Small Time Thief

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Asia » Nepal
October 15th 2011
Published: August 29th 2015
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Dharan to Basantapur

My Family-run Guesthouse, Yak HotelMy Family-run Guesthouse, Yak HotelMy Family-run Guesthouse, Yak Hotel

In a small village called Basantapur
After all these years of being on the road, I have to figure that all things considering I have been extremely lucky in my travels. Now, as of tonight, I have had my room broken into twice, only this is the first time I have actually been robbed. The first time, as many of you may recall occurred in 2009 in Indonesia, and the potential thief only got away with my traveling companion’s flip flops! Or, more accurately, would have gotten away if it weren’t for the quick actions of the guesthouse owner who locked the thief in our room while her husband called the police. This woman was an instant hero in my book.

Ok, now for tonight's robbery. The power had gone out a little after 7pm, which is nothing new, as it seems to happen quite a bit in the mountains. I was in my room and decided to go downstairs to have a leisurely dinner and continue reading in my book by candlelight. It was too dark in my room to see anything since I had no candles. As I locked my door in the pitch dark, I rattled the lock and clasp, just to ensure I had indeed locked it. As I got to the middle of the stairs the lights flicked back on, and I debated going up the four steps and down the short hallway to see if indeed my door had actually locked, but decided I was certain I had fastened it shut and proceeded down to the dining room. Service was quite slow and the TV was at full volume, the speakers unfortunately too close to where I was sitting. I had to keep a finger on my left ear while holding the book down with the other. All the other seats in the house were taken but I soon was able to get up and move behind the barrier to the table with the cushioned chairs in the corner in front of the reception desk. It was during dinner (two plates of buffalo momos -- yum!) that my room was broken into. I don’t recall when I got back up there; possibly just after 8pm. I had been typing in my journal when I decided to get out some money for the next day from my orange laptop bag. I was going to stash it in my red shoulder bag as I often do ahead of time.

I first noticed the strap of my money belt hanging outside the durable white plastic “Apple” shopping bag. I always without fail wrap the straps around the money belt before stashing it in my Apple bag, as long as its not raining, in which case I would then need the bag for my laptop. I specifically remember doing so before I went out this morning for a walk. I also remember taking note of the remaining Rupees I had left. I had taken out 20,000 Rp just a few days before and had 15,500 Rp left. After seeing the strap out of the plastic bag, my heart fluttered an extra beat. I quickly opened my laptop and Apple bags, looked inside my money belt and discovered right off the bat that I was missing 7000 Nepalese Rupees (about $90)! I’m sure some of my Indian Rupees were missing as well, although unfortunately I hadn’t yet counted what I had left over since leaving the country the week before. I like to always have a running total of my balance at all times and yet this time I hadn't jotted it down. I just remember not spending nearly all the Indian Rupees before exiting the country. All my US cash was accounted for, as were all my cards. Everything else seemed to be in place. Then I noticed my Back Up Hard Drive just sitting by itself outside its hard case. What!?! I have never – not once – taken it out of the case for any reason. Never. Now it was clear as day OUTSIDE the case, exposed. I started shaking and my heart started pounding quite heavily. I could only manage to utter the “F” word over and over.

It took me awhile to calm myself enough to finally make it out of my room and on shaky legs down the wooden stairs. I walked right up to the owner, pulled him aside and asked to speak with him straight away, not wanting the rest of the curious family members and patrons to hear me. Yet. Soon, no doubt, they’d all be in the know. I was calm yet angry and confused as I spoke with the lovely guesthouse owner. His son, with whom I had spoken the night before during my first dinner there, soon arrived “on the scene” and tried calming me down. He told me to wait in my room and everything would be all right. “Just wait.”

I made my way back upstairs and don’t know, honestly, how the next two hours transformed, or how I must have spent them. I did not have the patience or ability to read, and besides trying to enjoy a humorous book wasn’t appropriate - or possible - at that time. I just paced and sat on my bed, dumbfounded, thinking that close to US$100 had been taken from me. Questions poured through my head. Had I really locked the door or did I just think I had? Throughout the afternoon I had been guilty of repeatedly traipsing down to the opposite end of the hall to use the restroom (a big pot of tea holding 8-10 cups will do that to a person!) and not locking the door each time. A 20-second nip to the toilet within view of my room door and hardly anyone upstairs meant I was relatively safe (when people were present I locked my door for obvious reasons, of course). I now found myself with the classic example of saying “I *always* lock my orange bag……except this time.” Why didn’t I? Because there was no light? I was too hungry? These are just feeble, feeble excuses. All I can say is I was guilty for not locking my bag – but if I had locked my door, that should be enough, right? A few times during my quarantine the nice son came up to question me to make certain pre-dinner I had locked my door and for me to write down how much cash I was missing.

