Friday, August 28, 2009

Monday Night-Tuesday Morning 1.30am

About five weeks ago our house was burgled. They didn’t get inside; they reached through the windows and grabbed what ever they could. Their prize for the night was M’s bag with cash, cards and some keys.

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?

Friday Morning

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.


Mat said...

Man! Time to move on. This is just scary.

M4GD said...

I’m quite upset to learn about this new incident but I’m so glad you wrote this post and that you are unhurt physically! I wish I’m sitting with you right now over a cup of tea and talking about this. Clearly, from your blog posts, you have chosen to follow a spiritual path. As you may know anyone who consciously chooses to follow such a path, their resilience is bound to be tested beyond belief. Undoubtedly, you are strong and resilient! Yet I say: It’s time to move on! You have settled your karmic debt with Guatemala. Move on! Your journey will continue else where! The world is wide open to take you on another path. It does not mean it will get easier but it would mean you have done the wise thing under the current circumstances.
I assure you I’m not saying or taking this stand of recommending you leave lightly. I’m no quitter and I never never never give up! I’m saying it here because I had more than my fair share of any one person of incidents that threatened my safety as a woman in many different countries. And on the wide spectrum of incidents, there was indeed a burglary incident and three men were involved. The difference in my burglary incident is I pretended to be asleep and luckily they left me alone. They took everything light and valuable with them. I stayed in the same position for hours, after they left, in utter shock and not able to move. Eventually I called the police, and they were useless. The three guys (turned to be teenagers) were never captured although the police knew who they were. At the time I could not get out of my commitment of staying at the country where the incident happened but I left the apartment on the same day within hours right after the paperwork was done with the police. In a nutshell, in some countries where I faced violating incidents I was able to change the place I stayed at, in others I decided to leave and moved on. We can’t live in a bubble and it is healthy to follow whatever adventures that our soul call us for yet the underlying thread that binds all together must be safety (physically and emotionally.) One may argue that safety still remains to be an elusive thing and it is all relative. Anything can happen anywhere at anytime. However, the decision is always ours. We call the shots, because nothing is guaranteed. The impact of harm from a fellow man is different than harm from an insect or an animal! It's more profound. No matter how strong you are, I bet you must feel violated. And it will take a long while to get over this. Leaving where you are right now would be a good starting step. No embassy can protect us, no room mates, no guards, no armoured vehicle, no bullet proof vests, pepper spray, or door alarms…etc No one and nothing can give you that inner peace that you are safe in your own bed but you! And if you feel the way you feel as you just described in your post, it is time to move on even if you had to carve a whole new path fro scratch for yourself that no one else walked before. Read the signs - You can do it! Good Luck! Here is my usual – a Poem:
“Cloud No Bigger than a Man’s Hand
By Dick Allen
It approaches from the sea, too small
For thunder and lightning
But ominous as a closed fist
And what it will bring

Nearing us, growing larger,
Is completely unknown.
Beware the leaves blowing, beware
The spot on the sun.

All is turned toward it. It rides
The brow of the mind.
Soon, it will shadow one cliff
And a small coastal shrine.

Beware the leaves blowing, beware
The spot on the sun.
Do your work well, Behold
The work yet to be done.”

a quiet reader said...

What a woman! You meet with scorpions and armed raiders and treat those two imposters both the same. You keep your head whilst others in your place would be losing theirs left, right and centre. You fight off men with knives, for heaven's sake, armed only with steely nerve and presence of mind. The surprise is you didn't take time to convert your unwelcome house guests to yoga ;-)

As Kipling would say: You are a Woman, my son (oops that doesn't quite work). I mean Well Done! Jane, you are awesome. You are an inspiration to the free spirit nestling (in my case, hiding) within each of us.

Your blog is fab btw. Keep writing. Let us know where you are headed next. And good luck.

outside-jane said...

Blimey... thanks!

Anonymous said...

"... 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?"
Dear outside-jane, these are clearly your coping mechanisms - don't knock them/you. You are a VERY STRONG WOMAN!! Quit while you are ahead - you have nothing to prove and there are too many people that care about you!! Take peace in yoga somewhere else - Om Shanti Om.....India beckons :-)

martine said...

You are amazing. most people would fall apart in such a situation. I have never had to live with such fear. Your bravery is an inspiration.
thanks so much for sharing your experience
much love Martine