Tag Archives: theft

Losing Things

That little theft we had this week got me thinking. Back to all the things that were pinched in Uganda and further back to an earlier and more devastating theft. And that led to thoughts about things, having them, losing them.

Things. I get very attached to things and when I lose them I get terribly sad. I have had two major losses of material objects in my life and neither time was my fault. Things never get lost easily with me, unlike my handsome and absent minded husband who could fill a book with the objects, ties, cameras, pens, sunglasses, umbrellas, clothes he has let slip through his fingers through the years, I am terribly careful, perhaps obsessively so. I check taxis before I exit to ensure nothing has fallen out of my bag, and likewise I check hotel room drawers, cupboards, airplane front pockets. I did once lose a roll of film in a dark but comfortable second floor hotel room in Mumbai that overlooked a courtyard filled with drinking travelers. It must have rolled out of an overstuffed backpack. Over 18 years later I still feel cross about it.

But the two great losses were completely out of my control and the greatest things were taken from me; sentimental, valuable and in the case of the London loss of great significance to my intellectual sense of well being.

It was summer and I was back in London at the parental home for a few weeks before heading back to Montreal. My mother was in a cleansing mood and was going through the storage area beneath the outside basement stairs. There were two arched caves there and my father was probably pleased that more space would be made for his growing wine collection. Inside one of those caves were two large trunks filled with the school paperwork, letters and paraphernalia of my sister’s and my school life. Upon being asked if she wanted to go through any of it my unsentimental and highly pragmatic sister said “ No . Chuck it.” When I arrived in London her stuff was already behind the house waiting for the rubbish collection the next morning. My box was waiting in the centre of a bedroom for the excavation that would begin the next day. I still remember that morning, at breakfast, listening to the large rubbish truck picking up her stuff, thinking how cleansing and unsentimental it was to just let it all go, all that clutter that we hold onto for so many years; school books, notes and letters from friends and old boyfriends that years before we clung to, promising to never let go.

When I went down and opened my box there was the usual collection of soppy letters and teenage angst written diaries, some embarrassing letters from an ex whose face I could barely remember. There were some charming and amusing school books from my primary years and one or two school projects from when I was an eager 12 year old, obsessed with the French Revolution. I looked around for the box containing my university and high school books and couldn’t see them. Thinking they might still be in the musty cave I went to check but having no luck I asked my mother if, perhaps she had put them elsewhere. No, she had no idea.

After some head scratching and searching that over the next half and hour became increasingly frantic, it was determined that the missing box, the most important box of all, the one containing my University Thesis and all my English A level work had been disposed of with all my sister’s stuff that very morning. At this moment it was probably being tipped with a simple lack of grace into a rubbish dump somewhere in East London.

I lost it. Tears, recriminations, more tears. Urgent phone calls were made to the rubbish company, tearful apologies were made but it was done. Remember that this was in the pre dawn days before computers, hard drives, USB sticks and the internet. The thesis that I had worked so hard on, for so many months, was gone forever, now a soggy stained mess rapidly turning to mulch.

I still mourn the absence of that box and often think how much I’d like my daughters to read that thesis one day.

The next great loss happened on September 13th 2004. It was 12.15 pm and I had just popped home to get my debit card before doing to do some grocery shopping. Uncharacteristically and in the mood of walking light, I left my handbag and wallet on the dining room table and simply tucked my ATM card into the back pocket of my jeans. I then left the house and walked to the nearby store. It was one of those wonderful late summer days in Montreal, where the light dappled though the trees and shadows played happily on the sidewalks. I walked to a coffee shop with my groceries, stopping to chat with a friend and making the most of my freedom while the eldest daughter was at school and my little one picked up at school and taken to a play date. It was rare that I was alone at this time since my curly headed youngest ended pre school at midday.

When I got home at about 1pm I couldn’t open the front door. The chain was hooked on the inside. My skin pricked and my stomach belly flopped. There was someone inside. I rushed to the back gate, entered though the garden and saw with a gasp that the glass door to the kitchen was smashed. The rock that has been used to break it had been tossed into the garden and was resting in the grass. I quickly went next door to the neighbour’s and called the police, thinking how lucky I was that I had no children with me. Within five minutes there there were, guns poised at the ready, on the alert in case the intruder was still inside. I wasn’t allowed in until it was declared all clear and then they walked me through the house.

It was a slick job, neat. Apart from one muddy foot print on the carpet of my sweet princess’ room, a foot print that made my eyes smart with tears, there was no trace of the robbery. He had known exactly where to go, the underwear drawer was tipped, the jewelry was all gone; the computer and camera had been un plugged and lifted from their spots on the desk in the office. There were a few glass shards in the kitchen, a small indentation on the wooden floor where the rock had hit and that was it. It must have been a two man job. One to call, by mobile phone, when I was seen leaving, another to enter the house and quickly remove all that I held sentimental.

