When you’ve just stepped off a taptap and suddenly you don’t feel your phone in your pocket anymore, your first reaction is confusion. You know exactly what happened, but you don’t want to believe it. You’re trying to decide what to do next, but there’s really nothing to do. You stand there, scanning the crowd milling about for someone who’s already had plenty of time to get away, and you say, “Someone stole my phone!”

It’s already too late – your phone is long gone. You start to realize how bad this is. It’s a smartphone that you paid a sizable chunk of money for. It’s more than that – it’s something personal. Your photos, contacts, emails, they’re all gone. Your one tool for connecting with everyone, on both sides of the ocean. The thing that’s been traveling around everywhere with you for the past couple of months.

Then the adrenaline starts wearing off and you start processing things. First, all of the little stupidities that lead to this. You’re wearing your loosest pair of pants, which made it easy for the thief to reach into your pocket without you noticing. Your phone shouldn’t have been in your pocket in the first place, and it wouldn’t have been, if the bag you normally put it in hadn’t ripped yesterday. You should have been a bit smarter. People have warned you about this intersection before. You were really asking for it, casually slipping your telephone into your pocket like that and not even considering the potential danger.

And that’s where the problems start, because everything you do here in Haiti has an extra layer to it. Every time someone asks you whether taking public transport and traveling alone is really safe, you’ve been able to respond, “I’ve never been robbed or felt threatened.” Now you can’t say that anymore. It’s ruined.

And this is the part where you’ve got to be really careful about not overreacting. This is not a sign that public transportation is too dangerous n Haiti. For one thing, the same risks apply in New York – people just learn to put their gadgets in a safer place. And you actually love taking taptaps. Sharing a vehicle with other people is better for the environment, traffic congestion, and probably your soul. And every time you hop into one you’re defying the perception that all foreigners who come here keep themselves closed off from the people they’re supposed to be helping. Plus, they’re cheap – with the money you’ve saved from taking them instead of paying for a car and driver, you could buy yourself several fancy phones.

There’s still the nagging feeling that you’ve been foolish, that you should have been more alert and less trusting. This is the first time you’ve ever been robbed. It’s the first time a stranger has done something to hurt you. This is the part where you’ve got to be really careful. You can’t let one bad person affect the way you see all the others.

Don’t let this change your belief that most people are good. They’ll often even go out of their way to help you. When a guy standing nearby heard you talking about your phone, he led you all the way to the nearest Digicel office so you could buy a new card with the same number. Being white makes you a target, but it also means people know you’re in foreign territory and could use a little extra help. You had no clue that Digicel recovery service existed.

Of course, in the end this has nothing to do with whether or not the majority of the population would steal your phone given the opportunity. Your reaction is actually a choice you make based on the kind of person you want to be and the world you want to have. It has nothing to do with other people and what they’d do. It has to do with what you want to do.

There’s this poem, “Anyway”, that kind of sums up the attitude I’d like to have (I’m still working on it…not a saint by any means). It’s attributed to Mother Teresa (of course) but apparently it was actually written by a guy called Kent M. Keith.

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;

Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;

Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;

Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;

Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;

Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;

Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;

Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;

Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;

It was never between you and them anyway.

Of course, in the meantime, while this utopia of yours is still under construction, you seriously shouldn’t keep your phone in your pocket. Or at least wear some tighter pants so that if they try to take it, you can feel it.


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