May 25, 2013
I knew something was wrong.
I had that gut feeling that something wasn't quite kosher, but, well, things here often aren't, so I couldn't exactly put my finger on what was happening. I was breaking a few travel safety rules and thought that may have been why I had the uncomfortable feeling gnawing at me. I broke the Law of the Bus:
1. I got on a crowded bus alone. I've done that before, but usually with my cane or crutches. They sort of guarantee me the chance to sit down, and usually the seat is near the front. From there I hold my things in my lap. Since I've been walking without the cane this last month or so, I left it home (regrettably) and had to try to balance myself on the one strong leg every time I was stuck standing on the buses, trying to hold on tightly to the rails either over my head or on the seats in front of me.
2. I had my backpack on my back. Normally I carry it in front of me, but this trip, I had to see the lawyer and all those papers are quite bulky and heavy. I still would have slung it around front, but the lady in the seat I was standing over had a baby asleep on her shoulder, and my backpack would have knocked his head off. No matter what country you're in, folks don't look kindly on knocking babies' heads off. That's just the way it is.
3. I let my physical and mental state cloud how alert I should have been. There were some young men in the back of the bus making an awful lot of noise. I've learned that even though the number of passengers is generally double the maximum capacity, folks generally stay quiet on city buses. These guys were in their high school uniforms and jumping on top of each other, squealing like monkeys and making a whole lot of distracting noise. This should have screamed to me, "GET OFF THIS BUS!" Instead, I thought about how dark it was getting, how I may be too late to catch the evening bus out of town and would get stuck in the nasty, unsafe terminal until midnight, how unhappy I was about the bad news I'd gotten earlier in the day, and how exhausted I was from a few unexpected detours that meant I'd had to do much more walking.
4. I let folks push me to the back of the bus. The rule is that you enter at the front, get off at the back. But not every bus driver is a stickler to this rule, and with my "handicapped status" they tend to let me scoot out that front door. This time, a couple of very gentlemanly fellows in their mid-40's or so--very well dressed, nicely groomed--opened the way for me to move toward the back door when we got closer to the bus terminal. I refused and said I'd just get off the front, to be told by one of them that I couldn't do that and needed to move to the back.
Often there are men who work for the bus companies and help the driver take fares and help the people get seats, so I thought that possibly that's who this guy was. He was certainly taking an active role in moving people around and getting women into seats. Looking back, he was moving people so that I could never take a seat. That was my first clue that something was strange.
When he moved me toward the back, though, I finally went along with it because I was so close to where I'd get off. However, when I got close to the door, he jumped in front of it, looked over at those teen boys (who then started hollering and acting ridiculous again), and backed me into a corner with the other nicely dressed man.
They crowded in on me and opened my purse, which I had on my shoulder and tucked under my arm. It all happened so fast--them pushing and pulling on me, me being trapped, the bus starting and stopping and slinging me around. I think now of a trillion things I should have done, like scream, but my first instinct was to sling my shoulders around toward one of them and away from the other, and weasel my way around and kinda under the guy blocking me from the exit.
I flew down those few steps off the bus rather quickly for a still-limping semi-old lady, onto an area of the street where often police stand, which I assumed was what kept these guys from following me. I immediately stuffed the papers that were half-hanging out of my purse back inside, then dug around to see what the bad guys had gotten.
My phone was there as well as the money for the long bus ride home. My ID card and debit card were in place. It seemed all my receipts and extra papers were blocking their view of the good stuff, so they'd not succeeded in getting to what they were surely hoping to take. I took a deep breath and thanked God. It didn't seem possible, but I didn't find anything missing.
I hurried into the terminal, realized I'd gotten there too late for the bus I wanted to take and bought a ticket for the next one, which would leave a few hours later.
Then it hit me. My backpack.
I frantically dug through and realized the men had taken my little electronics bag. A few years ago I received an iPod for my birthday or Christmas or something. That thing's been faithful--used in the house so we could all hear it, in the car plugged into the speakers, and individually by every one of us. It's full of great music and I'd just added a few sermons and audiobooks to keep me company on the 12-hour round trip to Asuncion.
And just a month ago, I'd decided to give it to Camille, since she was using it more than I was. I'd borrowed it back from her a couple hours before I left our house, 12:30 AM that same day. A cool gadget Ken had bought from the US and our friends brought in with their luggage, was also in the bag. When I travel, I can't always find a way to plug in my phone, so this thing would recharge the phone for me 5 or 6 times, I'm told. We got it 2 days before my trip and I never used it, so we'll just assume the claims are true. ;) And an assortment of cables and headphones to go with those two devices were now in the hands of people who would not appreciate my hot pink iPod case and the Christian music I'd collected over the last 3 years.
Thank God I only realized this after being off that bus for about 15 minutes, because my immediate reaction? "How far could that bus have gotten away? I'm gonna run it down and GET MY STUFF BACK!!"
I had all sorts of scenarios go through my mind. I was gonna go all Bruce Lee on them. No, my leg's not that good yet. Maybe I'd go Chuck Norris and they wouldn't know what hit them. Hmmm. Maybe not. Well, I could at least go Richard Martin on them, calling down curses from heaven and making sure they know what sort of God they're dealing with!
Lucky for them (or for me, as the case may be), the bus was nowhere in sight.
I guess that was another way God protected me. I'm trying to focus on that instead of all my regrets--those things I know about traveling but wasn't doing at that moment. Those things I should have done or could have done in the instant. It could be that the gut reaction to duck and run was better than stand and fight, but I sure hate it in hindsight, lemme tell ya'!
I'm also trying to see it as one more way that I can identify with the people here. I never liked that look I got when trying to relate to Average Joe, who knows that I come from the land of Hollywood and Wal-Mart, where policemen are good guys and pregnant women never doubt that their babies will live. Where getting "mugged" only happens in New York City subways or on some cop show.
In contrast, every single Paraguayan who has heard my story has told me his or her own robbed-on-the-bus story, and not all of them ended as well as mine. I'm told most times the thief cuts into the bag with a knife or pulls a knife on the person while demanding their goods. That makes my story seem much nicer.
Seems someone's still praying for us. Thanks.
It really does make a difference!