Tuesday, July 30, 2013

[police and thieves in the streets // oh yeah!]

So, a couple of months ago, back in May, I noticed that I was running through money at an alarming rate.  I couldn't remember making any big purchases or spending out of the ordinary, and honestly, there’s just not that much to buy in my town, but every time I checked my wallet, I had less money than I thought I should.  A few days before for Marché Maroc, I took out 600 dhs (~$70) to pay for transportation and the hotel, only to find that I had less than 100 dhs (not even enough to get me to Rabat) the day before I left.  Despite everything, though, I chalked it up to human error.  My budgeting can best be described as spending money in my wallet until I don't have anymore, and then going to the bank and getting more.  As long as I’m in site, I would be hard pressed to spend my entire living allowance in a month (I can easily feed myself for an entire week on $10, and that’s with buying cheese, which is by far the most expensive part of my diet) which means I usually have a little extra money in the bank and I don’t really have to watch what I’m spending, and I just assumed that spending blindly had caught up to me.  Plus, the only other option was that I was being robbed and the only place I leave my purse unattended is my host family's house and just... no.  I didn't even want to contemplate that.

I had a great time at Marché Maroc and bought so many cute things and ate out at many of Rabat's fine restaurants and spent my weekly souq budget on Dr. Peppers (I regret nothing!) and came back to site with zero monies.  In fact, I so broke that I had to have Peace Corp reimburse me while I was in Rabat instead of including it in my next paycheck, which meant that I knew EXACTLY how much money was in my wallet because, for the first time since I got to Peace Corps, I was going to be pushing it to make it through the rest of the month.  Once back at site, though, the money continued to slowly disappear, expect this time, I was taking notes on what I was spending and I knew down to the last dirham how much money was in my wallet.

At the time, I suspected my host family might be stealing it.  I visit often, and I usually just dump my purse in the salon and then wander into the bedroom or kitchen or wherever people are.  I keep closer track of my belongings when I’m other places, but this is my host family.  I lived with them for a month and a half.  I trust them.  I noticed money disappearing twice that week, the first time  200 dhs that I noticed the day after having lunch with them, and then another 100 dhs that I noticed immediately after Couscous Friday.  Despite the fact that I knew the money was being stolen and it looked pretty damming, I was still hesitant about saying anything because I didn't want to ruin my relationship with my host family.  I was sure that one of them was the thief, it was only one person, not a family-wide conspiracy (my sitemate and I spent a solid half hour trying to exonerate various family member based on who had the opportunity be alone with my purse), and I didn't know how to have that discussion with them without it overshadowing our relationship for the rest of my time here.  I spent Friday afternoon dithering over what to do, and finally decided that on Monday, I would call Peace Corps and ask for advice about how to politely accuse my host family of theft.  Man, am I ever glad I waited.

On Saturday evening, I stopped at the hanut for eggs and milk on my way home from work.  Sunday morning, I woke up, stumbled into the living room and noticed that my backpack was lying on the ponj in front of my computer.  Huh, I thought.  That's weird, I don't remember leaving this on the ponj yesterday night.  In fact, I don’t remember doing anything with this yesterday night.  I moved it so I could sit down and found my wallet lying on the ponj underneath it.  Um, I thought to myself.  I REALLY don't remember taking my wallet out of my purse last night.  I looked for my purse, which was on the ground, halfway between my door and the ponj, with half the contents strewn across the floor.  Oh shit, I thought.  I really don't remember doing that.  I frantically checked my wallet, which was devoid of all cash, even the little useless centimes, and the front clasp on the front was broken.

"Well, shit," I said, out loud this time, because I knew there had been money in my wallet when I got home the night before and now there was none, which meant that while it wasn’t my host family robbing me, someone else was, and they were doing it by breaking into my house while I was asleep, which isn’t actually any better.

