No matter how careful you are, eventually, when you are in super crowded spaces, especially in countries that are so destitute that theft is expected and even often times not considered a punishable offense, the pickpockets will get you.
It finally happened to me last night, as some friends and I went to the final night of the Karnaval des Fleurs – a three day parade and party in downtown Port-au-Prince.
I haven’t gotten the official answer yet, but according to my friends here, the Karnaval des Fleurs has not been celebrated in somewhere between 5 and 26 years. This year President Martelly, facing public criticisms for not doing enough to rebuild or to help the Haitian people economically, decided it would be good to spend almost a million dollars to throw a party – in my opinion, to distract people’s attention off the problems and to make people happy with him. Though my Haitian friends are split over whether I am right or not, I will say that it is a very crazy experience to be standing in the middle of a major parade with thousands of people gathered around dancing and singing, all right in front of the still-crumbling Presidential Palace and a tent city behind.
All in all, the experience was fun. It isn’t often that you can go to a third-world country, put on a $0.50 straw hat and grab a $1 maraca you buy on the street and attempt to Haitian-dance with the crowds to traditional bands playing drums, trumpets, and even PVP pipe horns. I managed to go to two of the three nights of the celebration, and am glad I did. We even made it onto Haitian TV as we passed the cameras.
In situations like this, however, security is always an issue of concern. Most of the time foreigners are warned by their Embassy not to attend for fear of violence and rioting. (This time the Embassy only warned to stay outside the crowds as the UN police were in full force.) As an outsider, you have to continually be aware that not everyone is going to welcome you to their party, and because in countries like Haiti, ‘American’ is spelled with a few dollar signs, you must expect that people are going to both ask for and try to steal whatever you have.
Though I only encountered a few people who were bitter at our presence, most of the people were very encouraging and glad to see us. They would come along side and ask if we were having a good time. We danced together and took a lot of great pictures with some of the street performers and bands. At the end of the night, though, it only takes one person to ruin the fun.
I had been conscious the whole night of my phone in my pocket, keeping a hand on it most of the time. (If we hadn’t been worried about getting separated, I would not have even taken my phone with me to the event.) Then when we decided to leave and had made it all the way around the park, we came to one final obstacle. We had to cross the parade route one more time to get to the car. In a small intersection of road, there were probably a couple of thousand people gathered, with many trying to push through the crowd in each direction. In the mix, a few fights broke out near us, challenging us to turn back and try a different way, but we kept going.
About 85% of the way through the crowd, with an end in sight, someone stepped on my little toe. This is a problem because I think I may have broken that same little toe yesterday morning, and have it all taped up. With someone standing on that toe, and the crowd pushing from every direction, I was knocked off balance. Throwing my hands up to catch myself, it was at this point, I felt my phone pulled from my pocket. Looking around, there was no way to know who took it. I reached down to feel the other pocket too, and my camera was gone.
Thanks to modern technology, I can remotely wipe the data from my phone, although we are currently trying to contact the thief to offer a reward. I am less upset about my phone being gone as I am about losing my 100+ photos from the day.
All in all, this experience summarizes my life in Haiti. There is so much joy and excitement that comes with the privilege to be here seeing what God is doing, yet those little hits and frustrations that come from life in a foreign culture keep coming, trying to rob you of the pleasure.
This morning I told my family back home that I am frustrated and cranky with all of yesterday’s experience (toe, people issues not mentioned here, and the pickpocket’s victory), but it is a good opportunity to go after some of the fruit of the Spirit – peace, kindness, and patience. So pray for my attitude. Pray for the situation in Haiti. And pray for my pickpocket, that God would bless them and bring them to a place in life where they can depend on Him and theft will be unnecessary.