Stealing from the Thief

This post won’t have any accompanying photographs, because how can you photograph something you no longer have?

Recent events have reminded me of similar experiences I had in the Peace Corps. While serving as a Health and Nutrition volunteer in Gabon, Central Africa, in a small town in the middle of the rainforest from 1996 to l998, my house was robbed twice — the first time, early on, when I was trying to make it a home other volunteers would like to stay at in their travels (I was on the train line), and the next when I was nearing my “close of service.”

The first time, every small portable thing I owned was taken — except for one of each item thoughtfully left for me: one spoon, one fork, one knife, one bowl, one plate, one pot, one pan, one shirt, one pair of shorts, one pair of shoes, one towel (and so on). It was as if the robber(s) had left me an unwritten note: There’s only one of you, so this is all you need. There are many of us, in large families; we need the rest. Fair enough, I thought. I got the message.

The country director at that time contacted me and asked what I missed most. “My teapot,” I told him tearfully on the phone. He asked what it looked like and where I’d bought it. Then he sent a “care package” to me at my post containing the exact same teapot, plus fluffy towels, and many other much appreciated goodies. His wife even added a pair of her own pj’s in pale green flannel — very comforting.

If those thieves were trying to frighten me away, they didn’t succeed.

The second time my house in Gabon was broken into and robbed they took the money I’d been squirreling away for my travels post-Peace Corps. I’d been assiduously saving the $5 and $10 bills my friends had been enclosing in their letters from the States. I’d tucked the fat wad of bills into a small, locked box, put that box into another locked container, then another, and hid this “bank” in the back of a lower closet in my bedroom, well behind my shoes.

When I got home that day I saw on my bedroom floor, lined up neatly in a row, all of the containers, opened and empty, and all of the locks, side by side. I got that message too; but it didn’t spoil my Peace Corps experience, which was priceless.

This week, my sweet casa here in San Miguel de Allende was broken into and robbed while I was having lunch with friends in town. The thieves must have been in a hurry because they could have stolen much more than they did. As it was, they smartly took the most valuable, easily portable item in sight: my new laptop computer, plus the backup (foolishly) tethered to it.

Es la vida, I’m telling myself. Bad things happen everywhere in the world. A computer is only a thing. Replacing it will cost money, but that’s only money. Money comes and money goes.

A long, long, long time ago I experienced the worst loss any mother can ever have: the loss of a child. Not to death but to parental kidnapping. When my daughter was missing and I was close to drowning in a sea of grief, heartache and desperation, I came across, as if it were a plank of wood from a wrecked ship, this saying: “The robb’d who smiles steals something from the thief.” This plank, this saying, somehow kept me afloat then, and it has buoyed me ever since.


(P.S. — I’m now, temporarily, using a foreign [to me] computer, which insists on adding links to outside sources that I don’t want there. I can’t seem to delete them. I hate this computer and mourn the loss of the one I had and loved. Nevertheless, I’ll try to smile.) 🙂