I spent a frantic few minutes trying to discover what else was missing.  Computer, present.  Camera, on the floor next to my table.  iPod, next to my bed.  Then I checked my rent money, which I keep in an envelope in my backpack, the very backpack that first tipped me off that something was wrong.  My landlord lives in Italy and I pay my rent ever few months when he comes back, which means I often have several months rent in my house at one time.  I used to keep the money in the bank until it was time to pay rent, but it’s not like I get any notice when my landlord is coming to town and I can only take out two months rent from the ATM a day, so it was just easier if I kept the money in my house.  I should have had two months rent in the envelope, but when I checked, half of it was missing.

I spent the first few hours pacing around my apartment, trying to think of some other possible explanation and hoping that maybe I would wake up and this would all be a terrible dream, but no such luck, and finally I called Peace Corps to report the break-in.  After determining that I hadn’t been physically harmed, they told me our Safety & Security person would call me back during business hours on Monday, and I settled down for an uneasy evening.

The thing is, I'm not sure how the thief got into my apartment.  There are two doors in my house: the front door and the door to the roof.  When I checked my front door, it was still locked, and while I normally sleep with the roof door open for ventilation, it had been unseasonable cold the night before and I had shut it, which meant dead bolting it from the inside.  The kitchen and bathroom windows were both open, but I live on the fourth floor and coming through a window would have meant repelling off the roof, which seemed unlikely.  Not knowing how the thief broke in made my anxiety worse, because it meant that I didn’t know how to stop them from breaking in again that night.  I locked every possible entrance to my apartment that night and curled up for a restless night’s sleep with my washboard and butcher knife next to my bed, just in case.

I talked to Peace Corp’s Safety & Security officer the next day and she told me to file a police report and change the lock on my front door.  I went to visit my (thankfully non-felonious) host family and explained to my host mother what had happened.  My host mom is a wonderful, wonderful woman who very much sees me at her ninth child, and while that can be a little overbearing and smothering at times, it was exactly what I needed right then.  She inspected the scene of the crime (her theory was that the thief had come through my kitchen window, since there is a grate below it that the thief could have stood on while boosting himself through the window), talked to my neighbors (who had been at a funeral in the countryside all weekend and could thankfully be eliminated as suspects) and then marched off to talk to the neighborhood sheikh and find the proper authorities to report this to, all the while muttering haram, haram under her breath and holding my hand.  I had spent the night trying not to think about what could have happened if the thief hadn’t just been after money and was a bit shaky and overwhelmed and having someone else, someone who spoke Arabic, take over was exactly what I wanted.  All I had to do was answer her questions and I can almost always understand my host mom. 

The sheikh took us to the local police station so I could officially report the theft.  At first the police were solicitous and worried – a few guys even came to my house to dust for fingerprints and take photos of the crime scene, which wasn’t much of a crime scene thanks to the intervening day between the break-in and me filing a police report) – but once they realized that the thief had only taken money and there was no obvious means of entrance, things went poorly.  They clearly thought that I was lying since no one would pass over the opportunity to grab my electronics, which were worth considerable more than the cash that was taken.  (I’m not imaging things; the head office directly told me, "I think you're lying.  No one was here."  All I think is that it means that the thief was smart enough to realize that money can't be tracked, my MacBook Pro is pretty unique in this town and they have enough self-restraint to not grab everything in sight, which most likely means it's an adult and not a children, which DOESN'T MAKE ME FEEL ANY BETTER.)

And that was that.  The head officer told me, repeatedly, to not be afraid until I lost my temper, rounded on him and snarled, “Excuse me, a strange man broke into my bedroom while I was asleep, how DARE you tell me how I should be feeling.”  He left, clearly regretting his decision to take English in school and ended up on crazy foreigner duty.  My host mother left to threaten everyone she knew in the neighborhood about my safety (at least someone believed me) and I sat down and cried because I knew the police weren’t going to do anything and a thief who had broken into my house at least four times was still out there.  It wasn’t my best day.

