16 March 2011
Dumbass is the only word that sums up how I felt after I had my laptop stolen during my recent volunteer travels in Costa Rica and Panama. In my many years and hundreds of thousands of miles of travel, I have never had anything stolen. Call me lucky or call me cautious, but all things considered, I’ve managed to survive all sorts of high risk travel unscathed. (Knock on all surrounding hard surfaces, please.)
I checked into The Purple House (La Casa Morada) in David, Panama after enduring the 10 hour bus trip from San Jose, Costa Rica and tedious border crossing via Tracopa. Hot, sweaty and hungry, I high-tailed it to the nearby grocery store for snacks and a few .45 cent Balboa beers. All well was well in my world once again, as I sat outside on the patio at The Purple House, sipping an ice cold beer and Skyping my boyfriend to let him know of my safe (although not exactly swift) arrival in Panama.
When I returned to my shared dorm room (6 people, 3 bunks) around 11:30 p.m., lights were out and everyone appeared to be asleep. Not wanting to disturb other weary travelers, I opted to not lock up my laptop in the locker where my other belongings had been safely stored. Instead, I wrapped my laptop in my Hold Steady sweatshirt and placed it on the floor below my bottom bunk – mere inches below my head.
Although I was dead tired, I was woken several times throughout the night by my Guatemalan roommate, with whom I exchanged pleasantries with earlier in the evening. Although she didn’t speak a word of English, I managed to convey that I’d volunteered in her country in January, had a wonderful experience (despite doom and gloom reports on the crime situation in Guatemala City), so much so that I adopted and brought home a puppy from the animal rescue I was working at. She seemed like a sweet, twenty-something gal, until she shot up straight in bed in the middle of the night, pointing out the window, saying “Look! Look!” Over and over again. Wait a sec. Didn’t this woman tell me that she didn’t speak any English? Mildly confused, I fell back asleep.
Around 7 a.m., I awoke to this woman standing over my head, faux swatting a “cucaracha” from my head. Had I not just come from the rainforest, where your average size insect makes a cockroach look like an ant, I may have mustered more of a reaction. Instead, I rolled over and fell back to sleep. At this point, three of my dormmates had already checked out. The Guatemalan gal proceeded to make several trips to the bathroom before disappearing for good.
Semi-rested, I woke up for good around 8:30 a.m., reached my hand under my bed, only to find my sweatshirt – my laptop was missing. Immediately, the pieces of what happened came together and I rushed into the hostel lobby to speak with the owner, Andrea. She alerted me that the Guatemalan woman, who now had a name, Lisbeth Mejia, had scooted out of the hostel shortly before, three days before her intended checkout.
I felt like a moron as I realized that I screwed up by not taking one simple precaution – using a lock – a lock I was already using to protect my other valuable belongings. Andrea was gracious and understanding as could be as she suggested several possible courses of action – everything from checking the bus station for Lisbeth to calling local hostels to see if she had checked in. I opted not to file a report with the Panamanian police, as I needed to make my way to Boquete to meet some friends from Canada who were meeting me to volunteer. Volunteering seemed like a far more fun option, plus I didn’t have full confidence in my Spanish skills to convey exactly how the situation went down.
Yes, it’s a sucky feeling to have something stolen from you. But, I was partially to blame for the laptop loss by not taking proper safety precautions. Reality is that I was wielding an expensive piece of technology in a developing country. My laptop was easily worth one month’s salary in Guatemala. I may as well have been walking through David with dollar bills stapled to my body. It’s disappointing that anyone, anywhere would steal from another human being, but that’s life. Different people have different challenges, needs and means of survival. My laptop may have meant some kind of opportunity for Lisbeth, or simply another meal. I don’t know. As much as I wanted to wish the karma gods to puke carpal tunnel or the blue screen of death on the woman, I know that she has to live with her actions, pending her existence of a moral compass. My laptop, and pretty much everything else I own, is just stuff. Stuff that can be replaced. As my friend Ryan McGovern pointed out, there are much bigger problems in the world to worry about – especially right now.
So dear, Lisbeth Mejia – I hope my laptop is everything you hoped it would be. As for me, I will always use a lock to protect my “stuff.” And if you still decide to steal from me, obviously you need my “stuff” more than I do. I'll deal with it.
P.S. I booked a room at The Purple House on my outbound trip from Panama back to Costa Rica. Despite my incident (which was no fault of the hostel), I cannot recommend The Purple House enough. Andrea truly is the hostess with the mostess. Muchas gracias.