Thursday, February 21, 2013

The good with the bad

My time in Kasese has been wonderful, I have experienced so much in a short period of time.  Most everybody I have interacted with has been so nice and welcoming.  But of course there is always a darker side to life anywhere.  I can't just share the good things times, I also have to share the bad, because they are every bit as much a part of the story.  Unfortunately the worst part had to come on my last two days in Kasese

On Sunday while I went to Queen Elizabeth National Park with the LIDEFO staff somebody broke into my hut at the hotel and stole my laptop.  I knew right away something was wrong when I found that my door was unlocked.  I lock up my room every time I leave, even if I'm just going to grab a bottle of water at the restaurant.  I ussually leave my laptop at the front desk when I'm out, but we left before 6 am on a Sunday so nobody was there.  So I put my laptop in it's case, and hid it under my duffle bag.

The the people who took it knew exactly what they were looking for.  They took the computer in its case, the plug which was on the table, and the power converter which was still in the plug.  They didn't seem to touch my suitcase which had money hidden in it.  Or my backpack which had some other small electronics in it.  They were looking for the computer only, I guess that's what I get for bringing a shiney Macbook pro to a poor country.

It seems that it was the man in the hut next to mine.  He booked to stay for three nights, but paid for the room one night at a time.  He stayed in one of the nicer rooms the first night, but asked to move into the hut next to me the second night because it was cheaper.  The next day when I was in the park the maids said he was the first person to take tea then he went back to his room, and never went out.  when the maids passed by they said they saw him looking through the window for them.  He left very suddenly in the afternoon without paying for that day.  He just left his key in his door and dissapeared.  The police said that it is common for thieves to move from room to room, and make copies of different keys, so they can go back later and rob the person who is now staying there.  The number he left in the registrar book seems to be a fake, so he may be a goner. 

Of course I went through a real low period when I figured out what had happened, but I was really surprised by my friends reactions in Kasese.  Mary one of the hotel staff came to my room while I was first looking for the computer.  When I told her it was stolen she immediatly had tears in her eyes and started frantically looking along with me.  When I called Daniel from LIDEFO to let him know what happened he litterally screamed,  and was there five minutes later with his wife.  The hotel manager went with me and Daniel and the rest of our entourage every time we went to the police station.  Even a couple of the local Indian business owners that I have befriended over the past two weeks called me when they heard what happened (Kasese isn't a big town)  and they came to meet me at the police station and the hotel to offer advice and support.  The hotel owner really surprised me when he insisted on giving me 1.5 million Ugandan shillings about $500 to compensate me for the incident.  He is a very successful man, and that's not actually a lot of money to him, but that seems like a rare gesture to me anywhere.

It is a very alienating thing to have somebody break into a place where you are staying and steal your property.  It can give a person a very bad feeling about a place or an experience.  The more you think about that violation, the more distrustful and negative you can become.  All of the support I have gotten from new friends and aquaintences here in Kasese has kept me posative, and continues to leave me feeling good about this whole experience.  I don't have any regrets about this trip.

I guess my one regret should be not backing up everything on my computer before I left.  I was talking to my good friend Mr. Khan the night before I left Kasese, and he brought that up.  "It's not the computer that is important," he said, "it's all the data."  I agreed and went on recalling all of the things I had lost with the computer,  lot's of stuff for the farm, power point presentations for the beekeeping classes I teach, papers and articles from my agroforestry classes, piles of pictures.  It seemed like a lot of work and a lot of time had all gone down the drain in an instant.  It suddenly reminded me of something I saw in college.  A group of Tibetan Buddhist monks visited Montana while I was going to school there.  They started making a sand mandala on a big mat on the bottom floor of the student center.  There were four of them on their knees crouched over the unfolding art, completely focused on the task in front of them.  They dropped one granule of colored sand at a time by tapping a small stick against a cylinder full of sand.  I remember being amazed at the perfect symmetry of the mandala, the detail of the figures depicted in it, and the intense concentration each of them had as they worked. I stopped in a couple time every day for about five days to watch them work, as the mandala became more and more elaborate.

One afternoon I was passing on my way to practice when I noticed a considerable crowd gathered around them.   I watched from the floor above them.  Three of them had finished and were gathering their things while the forth one finished up the pattern he was working on.  When he was done he stood up, and without even taking a picture of their work or a moments hesitation they started sweeping the sand to the center of the mat.  Everybody in the student center gasped, but they were perfectly content and cleaned up everything while they smiled and chatted with each other.  It's not exactly the same thing, but I take comfort in that memory just the same.

As I'm sure you might be able to guess I won't be blogging as often now that I don't have a computer. I'm still keeping a detailed journal, and I'm looking forward to typing up my stories from Kasese and beyond and sharing the pictures as soon as I get back (which is soon.)


cy said...

Mandala ... you always have a way of understanding that this too shall pass. Perhaps what you write this next round for all the work and data gone will be a little deeper than before.

ralph said...

Hi Dan, I heard of the theft at tonight's meeting. Hope you can retrieve some of the content, do you have a find my lap top app like the iphone has?
Good reminder to me to back up my work.
Hope to see you soon.