The World Around Us

O Ladrão (The Thief)

Country: Mozambique by Marlowe

13-01-2013

Lis' purse clasp.

What’s left of Lis’ purse. A souvenir of a lesson learned.

Many of you will already know about this, but roughly a month ago Lisette had her purse snatched while we were walking home in the wee hours.

Having had a month to reflect on this relatively new experience (at least for me), I would chalk it up to overconfidence. Walking home at 3am seemed safe enough as we were within 10 minutes on foot and so declined a ride. As we walked, the only person I could see was a hooded man, walking in the opposite direction. He started crossing the street not 50m ahead from us. As we drew closer, he made a point of moving to Lisette’s side. That’s when I caught his eyes, which were very intense. I pulled Lisette closer to me by the hand but it was too late: he lunged for her purse strap, which snapped and let the purse drop to the ground.

Purse in hand, the thief bolted — and next thing I knew I was in hot pursuit. Nearly overtaken, the thief grabbed a rock and stood his ground, feinting to strike with it. A million thoughts go through your head when you react instinctively like this. All I was thinking was how I couldn’t let him steal from my wife. All I could hear was Lisette pleading for me to let him go: “MARLOWE, NO!”. Logic prevailed and I put my hands up. He ran off. Our walk home lasted about 2 minutes but felt longer.

I come from Toronto and it’s a very safe place. Having walked through every part of the city at these hours, I only have one other experience to compare this to (which happened in broad daylight). As westerners accustomed to safety, these kinds of experiences bring to focus just how special that safety is. In terms of the robbery itself, we got off easy: no one was hurt and nothing was lost that wasn’t easily replaced.

Path taken by thief to get close to Lis' purse.

Path taken by thief to get close to Lis’ purse.

All the same it sucks getting robbed, so I’m going to put down a few ways we could have been more careful:

  1. We felt comfortable in our neighborhood. Perhaps people let their guard down when they enter their own neighborhood the same way they say most car accidents happen within 15 minutes of the home (I’m speculating here).
  2. We declined the ride. We knew better than to walk at 3am but didn’t want to impose on our friend.
  3. We were too polite. Reacting strongly to bad vibes can offend innocent strangers, but both of us had a feeling from this guy before he got close.
  4. We ignored warnings. Everyone told us November / December (Xmas season) was worse for robberies but had walked home late before that. What’s the harm? Yeah…
  5. I ignored strange behaviour. This guy not only crossed the street for no reason but passed even further to be on Lis’ side (see pic).
  6. Shouldn’t have chased him. This was instinctual but not a good idea. Even though this guy was smaller than me, you never want to tangle with a desperate person. Perhaps he had to chose between robbing us and eating. There is also no guarantee his friends weren’t waiting around the corner to jump me or grab the lone Lisette.

We’ve calmed down now but were a little jumpy for a few weeks, especially since The Holidays were not yet over. Still, we were extremely lucky compared to some of the other volunteers in country. The way I see it, the best defense is avoiding the situation entirely and accepting it when it happens.