About 9:30 I took a peek downstairs to see what was going on and whether or not I had been forgotten and if the guys had all gone back to the football game (meaning soccer in the states, of course) on the TV. I was assured the situation was "being taken care of" and for me to go back up to my room. They’d let me know when something was certain.

It was 10:20pm, almost exactly two hours after I had first reported the break-in, when there was a knock on my door and one of the daughters of the owner excitedly told me to come downstairs. “Quick!” She was smiling, so the news must be in my favor, I thought to myself. I followed her downstairs and into the back of the guesthouse to find the entire family and staff crowded around the same 14-year old boy who had taken my rucksack up the stairs upon my arrival yesterday. His head was bowed in shame. Apparently the money – the bills he had stolen from my bag as I sat downstairs having my dinner – had been folded lengthwise and hidden into the narrow, tubular part where his sweatpants’ drawstrings were. He’s a clever kid, but certainly a very naughty one. He might well be on his way to a life of crime if someone doesn’t stop him now.

I was, understandably, quite angry with this boy and at first didn’t know what to say. The family told me they had "given him beat," although I didn’t see any visible marks on his face and no blood had been drawn. Did they really hit him or just pop him a time or two with an open hand on the back of his head? No matter, he was visibly shaken at being caught and couldn’t even look me in the eyes when I spoke to him. He apologized straight off when the family told him to do so, although he didn’t sound one bit sorry for what he had done. I had to ask him: “Why? Why did you steal my money?” He wouldn’t say anything and again couldn’t hold my gaze for more than a few seconds, no matter how often I asked him to. I dismissed the rest of the family and only kept the one, who helped translate for me. The boy finally said in a meager voice that he took the money because he “wanted a mobile phone.” No matter his excuses, I felt like a mother scolding her teenager for a wrong doing, only I was forced to jump directly into the roll of insta-mom without the 13-15 years of parenting behind me. I hadn’t even thought about what I was going to say to this kid, let alone how.

Apparently the little whippersnapper had gotten a key from the front desk and used it on my door while I had been at dinner, as was the time I had expected someone had broken in. At least at that point, knowing this key information, I could then rest assure the door had been locked! The guesthouse owner told me, when confronted, the boy jumped to the roof and was going to run, all the while saying he hadn’t done it. He was clearly guilty because after two hours somehow the family had discovered the hiding spot in his pants. He must have been their only suspect. I spoke with the family afterwards, close to 11pm, as they finally got their chance to sit down and have a family dinner together. The boy was loose in the back somewhere; no one was watching him. I was told his father will be called in the morning and the boy will leave then when his father comes to pick him up. The family lives three hours away, apparently. I hope he leaves and never comes back and his father teaches him a lesson! I thanked the family for the umpteenth time and they told me for the umpteenth time how sorry they were that this had happened.

I lay in bed for a while before finally falling asleep, going through the circumstances of earlier. I got back 6000 out of 7000 Rupees and a 500 Indian Rupee bill, although I’m pretty sure I had more where that came from. At least….at least….I got most of my money back. Whew! I still felt violated, in a way I never have before. I don’t like the fact someone came into my room - a kid, for Christ’s sake – and took my money the way he did. I was calm and reasonable while confronting the boy, probably cause I really didn’t know how else to be, having never been in a situation like that. I guess I’ll have to chalk up the 1000 Nepalese Rupees and the missing Indian currency as a loss – and a lesson. I need to keep that bag locked 100%!o(MISSING)f the time; not 98%!,(MISSING) not 99%! (MISSING)Always! Even then there is no guarantee that someone might not walk away with the entire bag.

I am most grateful the astute and quick-acting family running this guesthouse didn't give in while interrogating this boy for two solid hours. Eventually I was able to get the majority of my money back, although I was still missing a goodly amount of change. I'll chalk this one up as a life lesson. I hope the kid does as well.


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