We replaced the window before the children even came home and until a friend carelessly let out a remark about the robbery some months later they never knew. I insisted on it, not wanting them to feel scared or unsafe in their home. I remember my husband coming home from work, quickly and I remember sitting on the carpet in the front hallway and sobbing, really sobbing with anger and grief over all that was lost.

I still think, often, of items that were in that jewelry box, and I think with anger how someone came into my house and took things that were mine; valuable and sentimental things. A charm bracelet that once belonged to my grandmother heavy with charms given to her over many years by my grandfather, each charm from a different place on their travels. A watch, very valuable that I had received for my 21st birthday, the necklace that my real father had worn, was wearing when he died. The presents from Tiffany that my daughters were given on the occasion of their births, the first ring from my husband that he bought for me in Boston when we were so so young. And more, much more. A diamond pendant I got for my 30th birthday, a tiny ring I got when I was 12 that I was saving for my own daughter’s 12th birthday. The list goes on. It was devastating. The camera I was using professionally so that I had to rent another one for a wedding I was doing the next weekend. The computer filled with work. I felt invaded.

Yes, I know they were merely objects and no one was hurt. For a time I became extremely disinterested in jewelry or anything sentimental that I feared losing.  I had been burnt by investing too much emotion in pieces of metal.

But we do, don’t we? Isn’t it normal to invest time, thought and love into something precious? I wish I didn’t and I am fully back on the jewelry wagon, but objects are important to me, maybe because I move so much I have held onto to these trinkets as concrete pieces of memory.

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Filed under pen and paper

Not a good feeling

Something unsettling happened this week.

We had a small but significant theft. Trooper discovered that her wallet was empty. There were three possible reasons: a) she hadn’t in fact put any money into the wallet, or perhaps it had slipped her mind that she had taken it out and pushed it into the pocket of her jeans. So maybe it was all her fault. b) She has a Kleptomaniac for a friend; she had just hosted a sleep over and perhaps her friend had an “issue.” This was far more unlikely than the former option. Or c) Our cleaning lady had pinched the money.

I worried it may be option c) so I asked Princess to check and low and behold, she too had money missing. It was looking like option (c) was the most likely scenario but I didn’t want to it to be true. I am very trusting; I have to be, if a person is to come into my house while I am at work and touch all my stuff. (I know I am very very lucky, there I have said it.)

I called her. She said she had no idea what I was talking about. The subject was closed but not solved. I was thinking Kleptomania…

Then the door bell rang. It was the cleaning lady in tears. She said it was her husband. He had come over to our house looking for her and when she refused to give him drinking money he walked uninvited into my house, walked into my daughter’s rooms, opened their sweet little wallets and pulled out their pocket money.

She didn’t give it all back. She says it is all there or at least what her husband claimed he took, but it isn’t.

I am sad. It was different in Uganda; I expected it, in a way. We had shoes, a laptop, a bag, a phone and two itouches stolen but never from anyone who worked inside our home. Now I feel the need to hide things away and I don’t like it.


 

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Thing ones and thing twos.

Just a few simple questions that I am mulling over when I should be asleep.

  1. How is it possible for someone to steal a laptop and not feel even a little bit bad? Does poverty just simply eradicate the guilt most people would feel upon taking something that doesn’t belong to them?
  2. How do you tell a parent that their child is just not very bright and actually quite vacant? I know it is so much easier to just blame the school, and I know you think your child is a perfect 12 year old genius and I do realize that the bad marks can’t possibly be her fault.
  3. How did someone find my blog by typing in kill chicken? And more importantly why are so many people searching for Kill Chicken so often?
  4. How can passion fruit taste so divine but look like frog spawn?
  5. Why is it that after making an announcement 3 times, people still don’t do what I had announced?
  6. Why doesn’t everyone back up their computer?
  7. How can some people be so immune to bad smells while others gag?
  8. How did Africa end up being the gigantic rubbish bin of the world? Please believe me when I tell you that what ends up here is what no one wanted to buy in the West.
  9. What do bed bugs look like and how do they get into bed?
  10. The auto focus is not working on my camera. How do I know if it is the lens or the camera? How can this situation be attended to over here?

The mind boggles.

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Filed under I have no idea where to put this

Little Davies and a tale of two worlds.

Little Davies came to spend the day with us today, he is the son of our house keeper and occasionally accompanies her to work. He is a sweet 5 year old boy and the only time he has ever seen a computer, a Nintendo DS or a TV is when he comes over to our house. He lives in a one room tiny house with no electricity, flushing toilet or running water. They pay 7000 USH in rent, that is $3.50 a month. He goes to a school with two teachers and 100 students in a class and today he brought his school reports and work books to show us. The work sheets were where he needed to fill in the correct word,” God is our Creator, Satan is bad, God gave me eyes, I need to bring a Broom to school.”