I spent the next week a bit freaked out.  It’s a lot harder to sleep when you know there really are things that go bump in the night and I couldn’t even tell my parents what had happened because one of us had to be calm for that conversation and, at least for the first few days, it wasn’t going to me, but I didn’t have any further problems and I was hopefully that my host mother rousing the neighborhood’s sympathy (so many people stopped me to ask if I was okay) and a visit from the police would be enough to deter the thief and I could get on with my life.  My friend Bethany also visited for the weekend, and having another person in the house made me feel safer and distracted me.  The weekend was hot and we even opened the roof door while we slept without any issue.  By the time Bethany left, I was feeling much better and while I meant to keep my apartment locked up, when I woke up in the middle of the night because of the heat, I didn’t hesitate to opened my roof door and bedroom window.

The next day, I checked my wallet as I was on my way out the door for work, and discovered that all the cash was gone, again.

Which, fuck.

I went to talk to my host mother again, who sat down and had a pow-wow with my downstairs neighbor.  They wanted me to go to the police.  I refused; I just didn’t feel like I could handle being told I was lying again without some support.  My host mom wanted me to move, but the only apartment open in the neighborhood was in the same building as my host family and I decided that was just a little too close for comfort.  Also, it's pretty obvious that the thief is watching my house, and he would see me move (plus, he's undoubtedly someone in the neighborhood and if I moved, there would be plenty of talk, including, I’m sure, discussion about where I was moving to) and if he did decide to follow me to my new apartment, I would be all alone without neighbors who would be looking out for me.  Plus, I was angry.  I hadn’t done anything wrong; why should I have to move, pay more for a new apartment (I had just helped my sitemate find an apartment; I knew exactly how much the average rent was and it was considerable more than what I was paying) and start over in a new neighborhood where I would be stared at and followed and harassed every time I went outside?

I called Peace Corps back, but they weren’t super helpful.  I explained why I didn’t want to go to the police, and while they were understanding and assured me that they believed me, they also didn’t offer to come and help me deal with my police. They suggested that I talk to my landlord about getting bars for my window on his next trip back, but that was it.  Nothing was being done about the fact that this guy, whoever he is, is still out there and was still viewing me as a convenient neighborhood ATM.  At least this time, I was too pissed off to be scared.

That was early June, and I haven’t had any issues since then.  Two of my windows have bars and I keep them open at night, but I’ve been paranoid about keeping everything else shut when I’m asleep.  I bought a fan to help with the heat – I just can’t sleep outside anymore – and while my electric bill is horrific, at least I’m more or less comfortable at night.  I keep waking up the middle of the night to double check that all the windows are shut, I jump at the least sound at night and I’ve woken up a few times, convinced I’m going to see a dark shape looming over me.  The worst part of my day is checking my wallet every morning to see if my privacy has been invaded while I was asleep again.  Every time someone is misplaced in my apartment, I'm convinced it's been stolen, and I hate that that’s my default reaction now.  (When I got back from summer camp, I couldn’t find my paring knife and I found some seeds under my sink, and while I'm aware that breaking into my tightly locked house to steal a kitchen knife and leave behind part of his snack is an incredible dumb theory and it’s far more likely that I simply misplaced the knife while doing the dishes, I can't quite convince myself that someone wasn't in my house while I was gone and worrying over it like it’s a sore tooth.  I also still can't find that damn knife, and it’s really inconvenient.  Of course, I also spent two days convinced that some of my Tupperware was stolen, only to find it full of cucumber yogurt in my fridge, so this isn’t exactly a rational response.)  Word has spread around Peace Corps and someone at camp turned to me at breakfast and said, "Oh, so you're the girl who had her house broken into while she was asleep." 

So yeah, that's been my fun brush with home invasion.  I’ve learned the difference between burglary, theft and robbery and all sorts of new Arabic vocabulary that I wish I didn’t need and have an inherent distrust of people’s willingness to help if I’m not being physically attacked.  Overall, I had almost an entire month’s living allowance stolen and thanks to having to make up the missing rent money, I had no money for the past two months.  It’s been a blast.