Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Robbed of a Happy Birthday and a Lot More

San Jorge police station. Jail cells through the open door.

I can't write this post in a way that truly conveys the moment, but I'm sure you can imagine...

Roberto's birthday was last Sunday. He left my house that evening at six, on his motorcycle carrying carefully wrapped birthday cake in his backpack. After shutting the entrance gate, I went happily to the kitchen to enjoy another piece of it myself.

Outside, about 100 yards down the road, one man stepped out of the darkness with a rock in his hand. Another man just behind the first flung his arm and weight against Roberto and threw him off his motorcycle.

An elderly lady who lives across the road yelled for them to leave him alone. But there wasn't anything she could really do.

Photo taken from outside the gate to the house, everything happened within the road you can see in the photo.

Roberto got up and ran, with now four men chasing behind. He made it halfway up the rocky dirt road in pitch black and then fell. The other men yelling for him to stop or they'd kill him quickly closed in, kicked him in the stomach and put a long knife to his throat.

They stole his backpack, his wallet, his cell phone, and then Roberto ran back to the house and they ran off through the banana fields.

Only then did the adrenaline start for me.

I heard him outside, yelling with desperation and hitting the entrance gate (my house has 9 foot walls all the way around), "Nicole, Nicole! They've robbed me! I don't know if they're following me! They've stolen everything!

By this time I had run out to the gate, fumbling with my keys in the darkness to find the right one to let him in and back into safety.

He ran for the telephone to call the police and grab a machete, I ran to get the car out (at the time I thought they had stolen his motorcycle). We both moved quickly, but it felt like forever. As I was pulling out, someone yelled from the property across the road, but I didn't know who it was or what they said.

The unknown reigned.

Roberto raced to the police station, I notified all our neighbors. There aren't very many and they're not very close to the house, but I felt they were our best bet for finding anything.

As I told them what had happened (and began to tremble from the realization), one woman brought me water. Some of them listened. Many of them told me it was dangerous where I lived and that I should live in town. They all meant well, but comfort in a time of crisis can be very culture specific.

One of the neighbors who works at NPH and I drove around our block (which is huge and mostly banana and sugarcane fields). I didn't have any hope that whoever had done this would be hanging out in the road, Roberto's backpack in hand, but it also felt better than doing nothing.

By luck, we all reconvened back at the house at the same time with a few extra family members and neighbors in tow. After standing outside and covering everything and all the extra possibilities a few more times (a Latin American tradition), Roberto went to cancel his bank cards.

Around 10 we were called to the police station to identify some guys they had picked up. While I still don't have a ton of confidence in the police, I suppose them not searching the banana fields does make sense when they know they can just hit up a bar, pick up the same guys as usual and probably be right.

Although the banana field security company did a search of the field and found a drunk man with really bad timing trying to steal bananas.

Roberto walked into the station where the guys were just sitting on a bench. He walked back outside with the police (a distance of only about 15 feet) and said that they were 3 of the 4 guys.

He also voiced some concern that the guys saw both of us as well and the police said that was just a sacrifice the victim has to make.

The next day, we started the process of replacing things, motorcycle documents, insurance, license, national ID, medical insurance card, bank cards, etc.

We went to the police station again, filled out paperwork, forensic clinic, regular clinic, bank, ID office, bank again and on and on. At the police station, the mother of one of the boys was crying.

All three who are currently in jail are minors. Nicaraguan law for minors is very lax (no comment on the juvenile offender system in the US), even if they commit murder, the sentence could be no time in jail.

The police have shown Roberto a photo of the fourth man (the man who Roberto and I are both of the opinion organized the whole thing) and Roberto confirmed his identity. The police haven't found him yet to arrest him, and probably won't.

As time has passed, we've both had a chance to relax and just be grateful things weren't worse. That what could have been a moment of showing off, or anger, or anything for an out of control teenager and resulted in life altering loss, will remain to us simply a strong lesson.

We've both laughed as we've pictured someone trying to sell a 250 GB external hard drive (it was in the backpack) in the middle of banana fields. Even though they could sell it for more than $100 to some one in the city, most of these guys have never even used a computer. It would just look like a little red plastic box with a cable coming out. Or a doorstop. Or a paperweight.

We're very aware, however, that our lives will never be the same. When Roberto decided to press charges, he did so knowing that this isn't a very big town. And that your best protection is your family.

All the boys in jail will be there for at least a few months, but they are also all part of the largest gang in San Jorge (ok, it's pretty much the only gang in this little town). So in the end, I decided to move, at least temporarily, to Roberto's mother's house in Rivas. Different town, different gang, lot's more family.

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