Stop! Thief!

“Welcome to Latin America.”

The timing of these words spoken to me by my roommate’s friend on Sunday night was painfully amusing. I had just relayed my story of how my phone had been snatched to him and my roommate, and it was met with both sympathy and sarcastic cracks about theft in their country.

It’s really amazing how common it is here, especially among gringos. I know four other foreigners who have had their phones stolen in the past three months. Some of them had a camera or a wallet snatched too. Even hearing these stories, though I felt bad for the victims, I still thought, that will never happen to me.

Of course not. I’m careful. Not saying other people aren’t, but sometimes silly or careless mistakes are made. Take the photo above, for example. You can’t just put your phone in your back pocket down here. Do that, and you’re practically asking for it to get stolen. I have never kept it in a spot with easy access. In fact, I was already paranoid and very self-aware when using or stowing my iPhone. I kept it in my purse, which is a small purse with a strap that fits across my body, and the zipper compartments have to be unzipped forwards, which is toward me. When walking, my arm is always swinging down by my purse, and the purse usually sits a little more towards the front of my body. I used the same bag and tactic when walking the streets of Venice, and I never had any trouble.

But all it takes is one moment one night when you’re a little off your guard. Maybe I’d become a little comfortable, or was a little distracted. Ok, ok, so I was both comfortable and distracted. Still, my phone was zipped up in my purse. I was in Plaza de Armas, the downtown square of the city, and when I state this fact to Chileans, the response is always, “Ahh,” in a tone that suggests, “Well, what did you expect?” My brand new boyfriend was in town, and we had just enjoyed some delicious churrasco a la pobre.  We got a little turned around leaving the square, so I used the maps on my phone to find the correct route. After zipping it back into my purse and circling back to the square, we followed a different street in hopes of finding our way to a gelateria. It was a really pleasant evening, albeit a little chilly, causing me to tuck both arms around Carlos’. There was definitely a good number of people on the streets, and there I was, distracted and comfortable.

After a few minutes of following the street, we realized we might have missed a turn somewhere, so I turned down to my purse to check my phone again. Then, the moment of horror seeing my purse was unzipped, and even worse, my iPhone was missing. I double checked and triple checked…it wasn’t in my purse. I was saying, “I think someone stole my iPhone,” but not actually believing it could be true. It couldn’t be true. Maybe I misplaced…

Nope. It was gone.

It is so strange to be a victim of pickpocketing. How did I not feel that?!?? My mind has gone over it time and again. How did someone come up beside me, unzip my purse, reach in and snatch my iPhone, without me feeling a thing and without either Carlos or I noticing?? Truly, these thieves are skilled. And I just think about how foolish I must have appeared, not noticing the stranger robbing me.

I started playing the “what if” game, but Carlos quickly helped me see how that was of no use. When I first noticed it was missing, my instinct was to run back in the direction we came from and somehow find the dirty thief. Again, pointless. I wanted so desperately to just rewind a few minutes and redo the walk more carefully. I mean, I was always careful! All it took was one moment.

So what have I learned from this? I knew even in the initial shock that this was a trial. While, thankfully, small-scale compared to many of life’s trials, this was definitely a time in which my character and my values would be tested. I started counting my blessings. At least it wasn’t my wallet! And the really fortunate thing, Carlos’ wallet was positioned right next to my phone in my purse, but the thief left that item behind. Thank God! He would have been stuck in the country with no money for a while. It could always be worse.

The part that really stings is that all pictures and videos from the weekend are lost. I had taken several with my phone, and hadn’t had a chance to upload them to my computer yet. Thankfully, earlier that day we had gone to a Starbucks and I had decided to collage a few from our time spent in a pretty park and post it to Instagram and Facebook. So, this is the only picture I have from the weekend:


But at least there’s that! I’m still trying to not be so bummed about the other pictures. Again, it could be worse. A student of mine joked that a lesson to be learned was to be more “instant” with social media and post everything faster. We laughed about it, but I don’t think I could be that obnoxious.

As far as the phone goes, it was an iPhone 4s that I’ve had over two years. It has no service and only works with wi-fi. Whoever took my phone hasn’t connected it to wi-fi yet, so I’m not sure what real use it is to the thief. I’m not even sure if they’ve cracked the passcode to get into the phone. Perhaps there are ways around that or things people do with stolen phones that I don’t know about. But ultimately, I just have to let it go.

The timing of the theft was kind of funny, because Carlos was only in town one more day and I didn’t have any classes until Monday afternoon. This allowed us a chance to go phone shopping, and I really relied on his Spanish with the sales reps and knowledge of phones. I don’t think I could have done that without him and ended up with the same phone I have now. He even teased me saying, “Isn’t it nice to have a boyfriend?” Haha perfect timing! 😉

The other positive outlook from this event is the confirmation that I really found the best Chilean roommate in Santiago. Cote has been amazingly helpful in getting my phone set up and making sure I understand how the prepaid plans work with the cell provider I have. This has all been in Spanish, which is also helping me with the language, because I have needed to understand everything with this transition. She called the cell phone provider, let me use her ID number to set up an account, and helped me understand how to make the most of my features! Not only that, but Monday night she asked if I was sad (after all, Carlos had just left and my phone had just been stolen), and offered me a full portion of sushi she had ordered. I am definitely being taken care of! It’s such a blessing to be able to rely on people you’ve met after moving to a foreign country. There are just some things you can’t do alone.

And so, after everything, I’m truly thankful for what I do have and for the people I’m surrounded by. Something good comes out of the trials. It’s also a chance to look at what’s important. I have everything I need and I can’t complain. I even had enough cash on hand to purchase a Samsung Galaxy Core 2, which really wasn’t that expensive for a smart phone, and I’m very happy with it. Ultimately, this was  a small lesson in how you can’t hang on too tightly to earthly possessions, for you never know how long they will last or when things may be given or taken away. There is only one thing we can hold fast to with confidence that it will never be taken from us, and every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17). He is steadfast, will never change, and we can always trust that He will take care of us. I am so thankful for my Jesus and what He’s done for me! I have been very well taken care of here, have had the opportunity to see incredible places and experience different cultures, and have met some amazing people. I don’t take that lightly!

Also, I’m not letting this new phone out of my sight!

My friends in the states, enjoy your freedom to pocket your phones. And if you venture down here, be smart and careful!



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