I Was Chased by a Zebra in Russia
Whilst on an exchange program in Europe, I was given the opportunity to go on a visa-free trip organised by the university to the Russian city of St. Petersburg. I was a bit hesitant at first, but having already promised myself to say yes to every opportunity that presented itself while I was away, I obviously had to go.
A Parisian friend really wanted to check out The Church of Saviour on Blood – a must-see Russian attraction. It had beautiful architecture on the outside, and there were rumours it was even more mystical and magical on the inside. We were accompanied by a great and hilarious Texan, and as the three of us walked towards the church, we spotted the zebra.
Anywhere in the world where there are famous landmarks and tourist attractions, there comes all sorts of trouble. I’m not referring to accidentally photo-bombing a fellow tourist’s picture, nor getting knocked out by someone’s mishandling of a selfie stick. I’m talking about pickpocketers, scammers and tourist touts.
Before I continue this story of mine, I need to ask you a question: have you seen the movie Madagascar? If not, please do a quick Google search on your phone. And if you have, well – remember Marty the zebra, voiced by Chris Rock?
Imagine this. I saw Marty the zebra dancing around in front of this very church.
As we drew closer, Marty spotted us and began walking in our direction, waving his hands in the air. Having been the victim of a similar scam years ago, Texan and I avoided eye contact with the zebra. However, our innocent and naïve Parisian pal went ahead and embraced him. Texan and I gazed at each other worriedly as Parisian asked Marty if she could take photos with him… big mistake. Texan and I were then dragged into the pictures, and ended up posing with the zebra as well.
After our mini photoshoot, I told the girls that we should hurry along and see the church before it closed. But then, Marty took his zebra head off, unveiling a sweaty, rough man in his late 30s, with a scruffy jawline and baggy eyes, as though he hadn’t slept in days. He was clearly an unhappy chap.
“500 rubles,” he demanded in a deep raspy voice with a strong Russian accent. We all stared at him, confused.
What? What did say?
“Give me money. You take photo. I work for you, you give me money. 500 rubles! ($10AUD)” He became more agitated and then started to lay his hands on Parisian, and pushed against Texan and I.
“RUN!” I screamed.
We began to sprint away. Marty followed.
While running for my life, I made the big mistake of turning around. Suddenly, the reality of the situation sunk in: a scruffy, slim and sweaty man dressed as a zebra was chasing three young girls in front of Church of the Savior on Blood demanding money. I burst into laughter. “Oh my god! There’s a zebra chasing us!” I cried, and Texan began to chuckle. I had to latch onto her arm so she could drag me; I was struggling to keep up because I was laughing so damn much.
Parisian’s mood changed drastically as well. She went from an excited tourist to a scared, traumatised victim. “Don’t touch me! I will call the police! I’ve deleted the photos! There’s no proof!” she said to Marty the zebra. He was gaining ground, and we realised the only solution was to seek refuge inside the church. Hilarious.
To enter, you had to pay. When we reached the ticket booth, Texan was stressed, and shouted to the teller, “THREE TICKETS PLEASE! CREDIT CARD OKAY?” As we rushed into the church, I looked back again and saw the zebra waiting outside the entrance helplessly.
The Church of the Savior on Blood is known to be a sacred and quiet place. Puffed out, panting loudly with relief, we gave Parisian a little lecture about being careful with tourist traps.
I soon realised it was getting late, and we had an event to attend. Nervously, we approached the exit of the church and looked around. Fortunately for us, Marty was very easy to spot: the zebra was at a food vendor nearby. Ridiculously, Parisian, shouted, “THERE HE IS!”
His head turned to us, and there we went again, running along the streets of Russia all the way back to our hostel.