Thursday, January 12, 2012

Back in the police van again

Monday was a holiday in Cartagena, so the kids and I packed a bag and headed to the beach.  It was the last day of Christmas holidays, so the place was wall-to-wall people.  Our friends who have an apartment on the beach had staked out a cabana, made lunch and drinks; as you can see, it was a good deal.  We took turns with the girls by the water, with the other two adults enjoying themselves in the shade of the plastic tent.

Well fed and well watered, my friend Third Grade Teacher and I were happily discussing what Stylish will be doing next year when a mob of people approached our cabana from both sides.  My Spanish is pretty terrible, but Teacher speaks it pretty well.  We deciphered something about a red bag.  Thinking someone had lost a bag, we shook our heads and said we hadn’t seen it.  The crowd frowned and slowly dispersed.  We returned to our chat.


Sixty seconds later, a doubled mob and two policemen showed up... holding my red bag.  Yes, my bag had been stolen and I hadn’t even missed it.

Joe Pike would not be impressed with my situational awareness.

I checked the bag, and nothing was missing.  The mob, comprised of vendors and locals, must have nabbed the thief almost immediately.  How they knew it was my bag is anyone’s guess.  Maybe my Ortho Biotech bag from a conference a decade ago looked sufficiently gringa-esque that it was a small logical leap to determine it belonged to me.  In any case, the bag was back, intact, and I was happy.

The locals, especially locals who sell things on the beach, do not want you to get ripped off here.  (I’d like to see a similar crowd notice the theft and retrieve my property anywhere else I’ve lived.  Good luck.) Tourism in Colombia already has to fight a bad reputation.  But the flipside of the coin is, if they catch someone, they want your help to do something about it.  Which meant many insistent hands pushed me along with the police officers, and ol’ Amy was back in a Colombian police van.

We trundled down the street to the cop shop.  The thief was standing on the top step of the police station, handcuffed, firmly gripped by two officers, mumbling at me and giving me pleading looks.  Great.  They whisked him away, and a discussion ensued about who spoke enough English to talk to me.  A crowd of maybe twenty cops was peering at me by now.  Ah, being the center of attention.  Young Cop was elected to the task.  We had the following conversation.

Young Cop:  What happened?
Amy:  I was sitting with my friend in the cabana.  I didn’t know the bag was gone until the crowd returned it to me.
YC:  The man steal your bag?
A:  Someone took my bag, but I didn’t see anything.  I didn’t know until the police brought the bag back to me.
YC:  The man, he tall and black? [sidenote: the man in handcuffs looked skinny, pale and 86% meth.]
A:  I did not see who took my bag.
YC: [frowning]  You not see?
A:  I did not see.
[Much grumbling between the policemen.] 
YC:  What he take?
A:  Nothing.
YC: [bigger frown]  Nothing?
A:  No.  Nothing was missing.  [I looked through the bag again.  Money, towel – all there.  I was smart enough not to pack a wallet, credit cards or a camera.]
YC:  This important, señora.  He no take anything?
A:  There is nothing missing.  He didn’t take anything out.
[Exasperated grumbling.]
YC:  You sit there.

Young cop stalked out of the room, leaving me in an annex with five junior officers.  They looked bored on a holiday afternoon, and the prospect of an unaccompanied gringa to babysit lifted them from their lethargy.  They muttered together for a minute, then elected a spokesman.  After a few attempts I deciphered a request for my name.  They all rolled that around for a while, with increasing delight.  “Eh-mee.”  “Eeeehhhh-meeee.”  Some teenage boy snickers that reminded me uncomfortably of Beavis and Butthead ensued.  I looked hopefully at the closed door for Young Cop.

They were experimenting with the delights of saying “Canada” when my savior, Young Cop, returned.  We went back to the main building, where YC had prepared a written statement for me to sign.  He explained it to me as I read it very, very slowly.  YC got a little impatient with me, but there was no way I was signing anything unless I knew what it said and it was entirely true, both for my sake and for the bag-snatcher’s.  Statement complete, I listened to a stern lecture about keeping my eyes on my things at the beach.  Truly, the bag was eight inches from my foot; what else could I have done?  I thought I was watching.

My request for a ride back was politely declined, so, excitement at an end, I had to hoof it back down the beach to my friends and the girls, buoyed by the knowledge that I was a cog in the wheels of justice.  And thus concluded my second encounter with Colombian police.  Please, let’s not make it a third.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

8 inches from your foot!-you were doing what you were supposed be doing watching the girls.

Now I wonder if the purse snatcher is still in custody...humm
Love Mom