‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ Luke 15:9
Epic, in the true sense of the word. This adventure spanned almost four days, involved radio messages in four different languages, a vigilante mob from the market, a few trips out of town, late night investigations and negotiations, an overly forceful attempted citizen’s arrest (not by us!), some monetary rewards on offer, a mute boy from the market who witnessed the original incident and, finally, a rendezvous to retrieve the DIRE. What a week.
First of all, what is a DIRE and why is it worth going to all this trouble? The DIRE is basically our long-term visa for the year that allows us to be here and to exit and enter the country without any issue. They take a lot of paper work and organization and cost about $750 per year. Definitely something worth trying to find.
The story began on Monday when Kath and Sally went for a routine shopping trip into town to grab some essentials. Kath took her little purse which she normally puts a small amount of money in for the shopping, only this day she thought “maybe I should put my DIRE in there in case anyone asks to see it”. Near the end of the trip Kath paid at a shop, put some change in the purse and they then went to the market to get the last things. Kath got out and went and stood just by the front of the care to wait for Sally who was buying eggs and chat to our rasta market friend. It was just as they were about to walk off into the market that Kath realized she didn’t have her purse – the one with the DIRE in! They quickly retraced their steps to the last shop thinking they may have dropped it there and in the meantime some people at the market spied the dropped purse, picked it up and disappeared. This was spotted by the mute boy… More about that later. After not finding the DIRE at the previous shop they returned to the market only to find no trace of the purse or card. They spent some time talking to people and exchanging numbers in case anyone saw/found anything. It is at this time I received a quick call from Kath was went “Hi, just checking the number… lost my DIRE…talk soon”. AYE, what did she say?????
When they returned from the shops I heard the story, Kath was pretty upset and annoyed at herself. We talked to our guards for a local perspective but they weren’t hopeful of a return of the card. They did recommend however that we put a notice on the radio rather than bother with the police. “Ok, sounds unusual but well run with the local knowledge” we thought. That was Monday done. Set the scene, location and conflict of the story, introduced some characters. All good.
With the new day of Tuesday, Kath had language lessons first up and as an exercise in language decided straight up to go and put a notice on the radio. My language helper Januario, who is a bit of a knowledgeable man about town, helped and they put a notice to be read 3 times on the radio in 4 different languages. A good first step. So much so that a few hours later we had a promising phone call from a guy saying he had our card- “come and meet me down at the market (near our house)”. Wow, that didn’t take long, that Radio thing really delivers. We went for a walk to get the DIRE back. We looked for the guy, looked for the guy some more, tried calling him on the phone but just couldn’t get hold of him. When he finally did answer his phone again, we found out he had a bank card a driver’s licence and some car keys but no DIRE! Turns out he was just collecting important things from other people to maybe extort some cash and when he heard our number on the radio thought he my be in luck!
After that disappointment we didn’t know what else to do so we continued on in the day as per normal. With the afternoon came my language lesson and after talking with Januario about what else we should do, we decided that we should at least go and notify the Immigration Department of the loss. We told the guy at the desk who handed me the DIREs the week before and he just looked at me with a look of disgust! He said a photocopy of the card would have saved the angst (which we hadn’t yet done). He also told us they if it was lost we would need to resubmit ALL the documents again, redo the whole process and pay another $750. He thought it would be a good idea to offer 3-4-5000MT ($100-200) as a reward to try and flush someone who may have the card. At this point we didn’t know if the card was stolen, lost or even still existing. One theory was that it may be at the bottom of a local long drop.
We then went around to the central police station to make a formal report so that if the card did need to be renewed, Immigration would have the right document to start. This process involved us going and making new copies for the police of the form as they had run out! We then went around the Market to make our first inquiries. It was on this day that a mute boy came up to me and started gesticulating but I had no idea was he was on about. He wasn’t using AUSLAN (which I don’t know by the way) but I though he was just another market boy wanting something from the whitey. Now I know he was trying to tell me he saw something. So ends the happenings of Tuesday. Kath made a plan that the next day, early in the morning her and Sally would go back to the market and talk to as many people as possible and offer a sizeable reward.
As Wednesday dawned, Kath and Sally walked off the market, and by all reports had a great time talking with lots of people and successfully communicated that idea there was now money riding on this card – about a months’ wage here. They did such a good job that by the time Januario and I got there after changing the radio message to include a monetary reward, the whole market knew of the situation, right down to the street kids hanging around. By this time news had spread enough that some people realized that what the mute man had been trying to tell people for a few days was that he had seen someone pick up the purse and run off. Actually he had seen two people but no one realized this for a few more hours.
