The day after the robbery (Sunday), Arnie Solvig, Tim Brokopp, and I went back to the beach in the morning and retraced the steps of the thieves. We started from where we had last seen them disappear under the bridge. The bridge has just enough clearance for a person to go under it hunched over. Going inland from there, we followed each side of the waterway that led behind some commercial buildings and into a construction area. Using machetes and sticks, we checked through the high grass and trees. Due to the construction site, there was not a lot of overgrowth to contend with and we had pretty easy going. It was easy to see how the bandits made such a quick getaway.
As we got started, I thought to myself that this morning would be a good "closure" event- to settle our minds that we had at least tried to do something to check for our stuff, but that we'd probably wind up with nothing. So, I was pleasantly surprised when Tim yelled back to us (he was running point on this mission) that he had found some things scattered right on the dirt road ahead. It was a couple odds and ends that I had in my sack! Our hopes picked up quite a bit and we felt that we were "hot on the trail" ... 12 hours late! HA!
After canvassing the area for about 2 hours, we netted the following:
-Alace purse (empty)
-Our house key (mysteriously off of the key chains! Praise God! Would a thief stop to remove this!?!)
-Photocopy of our health cards
-My international drivers license
-Odds and ends from Alace's purse
-Odds and ends from Steve's sack
Here's what we didn't find:
-Alace's wallet, cell phone, ipod, money and resident card (carte de sejour)
-Steve's wallet, cell phone, money, cool aviator sunglasses, and resident card
-Meredith Brokopp's digital camera
Hindsight is 20/20, so here's some things we learned...
1) When you're at the beach, snap your photos of the beautiful sunset, but then pack up and get out of there. No trips to the beach that go past 6:30ish- Doesn't matter if you're in a large group or not. (note: we were taken with the brazenness of the thieves to take on our group of 17. However, many were children, so they may have thought we'd be compliant for the sake of the kids)
2) Stay alert! About 5 minutes before the bandits attacked, several us had noticed a man approach very close to our group and walk slowly past, getting a good look at all of us and our stuff. Since we were all around our fire, sharing stories, and laughing, no one said anything. It's obvious that this guy was sizing us up. The fact that none of us engaged him, even though he was so close to us, showed him that we were in our own world and oblivious.
3) Keep your stuff put away and out of sight. The first bandit on the scene went straight for my bag which was sitting, unattended, on a chair at the edge of the circle. There were many beach towels around, so there was no excuse for this being in plain view. Plus, it included our only set of car keys. We had to return to our home and get the other set.
4) If you have a Texan for a wife, consider ways to positively channel her wrath! HA! Alace says that she can't remember being so angry. We were all angry and a little traumatized at the same time.
...and many other things were learned. The event really could have gotten so ugly that we are praising God that no one was hurt and that we only missing very few things. We have two digital cameras- Alace usually has one in her bag and I have one in mine. That day, we both forgot to pack them. I had also gotten in the habit of carrying a small, external hard drive with me. It contains every important document that's important to our family or ministry. However, I had put it in my flight bag a day before. As I mentioned in my last note, I also had $400 (200,000 central african francs) that I had taken out of my wallet and left at home just before coming to the beach. For all these things and more, we are thankful. God is good and would meet our needs no matter how great the loss, but, for not having to go through the pain of additional loss, we are grateful.
We are having good discussion on how to go to the beach and "show" thieves that you're "no one to be messed with", without cutting yourself from interaction with people. For example, I may take up "widdling"! The beach is a great place to go and relax and get to know Gabonese people and their kids. It's really a shame that such a wonderful trip to the beach ended this way. We feel a little gun-shy to return, however, we'll learn from this and move on. It seems obvious to us that this event was meant to try an discourage us and frighten us from being outreach minded people. It's hard not to withdraw a little and put up the walls. We're trying to do the things that are smart and safe without shutting off people and without forgetting that we don't put our trust in safety strategies, but rather, we trust the name of the LORD, our God!
Yesterday (Monday), we went to the police and made our declaration. We were thankful that a friend of the church works in the particular department that handles these things. If you don't have a contact like this to see after your file, you usually have to hand over some cash to "grease the wheels" of justice. I'm not sure exactly what they can do, but, since many things were found the morning after the incident, perhaps other people picked up our pieces of identity (like our residence cards) and turned them in. We'll see. In the meantime, we've made sure to promptly cancel the credit cards and start the process of their replacements and our residence card replacement as well. Since our bank/debit card was the only way that we were accessing our money, we made sure that this would be expedited to us via FedEx. We have some cash on hand, however, we were a bit worried because rent is due. However, when our landlord showed up to collect, we explained the situation and she agreed to only collect half of the cash now and wait for the other half until we have our new atm/debit card in hand. That's a big blessing.
Monday was the first day for the kids to get back to homeschooling. It helped to give us all a sense of "normalcy" (not sure if that's a word) after an upsetting event.
We'll be in touch as more things unfold.
We love you all!
Steve and the gang