements, but I’m not going to focus on those; they are unimportant.
Sunday we decided to take a family trip to the Kinduchi Beach Resort. This is a beautiful resort hotel about 45 minutes north of Dar, which has a waterslide park as well as a nice palm covered beach. Sawyer had been asking to go there for several weeks, as it is the only pool that we have found here that has a diving board. Our new friends, Jaco, Michelle and their five-year old son Sydney came along.
After a couple of hours at the run-down waterslides (two slides operational out of six), we moved to the hotel beach. Jaco had brought two new paddleboards to try out in the ocean. These paddleboards are like large surfboards that you can kneel or stand on and paddle through the waves.
An hour or so after we arrived, I was watching the boys at the pool and Jaco, Michelle and Colleen were paddling the boards around off shore. Looking at them on the beach, I saw an Asian man in swim trunks running down the beach waving his arms at Michelle and Jaco. It was a long beach and it took him three or four minutes to get close enough to them to catch their attention. Michelle went running up the beach immediately and Jaco followed as fast as he could lugging the 45-pound paddleboard.
I stayed with the boys so I didn’t see what happened next, but Colleen told me later what happened. The hotel is on a point with a lagoon on the south end and a long beach stretching out from there, separated by a long sandbar acting as a breakwater. Four Chinese men had gone out swimming after having a large lunch. Tragically they went swimming on the lagoon side of the breakwater rather than on the beach side. The tide was coming into the lagoon and they got caught in the strong currents. Two of them eventually made it to shore and went for help, but the other two couldn’t get out.
I don’t know how long they were in the water, but by the time that Jaco got there, it was too late. One man was floating face down in the water and the other had sunk below the waves. Jaco paddled out, got the guy on the surface and brought him back. Jaco, a former dive instructor, knows CPR and tried to resuscitate him but the man was already dead.
After the ambulance came to take the body to the hospital, Jaco and I went out on the paddleboards to try and find the other body. We looked all over the lagoon, but the visibility was poor and the currents were strong. After a half hour, we came back in. About 10 minutes later, one of the many locals watching on the shore spotted the second body that had just come to the surface. We went out and brought him in, but he was dead too.
After we took the boards back, we gave statements to the police, a surreal experience. Two details stood out for me during the statement process. First, the detectives who took our statements wrote out the entire statements form by hand on a blank sheet of paper. (You would think they could have a pre-printed form for that.) Second, the detective who interviewed me was named Magnus M’go M’go. He had me try to say it a couple of times because everyone thought my bad pronunciation of it was hilarious. It seemed unlikely to me that anything will come of the police investigation.
This incident hammered home to me that there is really no safety net here. At a high-end hotel in the developed world, you can assume that the hotel will look out for your safety and try to stop you from doing anything dangerous. Not here – visit at your own risk.
The hardest part of the whole day was consoling one of the two guys who survived – he looked like couldn’t believe that it had happened. I couldn’t either. Kinduchi looks like a paradise and it’s hard to believe imagine anything more harmful happening here than a hangover. These Chinese tourists were a group of young twenty-somethings on a holiday and I’m sure they didn’t think twice about going swimming on the beach. It’s a beach hotel, right?
The tragic thing was that these deaths were preventable had anyone at the hotel used even a little basic lifeguarding experience. They didn’t mark safe swimming areas and unsafe areas. They didn’t post any information on rip tides. They didn’t have a lifeguard on duty and they didn’t have any lifeguarding equipment anywhere nearby. The survivor had to run a quarter-mile down the beach to us to get help, because Michelle and Jaco were the closest people with useful equipment.
Not that you should count on people here to help, either. None of the other guests and very few of the hotel staff did anything more than watch. Wait, that’s not entirely true. A few tried to take pictures and video footage of the whole spectacle. Colleen said that one fishing boat refused to help look for the second body unless someone paid them to. The swimmers couldn’t even count on the hotel safety staff — the security guy with the first aid kit didn’t really know how to properly perform CPR.
Someone here recently commented to me that one of the problems in Tanzania is that despite their history of socialist government, people don’t have a sense of social responsibility. The thing I’m still wondering after yesterday is, did the bystanders not help because they weren’t able? (Couldn’t swim, didn’t have lifeguarding gear.) Or was it because they didn’t think it was their responsibility?