Downtown Kampala is crazy madness to the fresh eye. Kira and Jack were watching a movie in the van, but Daniel and Peter, who joined us, were on the edge of their seats eyes glued to the life in town. Robert and I agree that new experiences for the children are so good for them to get as often as possible. We found sofas and tables but the very nice store doesn’t do credit cards. I refuse to carry cash like that so I’ll have to wire money and Robert can take care of it for me after I go. I wanted to see it all come together. Oh well. Next we went in search of fans at a big department store in the center of town. No luck with quality so we got the kids some snacks and sodas, paid and returned to the car. The checkout teller annoyed me when he demanded with authority, “you bring me a digital camera like that when you come.” Absurd. We crossed a busy road in crowds of peope and at the van, someone parked so close we couldn’t get in so we stepped aside as Robert moved the car over. While we all waited for him I checked my phone for messages from my husband, which I love to find all day long. Before I entered my passcode a man ran up to me scratched my neck and ripped my Africa necklace off my neck. I screamed. He ran away down the street. Everyone stopped and stared. I said He stole my necklace. People watched as the thief turned the corner.
No one tried to chase him down. He was too far away by the time it registered a crime had taken place. People gathered around me to talk about the incident. Everyone saw this guy following us from the store and hanging around like he was with us. We didn’t even notice it because it is such a busy environment and we were keeping our eyes on the four children in our care. They all told me “sorry” and hung their heads in shame. They also said, “this is Uganda, that is what they do.” They told me, “eh, these guys work in teams and they carry knives.” Great. He had waited for Robert to get in the car, and for me to be unaware and distracted with my phone.
The red welt from the scratch was a painful reminder of the violation. I sat a while feeling sad. I haven’t taken the necklace off in two years, people ask me about it all the time, tell me they admire it, and it gave me opportunity to talk about what we do here in Uganda for the children. When I touched it I always felt close to the family here. It was my least expensive piece of jewelry and my most cherished. I didn’t obsess over the incident. I didn’t get mad. My feelings were hurt. Jack felt terrible because he believes he is supposed to protect me and he failed his job. I cared more about his tender heart than my loss.
On the ride home I asked Robert, “in public do the people generally stand back when a mzungu is robbed? Why didn’t people chase him down? I know that’s what they do here.”
He said, “I think it was too confusing, you didn’t yell thief enough, and he was gone before they could react. By the way, if they caught him they would give him mob justice and you wouldn’t have one say in the matter.” I shuddered. I really didn’t want him to get mob justice. Here the custom is to catch a thief in the act, drag him away from the eye of the police, drop tires over him, pour gasoline in the tires and set him on fire. On the spot. No I didn’t want that to happen to him over a necklace. I just prayed that the man would feel the consequence of a just God, and that he would have the opportunity to conform his ways and know the love of Jesus. A person’s soul is far more important than a personal violation. With a crime there is always the opportunity for restoration. Jack told me, “mom you are a godly woman for concentrating on the positive.” (aww…sweetie…at least I made an impression on my son.)
As I sat there feeling heavy and disappointed I thought about the scene in Les Miserables when Jean Valjean is returned to the church with the bag of silver he had stolen. With a blink the priest replied, “but sir you forgot these also, why would you leave the best behind?” When the police were dismissed, the priest told Jean Valjean he had bought his soul for God. He gave him grace and a chance to turn his life around for good. It was a turning point in his life all because he got something he really didn’t deserve. He experienced grace. He was given kindness when he deserved to go back to prison.
In the aftermath of being crudely robbed I am disappointed in myself that my first instinct was anger. It took me a while to have compassion on the thief who stole my necklace. Inwardly I chastised myself, which is really the Holy Spirit at work. Finally, I realized this incident gave me an excellent teaching opportunity to share the truths about stealing with the children in our home. They will feel so bad that someone robbed me. Robert and I discussed how these very same children in our care were destined for a life of crime before they came to our home. Many of them, truthfully, were well on their way practicing their trade. The personal sorrow I felt was replaced with joy because we understand we have a great opportunity to raise these sixteen children to live a life that honors God and respects people. We are doing something to break the cycle in the lives and futures of these children and that is satisfaction enough.
Occasionally I find my fingers searching for the charm on my neck. It is the only piece of jewelry I ever bought for myself. I didn’t realize how often I handled it. I might have to replace it, but I assure you I will never again wear it into town, or in Uganda now that I think about it. It might go in the safe in our house with my other jewelry when I travel here. For that matter, I’ll never take my phone out of my purse in public again either. I was so relieved he didn’t choose to take my phone. I always carry my purse and camera crisscrossed over my shoulder with a hand on both handles. This is a practice I started during our stay for our adoption when George hassled me constantly about stealing and safety. I laugh at myself to remember how I used to leave my purse unzipped stuffed with bills and all the Ugandans assigned to watch over me in public for my safety would roll their eyes weary of my inability to grasp the reality of thievery here. That was a long time ago. I may have changed, but things here are extremely slow to change. I closed my eyes that night praying the change begins with our sixteen children. We ALL have the opportunity to make sure it does.
(sorry internet isn’t allowing photos to load. I’ll try again later to insert them.)