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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ultimate Force

Our house was broken into last week. We woke up on a Sunday morning to find our front door swinging open. First, I need to add a disclaimer: there probably is not one person in Bulawayo who has not been robbed at some point. So I’m not trying to make light of the situation, but in retrospect the thieves’ choice of items was pretty amusing. I’m also not trying to discourage anyone from becoming a GRS intern. This is par for the course and you take the necessary precautions, but TIA (This is Africa).
            The house is completely encased by rebar, so when we lock up it’s like we’re in a cage. All the windows and doors are barred. We have a small veranda just large enough to store two bicycles, and then a sliding door to enter the house. The sliding door does not lock. We had a pretty hefty padlock on the veranda door (made of rebar) and we kept our bikes on the porch. Whoever did it must have come the night before to size up the job, because they managed to take only a few swings with either a hammer or a crowbar and break the piece of welded metal that we pass our padlock through to secure the door (We’d found beer bottles in the front yard the morning before, so they had definitely made a weekend study of it). And they managed not to wake us up when they did it.
            Thus the lock remained locked, the door swung open, and they walked right in through the unlocked sliding door to check out the contents of our pantry. They ended up taking both of our bikes, a liter jar of peanut butter, two bananas, a bag of brown sugar (why we had brown sugar I don’t know; it’s not like we bake. I think Ale was putting it in his tea – it was cheaper than regular sugar…yeah African budgets), a can of beans, several packets of soup mix (including a rich ox-tail soup, which broke Ale’s heart), a soccer ball, and a (pretty darn nice) dish towel. Oh, and a burlap grocery sack to carry it all in. What’s even funnier is the list of things they didn’t take. They left two really nice knives (and luckily didn't stab us with them), two brand new pots and a pan, a loaf of bread, our TV and DVD player (which we haven’t used once anyways), and our quick-boil hot water heater. We’re also convinced that one of them made himself a peanut butter sandwich because another jar of peanut butter was moved to the table. There was a plate on the table too, so his mother taught him well. However, as robbers they’re a bunch of amateurs because I found a banana they dropped out by our boundary wall the next afternoon.
            Nevertheless, they got away with our bikes, which was frustrating because after about 5 weeks and 30 extra bucks each (that’s a lot when lunch costs $2), we had finally gotten the cheap rickety heaps of metal to function without breaking down every other day. The thieves probably waited until we replaced the tires made in China, painstakingly adjusted the brakes, and put in good tubes, and then decided to swoop in. I don’t blame them. We’ve since replaced the bikes, and the left pedal on my new one has fallen off no less than 10 times. I bought a spanner and have now taught myself a lot about fixing bikes, so there’s the silver lining. And, even more silver lining, we now get to roll in the absolutely trashed rust-colored GRS pickup truck that has no seatbelts, three gnarly cracks in the windshield, and flame-licked “ULTIMATE FORCE” decals on the front and back. Oh, and did I mention it’s a stick shift (lefty). Unfortunately it’s short-lived because they have to upgrade us to a really lame (automatic) Mazda Demio that used to be a taxi. Once they fix the tires and get a battery for it, that is. For now I’m going to relish putting the FORCE through its paces.
            Gas is murder though. It’s over $5 per gallon and as a rule over here you never put more than 5 or 10 dollars worth in your tank at a time (at least it’s our rule, as interns). Did I mention the gas gauge is broken? So you have to get good at listening for the hiccups that mean you’re almost empty and then you have to know which Petrol stations in town won’t have a sign that reads: Petrol: NO; Diesel: NO when you need gas. We’ve had the truck for a week and we’ve already run out of gas twice (once at 4am in the suburbs after a Friday night but that’s another story; we were fully prepared to spend the night in the truck and had just locked the doors and hunkered down when a friend actually answered our text for help and zoomed up in his shiny pickup. I’m not jealous.) So to top it all off and bring the robbery story to a nice conclusion, yesterday morning we awoke to find the gas cap sitting in the truck bed and the gas tank door open. It seems our friends had returned to siphon off the $3 worth of gas we’d put in the tank the night before. Luckily we’d run a few errands before coming home so they got maybe $1.12 out of it. They even left us enough to sputter the half mile to the office. Thanks guys. TIA.


  1. I hope you relished every moment of driving around a truck that said ULTIMATE FORCE. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity there. At least, I would think...

  2. So funny -- just saw a Hulu ad for a British show I've never heard of... called Ultimate Force.

    And I had to sit there for a sec thinking, "Huh, that phrase sounds so familiar.... where have I heard it before?"