I know I’ve left you all hanging… sorry about that.
2 Thursdays ago, I woke up to a text from Vicky (my Belgian BFF here) saying:
“I see your back pack by where they wash cars at the hotel. You must go now! The man is there!”
I admit… I was skeptical. I wrote her back and asked questions to which she insisted she knew my bag. She finally all capped me (yes, she went there)
“IT HAS YOUR KEYCHAIN…GOOOO!”
As soon as she brought up the keychain without my prompting, I knew she saw my bag.
In Tanzania, I was being hustled by a craft dealer. He was trying to sell me some stuff I didn’t need. I agreed on a little beaded box and a necklace. He tried to get me to buy this keychain for $10. Ridiculous. Never gonna happen. Finally in my aloofness, I told him I’d give him a dollar. I didn’t need it. I ended up hustling him and got the box for $5 and had him throw in the keychain for… 3$. I had planned on putting it on the car keys because the last keychain broke and I can never find the keys in my purse. Instead, I put the key chain on my bag zipper and never took it off when I returned to Goma. Every day I would see it and think “I need to put that on the car keys”… never did. Now, this is how Vicky was 100% certain she saw my bag.
fun fact: I like ninjas. This particular ninja photo shoot taken summer ’16 was on my computer… which BTW, did I mention was given back to me?!
Camille and I grabbed Blaise (the Ntoto’s police officer assigned just to them) and off we went. The man with the bag was not there. We tried to be as inconspicuous as possible… with me there in the back seat trying to hide and still look for the bag. The following day (Friday… natural weekly progression still applies), after our evening service, we left to drive home. My phone was in my purse. I’m driving. Kelly gets a call from Sumai (Sumai is an ex child soldier. He is a ninja. He has been security for the Ntotos and part of Un Jour Nouveau for years. He is my little brother. I trust him with my life) He has been trying to call me, he found my bag… phone connection cuts off. He has no more credit.
In many developing countries, we must pre pay our phone credit. Kelly doesn’t have credit either. We find my purse, get my phone and I call. I can’t do 2000 moto bikes, 100,000 people walking on the street and cars (driving in Goma), and talk. Just not safe. I give the phone to Vicky. He saw a man wearing my bag and had been following him for at least 4km at that point. I am very doubtful that Sumai knows my bag. Again, such a skeptic. He’s going on and on telling Vicky every detail of the bag. Finally… He says it. The keychain. BOOM. We’re on our way. We got close to where he said he was and called back. Sumai told us the guy stopped to buy a mango. We see him! Sumai is about 10’ behind the guy, walking down the street. He looks at me, I see my bag, I give him a nod and we continue to drive by. We parked up the street and waited. They don’t pass.
By now I’m shaking. I have no idea who this guy is, how did he get my bag, is my stuff still inside. I kept thinking “how am I supposed to react in this situation?!”. They still haven’t passed. I pull back out on the road to turn around. We don’t see them, where could they have gone?! We call. He’s got him detained (citizens arrest! Haha… in Congo!). We finally pull up and Sumai has this guy cornered with 2 other guards. I park, leave the girls (Kelly, Vicky and Lauren) safely in the car with the doors locked and rush up to the group. MY BAG!!! I wasn’t in the same state of mind to meet this guy as I was to meet Patrick. I may or may not have given him the stink eye, or some version of it. I took my bag back like a 3 year old (not proud of that). I opened the bag and looked inside… none of my things are there. The man (probably the same age as Patrick) had a (smelly) soccer jersey, (dirty) flip flops, hair cream, some random jars of cream and some mens cologne… and a perfectly ripe mango. Someone traded with him for the bag. I have no idea what they traded (but his is a rasta man and asked if he could hide his weed before the military showed up)
Sumai at work
I have my mace in my hand just in case he tries to run… but honestly, there’s no getting around Sumai. As Camille pulled up, we were leaving. We didn’t want to be there when the General arrived with his entourage of armed men. Camille went up to start the questioning as we drove off. I made a u-turn around the median a few meters up the road; as we are driving back towards town, we pass the General. He was motioning to me “where”?! He saw me pull out and followed me instead of seeing Camille’s car. I parked across the street from the situation, and as the General made his u-turn and came back our way, I pointed for him. He had the biggest “little boy grin” on his face, he was pumped this was going down. As he pulled in, he had at least 7 heavily armed men in the back of his military truck. All of them had been on the hill when I met Patrick. They have faces of stone… then they saw us, I smiled and waved and those stone faces melted into the same little boy grins as the General. I think they really enjoyed helping me.
We decided to stay and watch for a second. As the General parked, half the men jumped out, guns in hand. THEY TRIED TO GRAB SUMAI at gun point!!! The wrong man! They only saw a man with a backpack and went for him. Camille immediately got in between and said “THIS IS NOT THE GUY”. Meanwhile the other 2 guards (actually wearing their uniform) grabbed the rasta man so he wouldn’t run in the confusion. Finally the soldiers moved in on the correct man, and it was obvious he was scared. He resisted a little as the soldiers grabbed him and dragged him off. Literally dragged him. We drove home.
me and my brother Sumai… the ninja
Don’t get me wrong… getting my bag back was amazing. However, I was a little disappointed there were none of my things inside (actually, there was a quarter and about $20 of mucinex in side still). The General stopped by to make sure I was ok… aaaaaaaand to give me back my 2 polaroid cubes, a charger and 2 flash drives. WHAT!?? How did he get that? I still actually don’t know. He also wanted to tell me “I am confident we will find your stuff. He’s not the one who took it, but we will find it”.
the mango was comical to us, I’m not sure why now, but at the time we all laughed when Sumai reported “we’ve stopped, he’s buying a mango”…notice the keychain?
People… seriously. I have had this strange peace. I have faith that we will get my stuff back. I don’t know when. But I know I will. WHICH IS CRAZY because my things are of NO VALUE to anyone but me.
So then (yes, there’s more. Can you tell I wrote this in segments)… Saturday morning, bright and early. The General pulls in to our front drive again. He has a plastic shopping bag. FULL. My bible, my journal, my French book, my Swahili book (y’all… this is months of study and notes). ALL my birthday cards (I forgot they were there), ALL my family photos my aunt sent me (I forgot they were in there), ALLLLLLL my big ticket item tax receipts (you guessed it, I forgot they were in there). To date, I do not YET have my African blouse that took 6 months to make and was taken the day I got it, or my apple ipad adapter charger, 2 scan disk mini flash and euro apple charger. But the fact that every little shard of paper was still in there?!!?! It was clear they went through EVERYTHING looking for my millions. (mentally insert a “Dr. Evil” photo here as you continue to read). Then, by the grace of God, they put everything nicely in a shopping bag and set it aside (not burn it, throw it in the lake or throw it in a massive garbage pile by the road never to be seen again as most thief’s do), waiting for when God wanted to get it back to me.
It’s unheard of that this stuff was found. I don’t believe in coincidence. I believe that what was meant to harm us is easily turned around for good when we trust in God. Every person I have encountered in this unfortunate situation has somehow seen the grace of God. Patrick wasn’t beat and he is only serving 3 months. I think that’s a big deal. I have learned a lot about grace through this. Receiving and extending it. I don’t really want to learn more in this same way… but I don’t regret that happened, God has used it here. I’m blown away by how this has all played out. People here can’t believe this… I still can’t believe this!!!! It’s a miracle.
When I get my shirt back I’ll let you all know! meanwhile…
much love from Goma,