We changed the lock for the front door and thought that was that. But on Saturday evening we were burgled again, only this time they had keys, so they got inside (all the doors were secure). They took a lot of stuff from me, and only from me. Perhaps they got in through my balcony so mine was the first room they came to. Perhaps they went to straight to my room. Either way they took an External Hard drive with a year worth of work, photos, artwork, writing and the rest. I am still coming to terms with that. They also took small electronic stuff – my card reader, MP3 player and some leads and spare batteries. Plus some jewellery and a few other things. Suffice to say, I was not happy.
Three, sometimes four, people live here and both robberies happened at the exact time that all of us were out. Which suggests they have been watching us, enough to know our routines. Last night I didn’t feel comfortable walking up the road after dark. I live on a very dark, very quiet street, and it occurred to me that someone watching would know I have a laptop. They now know I don’t leave it in the house – it doesn’t take much to guess what’s in the laptop-sized backpack that I am never seen without.
So tonight, I decided not to walk up the road, but to stay home. I was relaxing on the terrace, listening to music, when... I don’t know, something made me look round. I saw something-someone next to the garage door, two metres behind me. It was all very quick... I didn’t know what was happening, I vaguely thought it was someone looking for my house-mate, but I knew it wasn’t right. I jumped out of my hammock and stepped toward them, which activated the security light on the corner of the terrace.
The next few moments are vivid in my mind. My step forward illuminated two men, wearing home-made ski masks and dark clothing, coming towards me with knives. The knife of the one in front looked like a prison weapon – the handle had frayed cloth wrapped around it.
I read somewhere that to be a victim, you must behave like a victim. I am simplifying of course, but you get the idea. This article suggested that when under threat, like this, you should be loud and aggressive. You must show no fear, as if you were dealing with a big, unknown dog.
When I opened my mouth to start shouting, I thought for a half-second that I might sob or vomit instead, but then I heard shouting and knew it was me. They both jumped. I got louder, then something strange happened: it must have been the combination of adrenalin and fear, but I became genuinely furious. The fury took hold of me, in fact I was more than furious – I was enraged. So now I’m really shouting at them, cursing them and threatening them. I advanced on the one in front, yelling into his face and they both backed away. Then they were running away and I was standing on the very edge of the terrace shouting curses and outrage into the night. I think, by then, I might have actually been shaking my fists.
I ran into the house and went straight for M’s machete. How did I know where it was? Thinking back, I remember seeing it last month when I was putting some clean blankets away in the wardrobe – The Blue Blanket actually – which is becoming a recurring ‘special guest’ in the outside-jane show), but I didn’t think I really took note of it, I just saw it.
None-the-less, I knew exactly where it was earlier tonight... but what did I think I was going to do with it? I stormed outside and did some more shouting. I think I could easily pass my Vogon Flight Officer exams now.
Then the fear hit me like a punch in the chest and I realised I needed to be inside the house right now. I grabbed my laptop and ran inside, locking myself in – hands suddenly useless and fumbling with the lock. Did I lock the machete outside?! You stupid bi... No! It’s here by my foot. Is that a noise? A shadow? Jesus, they had fucking ski masks? What now? Phone! I have a phone!
Can you believe, after nearly two months, yesterday I finally capitulated and bought a new phone. Yesterday. I already have two phones, but they won’t work with Guatemalan sim cards. I have been looking for somewhere that ‘unlocks’ phones. Then yesterday I gave up and bought a new one. Yesterday.
I phoned my house-mate. No answer. He’s the manager of a restaurant and it was Happy Hour. With shaking hands, I struggled to send the following text:
“2 men in ski masks at the house. I yelled and they ran. But am sacred. Please call police.”
I rang again. I remembered I have M’s number too. I sent him the same text. He called me straight back. From there it got better – he started ringing everybody.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“I’m downstairs” I was pacing the floors, machete in hand.
“Go upstairs, you can close the door and stand on it” My room is an attic and I have ‘a door in the floor’. He was right, it’s the safest place, but thinking that scared me all over again. I went upstairs and stayed on the phone with M and his girlfriend until the Calvary arrived: Three Policeman, one policewoman, both house-mates, the restaurant night guards, his friends, the kitchen matriarch, and a customer from the restaurant who was brought along because he’s bilingual (fantastic – he translated for me, so I could talk to the police,) and maybe more! There were lots of people, a whole house full of people. People everywhere; people with lights; people searching the bushes; shadows in the bushes and everyone asking me the same questions. Too many people.
Finally everyone left, and two security guys came to watch the house for tonight. House-mate #2 and I finally sat down (I hadn’t sat down since I jumped out of the hammock earlier) and stared at each other in surprise.
“This is just crazy,” he said. And it is.
Now, it’s 1.30am I’m exhausted, but still wide-awake. So once again, in a crisis, I am opting to write about it. Do I live my own life vicariously through this blog? Do I distance myself, and detach, by externalising personal events into a ‘story’? Do I suppress my emotion by focusing instead, on finding the correct vocabulary? The most appropriate tone? Suitable jokes?
So what next? I love this place, I really do. I spoke with my Dad on skype earlier this week; I did the usual thing of turning the computer around so he could see where I was.
“It looks like an Impressionist painting,” he said.
He’s exactly right; it has that same idyllic colour scheme, warm light and peacefulness. Sometimes in the morning, I finish my yoga practice just as the mist is lifting off the mountains – soft light and long shadows falling across verdant hills – and I think it’s so beautiful here it takes my breath away. Except two men in ski masks threatened me with knives this evening.
So I think I’m going to have to leave. How very, very sad. What a truly terrible ending to a really rubbish week. But I can’t live somewhere where I can’t walk home alone, or stay home and relax for an evening. They came at 9.15pm. Usually I get home just before 9pm and the earliest my house-mates are home is about 10pm. So I am sure they knew I would be there, and be alone. I think they’re after the laptop – so sooner or later they will try to rob me again. And you only have 'the element of surprise' once.
I realise “these things happen” and you shouldn’t look for sense or order where, perhaps there is none... but I can’t help feeling that I’m being tested. It seems to be one damn thing after another in this Eden. First the spiders! Perhaps you wouldn’t believe it from reading these blogs, but I am terrified of spiders! I’m as jumpy as hell in this house. So I try to make light of it, to see the ridiculous side of the situation and of myself. But there comes a point when you run out of jokes. Then I get my first scorpion sting! That was only two weeks ago! For nearly two weeks we have no running water... and then the house floods. Two burglaries, then two blokes in ski masks. The Universe is coming at me from all angles and I’m not sure whether I’m bobbing or drowning.
So what now?
The came again on Wednesday night. This time I didn’t see anything, I was inside the house. But the Night Watchman saw the security light go on, when he went to look he saw someone running down towards the river. Upon investigation, he also found a space in the bushes where someone had been sitting, presumably watching the house. The police came back and looked around, but he was long gone. It’s so easy to disappear in this environment, unless they’re caught red-handed, they won’t be caught.
Since Monday I’m not really sleeping and I’m very jumpy. I still feel kind of ‘surprised’ by the whole thing. It feels very personal – either they’re after the laptop or me. I have wondered whether I have offended someone without realising? But I can’t think when. People say ‘the lads’ around here must know who it is... so I also wonder whether ‘the lads’ are laughing at these guys for getting scared off by an unarmed, lone woman. This is Latin America, the home of Machismo, if they feel I’ve ‘made fools’ of them...
If they’re stupid enough to stick to the same pattern – Saturday, Monday, Wednesday – maybe they’ll come again tonight? We have lots of people staying the house now – some of whom are hoping they do come back.
I will leave very soon – just getting a plan. Fatigue.