A plan was hatched. Wait for the mute guy to come back from running an errand to another market then get him to tell us where to go and talk to the guy who took the purse. Simple. So we waited, killed some time doing other things around town, went back to the market a few times but no mute guy. By this time enough people where getting motivated by the reward and they thought they already had enough info to go and do something. So as we were waiting behind the market in the most crowded roadway area you have ever seen, about 7 guys decided they would join us to go find the guy they though would have the card. The theory was that this guy was always at the market earning some money doing various things but since he found a purse full of cash didn’t need to come in to find work. They though he was probably now out at his village enjoying a quiet week. So after a few quick instructions of what we wanted to achieve they all piled in – all 7 of the vigilante mob, Januario and I set out for the village about 10km out of town.
As we bumped into the village, I got some directions round some corners and across a soccer field until we stopped and they all rushed off. A lot of excitement and a bit of adrenaline was flowing in the mob by this stage. Of course a new car and a white person with a mob draws a crowd quickly and as Januario and myself sat in the car watching our people go from one house and then into a backyard the crowd grew a little. Then, all of a sudden, some raised voices could be heard and our people burst our of the backyard fence carrying the suspect. They were convinced he had they card even though he was denying it and was now fighting with full gusto. Our mob had decided that we were taking him to the police. This didn’t really fit out original instructions of quiet negotiation. We started calling from the car, “we don’t want the man, just the card, just the card”. Once this was established our mob put the guy down, but he was now surrounded by his village with lots of accusations being made in his direction, so he defended his public image by being suitably outraged. Apparently this involved picking up a large hoe and threatening to take people out with it. We motioned to our people to get in the car ASAP and split the scene before it got too ugly. PHEW.
We regrouped on the road out of town and explained that force wasn’t a good idea. Some of the smarter guys reasoned that they thought he was still the guy and his initial reactions were negative because he was afraid of his wife thinking he was a robber and also of the police. So we delegated three of the smarter, calmer guys to go back and offer money for the card, if he indeed did have it. After 10 minutes they came back explained that he had escaped and no one knew where he was. So close! So they talked to his neighbours and others explaining that only the card was wanted and there was money on offer. A new plan was made to visit later in the day with a smaller group of people. Good idea. We dropped them all back at the market and gave them some money for lunch as a “thankyou”.
At about 5 that afternoon, just as the light was beginning to fade, we gathered the two smartest people of the mob, the mute witness (who had now appeared) and a friend of the mute guy to go back out to the village. The plan was for the mute guy and one other person to go talk to the suspect and offer a large some of money. It was thought that the mute guy could give a positive ID. We parked a little way out of the village so that the blazingly white skin of mine didn’t attract too much attention, and our delegation walked into the village with calmness and a plan. They came back in 20 minutes with the news that the man didn’t have the card. What now? We now learnt that the mute man had seen two people grab the purse and run off… at this point a witness who could speak would have been really handy. We learnt that one of the guys, who was known as the man with the big cheeks, possibly lived next to our smart negotiator.
By this time it was dark and we decided that this avenue should be investigated. After all our first lead didn’t have the card, this guy probably did. So we went deep into the dark suburb talking with random people and discovering that the man with the big cheeks could possibly be the one and did indeed live next door to our smart negotiator. We left it with him to go slowly, slowly and give us a call if any positive news came out and headed home for the night.
As Thursday rolled around I gave Januario an early morning call to see if anything came of operation big cheeks, but alas, no. We were a bit at a loss as to what to do next. The plan was to go back the market that morning and just suss things out again. Then, at about 8:15, I had a call from the radio saying that no one had contacted them and if I wanted to put any more messages on I would have to come in. I said no thanks. Then, at about 8:30, another call came. This guy said, “ I have you card, come into the market now, I’m waiting for you”. WHOA!!! I rang Januario back, told him the news, picked him up and rushed to the market. One of the guys who had come with us the previous night was waiting for us. As we pulled up he walked over, started talking through the passengers window in very fast Portuguese and proceeded to hand over the DIRE!! I couldn’t believe it!!
Turns out that suspect number one, positively identified by my mute friend, had indeed had the card all along. He was so scared of people knowing he had taken the purse and possible police action that the money the day before wasn’t enough enticement – at least not when we were in his village. So on Thursday morning he travelled into town and found our friend. After some quiet negotiations they worked out a deal whereby he would hand the card over for the other guy to get some money from me and split it with him. I’m not really sure how it worked and I’m not really fussed! So after paying him and thanking him I gave some thank you money to some key helpers and we drove away with DIRE in hand. We went straight away and informed the radio station and went to Immigration to let them know it was back in the right hands.
We then went home where Kath was waiting for news. She jumped up and down for a while with a fair amount of joy and successfully restrained herself from hugging Januario with gratitude (just not culturally appropriate!). Great times.
The DIRE is now copied and locked up. Lesson learned. Adventure had.
Thanks everyone for praying. Rejoice with us, for the lost DIRE is found!
Wow! I feel exhausted reading that story. Talk about bin in DIRE trouble. With stories like that you’ll be beating Alexander Mcall-Smith’s Number One Detective Agency in the book shops. A good way to meet people I guess, though very wearing. Hope things aren’t so exciting again for a little while. Xo