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A letter from Doug Orbaker in Nicaragua

October 2012

Where Was Your Car?

I was robbed a few evenings ago.  My truck was in the shop, so I went to a meeting in Matagalpa by bus.  When I got back to Managua that night I took a taxi to come home.  There were a lot of people getting off the bus and a lot of taxis waiting—it was pretty much a random choice and I just got into the easiest.  It is common practice here in Nicaragua for a taxi to pick up a second or third passenger and drop them off according to whichever one is closest.  After we left the bus station, the driver picked up a couple—I was in front and they sat in back.  When he reached the stoplight where he should have turned to go to my house, the driver went straight, going down a very dark and deserted little street to where the couple said they were going.  

About a kilometer up the road the driver stopped and turned out lights.  The guy behind me grabbed me around the neck and told me that he had a pistol.  The woman and the driver started going through my pockets.  As many taxi robberies as I had heard about, and now it was happening to me.  Once they had everything the guy pulled me out of the car and I started to walk away.  They didn't follow.

I really got away pretty well—no injuries, and almost everything that was stolen is replaceable.  My Nicaraguan Resident Identity Card was stolen, but it was almost expired and I had already started the process of renewing it.  My glasses were lost, but a few days earlier I had been to an optician for an exam and had new glasses ordered.  The Presbyterian Church has a good insurance program that will replace the money stolen and very helpful people in the Louisville office to help. (Thank you, PC(USA).)  But some of the reactions from people (and some of my own reactions) have shown something about the Nicaraguan cultural assumptions, and my own human emotions.

When I went to the police to make the report, I explained that I had returned to Managua on a bus and taken a taxi home.  The officer's first question was, “Where was your car?”  His automatic assumption for a U.S. person living in Nicaragua was that I had a vehicle of my own.  There were dozens of other people on that bus, and if any of them were making the report, I don't believe that he would have made that assumption.  The problem is that it is true—every U.S. person I know who lives in Nicaragua has access to either a car or a pickup.  It might belong to an organization, but they have access to use it as their personal vehicle.  Even though I have trouble believing it when I'm caught in traffic, very few Nicaraguans have that option.

As I look as my own reactions, I'm finding them pretty interesting as well.  The night that it happened I was more angry than scared.  I had to walk about a kilometer to get to a place where I could get help.  The walk was probably a very good thing for my blood pressure.  By the next day I got over being angry and I felt like everything was back to normal emotionally.  But . . .

Because I had neither glasses nor driver's license, it was better for me not to drive for a few days, and two nights after the robbery I was going to a friend's house in the evening for a committee meeting.  One of my co-workers lives in the same area, so I asked her and her husband for a ride.  We left the office as it was getting dark and by the time we got to the neighborhood it was quite dark.  We turned into the neighborhood and there was one block that was quite dark.  My head knew perfectly well that I was safe—I was riding with friends, in an area I know well; my head knew that I was perfectly safe.  But my gut clenched.  I quickly locked the door and started looking around.  It only lasted a few seconds and then I calmed down.  By the time they dropped me off at my friend's house I felt like everything was back to normal emotionally.  But . . .

That was last night.  This evening, equipped with new glasses and a police report showing a stolen driver's license (which theoretically allows me to drive legally—I hope I don't have to question it) I decided to drive to the area where I was robbed.  But it was getting dark when I got to that corner, and at the last minute I decided not to go.  Maybe on Saturday, during the daylight, I'll drive down that road, but not tonight, not in the dark.

As trauma goes, what I had was pretty mild.  I wasn't hurt, no one I know and love was hurt, I didn't lose anything irreplaceable.  And it wasn't repeated—it was a one-time thing and my life is going on normally.

For many of my Nicaraguan friends it isn't so easy.  Two of my friends live in neighborhoods where armed gangs hang out.  I've known a couple of people whose homes have been robbed—when that happened to me, I moved.  They can't.

Once again it hits me—no matter how much I love being in Nicaragua, no matter how many good close friends I have here, no matter how much I want to just fit in with the Nicaraguans, I still have the privilege of a U.S. passport, the wealth of a job that pays at a U.S. financial level, insurance to cover my losses, etc.  The policeman was not wrong with his assumption when he asked, “Where was your car?”  Next time I go to Matagalpa I won't be at the bus station looking for a taxi, I'll drive!

Doug Orbaker

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 11

Write to Doug Orbaker




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