He learns by rote, copying over and over the same words, the same lines until he has it just right. If he disobeys he gets hit with a stick. Consequently or despite this, he is a well behaved little boy and has a wonderful happy smile. He loves to come over and see us, to flush our toilet and share our Lays crisps and watch a movie on the DVD. He also likes to draw with our coloured pens. Today for his belated birthday present I gave him a huge pack of pens, a thick pad of paper and some blue-tack so he could put his pictures on the wall.

The disparity in our lives could make us feel very uncomfortable but the longer one spends here and sooner we realize that there are certain facts about life that cannot be changed. Guilt has no place here, by the fortune of the colour of my skin I was born a white girl in South Africa and he was born black and poor in Uganda. Yet white man’s guilt exists and it tends to rear its ugly head, more in the impressions people have of us rather than in any misfortune of circumstance or birth.

While Davies was playing in our house, a woman came to my door and asked me for money. She said she needed school fees. True or not, this is a standard line, the truth is in the reasoning that because I am white I am going to help everyone. I told her that I am not a rich mzungu, I am teacher and I cannot help everyone who comes to my door. Being white in Africa leads to a strange mixture of guilt and anger that any one would presume that they can ask us for help merely because of the colour of our skin.

As complicated as this whole business is, in the end it comes down to a happy little boy hopping around our house playing hide and seek with Princess. It is hard not to feel uncomfortable when he leaves to go home to his little shack but the longer I live here the less uncomfortable I feel. This is just the way it is and a smile and a packet of coloured pens can go a long way.

White means rich and white means Aid. (Why help yourself if there is an aid agency around the corner to prop you up?) It is a very complicated situation and one that leads to much head scratching.

In other big observations this week:

Nobody owns anything. Ownership is a foreign concept and one that can lead down the slippery slope towards theft. Most people I know have been robbed, whether on the street, in their car, at home or by a housekeeper. Everyday week a new story comes out of someone who had a necklace ripped off their neck while driving with an open window or a family who was robbed while sleeping, mists of chloroform sprayed around each room to stop anyone awaking. One teacher this week was pulled from her car, punched in the face and had her bag pulled off her arm. The justification is that if you have more than me I can just take what is yours. Life is unfair and unequal so the balance should be readdressed, however illegally. Morals don’t stand tall when one person is driving a car that could feed an entire family for a life time.

We didn’t buy Davies the football that he wants more than anything because it will break his heart when it is stolen from him.

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Filed under Kampala, observations, When the rose tint fades

Up on my soapbox

Rudeness. This is going to be a written rampage against it. If people were more polite and thoughtful the world would indeed be a much happier place and everybody would look and feel a whole less grim. So here is my diatribe.

Item 1: On the plane returning from London the drunken Scots behind me spoke much too loudly and persisted in punching hard knees into my soft back. Was he not aware that there was a fair maiden trying to sleep mere inches from his sharp knees? Did he really believe that his knees were more important than said fair maiden?

Item 2: At the end of the day my class room is littered with litter. Tissues, Tupperware, juice boxes, shredded paper, sweaters and half drunken cups of sticky fruit punch. Who do they think will clean up this mess?

Item 3: Drivers who cut in, instead of waiting in the long line of annoying traffic, like the rest of us.  Do they really think they are more important than the rest of us? Who made them more important than me and where was I when the voting happened?

Item 4: Man walking in front of me drops his potato crisps packet on the ground. The sense of entitlement is extraordinary. He just believes that there is some magical person behind him lurking with a broom. Lucky him! The rest of us just need to pick up our own mess.

Item 5:  People who do not reply to an email are rude. I made a New Year’s resolution for 2007 that I would respond to all my emails and facebook messages with 24 hours. This is one of the only resolutions I have ever kept and now I am rude for being on my laptop all the time. Really!

Item 6: Speaking of facebook; it is really rude to put up a photo of someone that might be incriminating or unflattering without asking permission. Teenagers, especially, need to think about this one.

Item 7: Forgetting or failing to say please and thank you, failing to exhibit any table manners and generally behaving like Manners are not required. I personally think that Manners are really cool.

Item 8: Who are the people who stick gum under desks? I have no idea who these people are or who their parents are.

Item 9: Children never see that telephone attached to my ear. They talk to me like I am as free as a bird and not talking to someone on the phone. I suppose they think I am being rude for not giving them my undivided attention every single second.

Item 10: In September 2004 my house was robbed. A person threw a rock through my kitchen window, opened the door, walked in and took my computer, camera and all my jewelry from inside my underwear drawer. There are no words to describe how rude this is.

Done.

 

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