Thursday, January 19, 2012

reflections on being robbed

“Painted over the walls
the saddest colour of blue
posters covered in glass
favorite curbside grab
red Valentine's card
stuck on the mirror to keep
record player made of tubes
spinning Tommy by The Who

There's no time to waste
There's no time to wait…

-Kathleen Edwards, “Pink Emerson Radio”

Willbedone was texting and calling me frantically all day, trying to get in touch with me. I was out of phone credit so I couldn’t answer, but I was wondering what was up. She told me that she just had a bad feeling about me and was worried that something was happening.

As it turns out, her instincts were right. When I got home from work with an armful of groceries, I saw that my flat had been ransacked. My closet doors were flung open with my clothes and papers dumped out all over the floor. The sheets had been ripped off my mattress, and even my fridge had been open, with a bowl of rice pulled out and left on the counter. There was also a bag of biltong on the ground. I turned around, feeling my heart sink, and saw that someone had forced my balcony door wide open.

Immediately I dropped to my knees and frantically sifting through the pile of clothes, knowing deep down inside that I wasn’t going to find my laptop anywhere. My beautiful blue guitar was gone too. Dammit, dammit, dammit. I heard the roar of my landlord’s car outside my place and without thinking I found myself trying to flag him down, running down my street in my socks.

Robbery is fairly common in Windhoek, which is the reason why so many of the houses here are fiercely guarded by mean dogs, high concrete fences topped with electric barbed wires, and security guards pacing back and forth outside. People can get robbed everywhere; in Klein Windhoek, in Katutura, in their homes, on the streets, in taxicabs. Seems like all parts of the population get targeted too, blacks, coloureds, whites, women, men, tourists, foreigners, even Mr. Gay Namibia. To a certain extent, I can understand why robbery would be so common here. Namibia has the highest Gini coefficient in the world, which means Namibia has the biggest gap between the rich and the poor. I can only imagine how some folks must feel, leaving their impoverished shacks early every morning to pass these ridiculously huge and luxurious houses, hiding behind menacing-looking fences, feeling the hunger in their bellies as these rich people throw out their leftovers that could feed a whole family...

Still, my empathy for wealth inequality issues did not extend far enough to feel good about being burglarized. I texted Allison: “I’ve been robbed.”

She replied: “Seriously robbed, or like robbed by a baboon?”

Man, if only it had been baboons that had come through my balcony. They would have eaten the biltong and left the laptop. Bummer. I reached into my grocery bag and cracked open a Windhoek Lager. I had bought the beer for my friends, since my wedding diet prohibits beer, but with my head spinning the way it was, I felt like I could probably stand to cheat a little.

My next task was to get out of my office pants, because I hate pants, and because if I was going to be angry and robbed, I might was well be angry and robbed in comfortable clothing. Then I called the police, who came over quite quickly, and I gave them my statement as I sipped my beer.

(By that point I had the sense to put on some shorts so at least I wasn’t completely pantsless.)

I found the two police officers to be very friendly, although the “giving my statement” process was pretty interesting. It consisted of one police officer dictating my statement to the other police officer, who was professional in demeanor but somewhat illiterate.

“I arrived home around 6:00 when I realized that my house had been robbed,” Cop 1 would dictate.
“How do you spell ‘realized’?” Cop 2 interrupts.
“No, you spelled ‘released.’” Cop 1 points out.
Then Cop 1 would continue. “My acoustic guitar was missing.”
“How do you spell acoustic guitar? G-I-T-E-R?”
“Shouldn’t I be making the statement?” I ask. I also wonder if I shouldn’t be the one writing it too, at the pace that this spelling lesson was going.
“It’s okay,” they tell me.

I drank the rest of my beer.

I’m trying to make a mental list of what the burglars took, but it’s kind of hard to notice what you don’t have. These things weren’t totally logical, either. It made sense that they had taken the computer and the camera. And my entire series of the West Wing. And maybe it made sense to take my suitcases too, to hold the goods in. But why the robbers decided to steal my towels, I wasn’t sure. Nor why they helped themselves to my rice, or put the biltong on the floor...

“What else was taken?”
“My backpack.”
“What type?”
“Mountain Equipment Coop.”
“Never mind. It was blue. Also, they stole my ukulele.”
“Here, why don’t you let me write that one,” I offered.
Cop 2 obliged.

“Where do you work?” Cop 1 asked me
“I work at the Legal Assistance Centre,” I replied.
“Oh, you guys are the one that are always attacking us,” Cop 1 said. I felt awkward. Dean then proceeded to engage in a debate with the cops about police brutality and rule of law. I felt my head spinning again, so I cracked open another beer.

I was also getting hungry by then, but couldn’t bring myself to eat the biltong the robbers had left on the floor.

Cop 2 had me read over my statement before I signed it. I silently hoped that this statement would never, ever find its way to a potential employer evaluating my legal writing skills.

”Keys on the hook by the door
for the truck sold years ago
standing guitars in the case
filling up closet space
vintage 40's wardrobe
pink Emerson radio
old lace dress I bought in the store
motorcycle boots on the floor

There's no time to waste
There's no time to wait…

Allison convinced me that calories don’t count when you’ve been robbed. We ordered some pizza, she bought me some ice cream, and we sat on her bed watching episodes of Parks and Recreation. It was kind of nice to take my mind off things for a while.

The next day was spent trying to pick up the pieces. Not really literally: I went back to my apartment with the intention of cleaning up the mess, but found a trail of ants marching around my cooler and my fridge, and gave up on folding my clothes. I’d deal with that later.

Instead, I decided to be proactive in a different way. I printed off pictures of my guitar and then proceeded to visit every single pawn shop in Windhoek – which was three. I explained my story and give them the picture, in case anyone tries to sell my stuff to them.

Unfortunately this was the only photo I had of me with my guitar. why don't you cut your hair, gloria?

I also hit up the music stores. I was touched by how kind and sympathetic everyone was when they heard my story. Lots of people get robbed here, but people still get angry when they hear about it. One young male store clerk vividly described in gory detail the vigilante justice he would unleash on the robber, if the robber ever came into his store. It was mildly alarming, but still touching at the same time.

It’s been quite the stressful ordeal for me, and I think once the shock wears off it’ll take me a long time to feel comfortable again. But like I said, this one criminal act has brought out the kindness in everyone else in Namibia, it seems. Friends have sent me sweet messages offering their sympathy, support, and even temporary use of their laptops. My boss said that she hopes this experience hasn’t ruined my whole time in Namibia for me, and it may still be early, but I don’t think it has. These things happen sometimes. I was lucky that I wasn’t hurt, and that they didn’t take more stuff. And it was nice to see how great everyone else could be in supporting me. After all, the rest of my time in Namibia has been pretty fantastic.

Now, time to buy some towels.

“Sirens up on the street
smoke is burning my eyes
and the neighbours are screaming at me
I can only carry one thing
I can only carry one thing

There's no time to waste
There's no time to wait…”

-Kathleen Edwards, “Pink Emerson Radio”

getting robbed by a baboon