For weeks now, things have been going remarkably well, almost too well. I kept saying it’s as though something bad will happen to balance out all the goodness. I had a nice trip to clear my head, gained perspective, my business class enrollment exceeded expectation and has been going really well, work has been keeping me busy, etc. etc.
This past Saturday, Loïc and Billy were working on my garden for me in the backyard. They pitied me and saw my disastrous looking garden and decided they’d help me. I went back there to tell them what seeds to plant and such, then they told me I need to go buy a bag of fertilizer (chicken poo). I had no idea how to buy it, so they said they’d go buy it if I give them money. Both are trustworthy kids who are my stable waterboys, so I said okay. I was in the backyard for no more than 5 minutes, came back to look for the wallet I had set on top of the bookcase – and nothing. Cell phone was still there, but wallet gone. I knew I didn’t misplace it because just that morning I went to the bank and took all the fees for the business class. I even told myself to put that wallet away, but got distracted doing this and that around the house. So within that wallet was nearly $100 in cash (a lot in the US, much less here!), and my Cameroonian ID (can’t go anywhere or do anything without).
I remained calm, and less than 10 minutes later, all the available neighbors were outside my house. I had called my friend Victor immediately, but he was far away and it was too complicated to explain over the phone.The “grand” (big man) in the neighborhood came with his car within minutes to access the situation. We knew it’s a kid because the fancy cellphone was left untouched. So the big guy told the kids to investigate among themselves and find the thief. Meanwhile, I was told to be patient and it will be okay. People began leaving, the few people left were around my age, whom I never see! They were so nice and we chatted, etc.
Later in the afternoon, a group of kids dragged me to see the “village justice”. I really had no idea what was happening despite of them explaining it to me 3 times. We got to this guy’s hose, and he ordered to speak individually to the kids, then he ordered whomever took the money to put it back at my housegate before 7pm that night, or else. The “or else” part that I understood included unkind punishment and going to see the police. Later, Billy and Loïc revealed to me that they think it’s one of the kids that was in the group. BelFrank was his name. He’s the other kid that’s still been coming by my house since the last episode.
7pm came around, of course, nothing. I remained surprisingly calm, holding onto slim hope that all will be fine. Next morning, I woke up after just few hours of restless sleep, where I had multiple dreams that the kid had buried my wallet in the ground in front of my house. Unfortunately, I woke up, and nothing was there. I went to Rose’s house next door and some kids were congregating, and just then, BelFrank and his mother, along with his older brother, arrived on a moto. Apparnetly Rose had gone to his house first thing in the morning, and the kid wasn’t there at 6am (what was he doing at 6am?!). We waited for Rose to come back from Church. Meanwhile, my friend Victor came on his moto. He was sorried to be gone yesterday, and when I explained what happened, the man was NOT happy. Victor is a man with authority in our neighborhood; he is the president of the development committee and is respected by all. He yelled at the kids and demanded whomever it is to drop the wallet off anonymouly that night. Rose came back later, another round of yelling went on, this time in the local language. Just happened that a few of the mamas were around, and they were all yelling at BelFrank and gesturing hand motions at me. I nudged Billy to translate, but he would only give me the gist of the information. So much less fun when you don’t understand what is being said!
So come this morning, I went to the primary school that I used to teach at and spoke to the Directrice (principal). She loves me, and I love her. When she heard this, she was also angry. She ordered the kids living in my neighborhood in for questioning, and a pivitol story was discovered. Friday afternoon, BelFrank and this other kid stopped by after school and got water for me, then I gave them 200cfa to go find me some bread. No bread was found, but I gave them 50cfa as a token of apprciation. Apparently BelFrank had saw money in my wallet and when they left, told the other kid to go steal it. Nice kid said, “I’m not a thief, if you want it, you go get it yourself.” Voilà! Truth revealed!
But of course the stubborn kid says he didn’t do it. Everyone got sent back to class. I called Victor to say we were questioning the kids, and he came. Apparently when Victor came, Belfrank got scared and ran away from the classroom. There was quite the funny scene of Victor, a nearly 50-year-old man chasing after this little rascal in the fields, but to no avail. We’ve validated the thief and all I had to do was wait and watch the village soap unveil.
Later in the afternoon, Billy came to tell me they saw my ID on the side of the road by my house. Funny thing was that all the kids were afraid to touch it and I had to walk out there to pick it up myself. By nightfall, Victor came with Loïc to ask me a few final questions before they go to BelFrank’s house to investigate. Throughout the afternoon/night, many neighbors stopped by to check on progress. I felt so loved. Then the real love moment occurred at 10:20pm, just as I began writing this blog post, Victor and two other chiefs of the village came by, along with Rose. They had beated it out of the kid and got my things back! It must’ve been quite the show since it went on for hours, but at last, victory!
So, this experience turned out quite positively. I lost out on nothing; instead learned just how much respect and care that my villagers have for me. Every single adult here is some sort of a parent to me; this is something I won’t find anywhere else. I had my wallet/purse stolen twice in London within a year, and both times, I was upset and felt violated. The worst thing about it is no one cares, and furthermore makes you feel like an idiot for not “being careful”. In London, there is a system online that you can report theft crimes, and the Met Police gives you a courtesy call as routine and tell you sorry it happened, better luck next time. Yes I shouldn’t have left the door open while stepping outside for a few minutes or I shouldn’t have left my wallet in plain sight. But it is MY house after all. I love that not one single villager ever made me feel like it was my fault, because it isn’t. Depiste how careless I was, it is always the thief’s fault!
I am loving the village more by the day. This is the kind of communal love that one cannot find anywhere in the “modern” world, behind the big cars, triple locked doors, alarm systems and goodness knows what else. Never again will I lose a wallet with $100 in it, and have the whole town investigating and hunting down the thief for me. We think our ways of living is so much more “advanced” and “sophisticated” in the “developed world”, but we must also think about what we are missing out: the simplicity, the basic good nature of mankind, and a solid support system with those who live around us.