Theft and 'Souvenirs'
Nov 14, 2009
|“What is your faith?” “I have no faith.” “You have no faith?” The disbelief, bordering on indignation, is palpable in the police lieutenant’s voice (I am not certain if he's a lieutenant, but he is the centre of power here in the police station). You are not a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew? He still can’t believe somebody has no faith and his underlings surrounding the table with the exhibits of my being robbed, are bobbing on the same waves of incomprehension. Better change the subject before he arrests me for being an atheist.
I was invited to come sit next to the lieutenant on the worn, light brown, skai-leather couch when I came into the Bukittinggi police station and, more like an over-cordial friend, asks my name, tells me his own, asks how old I am, tells me how old he is, do I have children, where are they, where is my wife, where do I live, how long have I been in Indonesia, etc. They have a different way of handling police business, but does he need to close to me? “So you lost your computer then?“ “Well, I didn't exactly lose it, rather it was stolen from me on the bus from Bandar Lampung to Bukittinggi.” I show him my bus ticket, the empty pouch in which the laptop normally lies, and the now useless transformer indicating the brand, and while I tell them what happened one by one the other policemen inspect the exhibits of the theft.
The ‘executive’ service bus trip normally takes 24 hours, leaving Bandar Lampung at 10 p.m. on Friday night. By mid-morning on Saturday I had been working for an hour or so on my laptop in then bus (it was only then that I had worked up the energy to start writing the Krakatau entry all over again, having lost my original text in a computer glitch). I was seated towards the rear on the right-hand side of the bus, with one younger guy, who had boarded only a short time before, seated one seat behind me on the left-hand side and a bus guard on the last row, two seats behind me. In the rear there is a door leading a compartment with a toilet to the left, a bed for the off-duty driver straight ahead, and a smoking area next to that, and an exit door to the right. It is about 1 p.m. when I decide to use the toilet (I had used it before and it was not entirely the ‘executive’ quality I had hoped for, with water from an open basin on the side that you use to splash away what needs to be splashed away, sloshing about and generally wetting the small cubicle. Then I had taken my backpack along and had to put it on the floor for a while.) I slide the laptop in the pouch, put the pouch in my backpack, zip that up and lay it aside on my seat. While I do it, I half hesitate as to whether I would take it along or leave it there, but the bus is traveling at a good speed, the cubicle is dirty and wet, and I will be back in a few minutes, so I leave it. The toilet door is blocked by the rear compartment entrance door when I get out again and when I do get out of the compartment, the bus is just beginning to drive again. It wasn‘t supposed to have stopped at all and I immediately check my backpack, still there, pouch still there, relief, then I notice it is empty. “Stop, stop, that guy that just got off, stole my laptop“. It takes a little bit before the message gets through, but then the bus stops, the guard jumps out, charters a motor bike and drives back the 100 metres or so from where we left. ‘I did my best’, he gestures when he comes back 10 minutes later and together we walk to a police checkpoint at the other side of the street, manned by a smartly dressed young Surolangun, the village where it happened, cop, not too impressed by the event and only speaking Bahasa. “We better leave it.” I motion to the guard, not keen to spend a few hours here to make a report that will lead to nothing and adding hours to what is a very long trip already: “I’ll report it when I get to Bukittinggi.”
The lieutenant scribbles a few notes on a piece of paper that he hands to the young cop typing up statements. “What do you want us to do?”, he asks. “Well, I don’t expect you to find a guy in Surolangun, hours from here, but I need a report for the insurance”. “Hm, insurance…”, he nods his head. “What did you pay for the laptop?” “About 7 million rupees”, it was a present at the time, but the Asus Eee would have cost about €450. Still nodding his head: “And what do you expect to get back from the insurance”. “I don’t know, with insurance that’s always difficult to tell; maybe half, maybe less”. The young cop is back with his first draft, the lieutenant circles some mistakes for him to correct. “Tell me what you think of Indonesia, we don’t get that many tourists these days”. And I tell him.
Finally the report is ready and signed and I turn towards the lieutenant to thank him for his help. “I would like a souvenir, you know from meeting with you“. I look at him, not entirely certain if he means what I think he means. “A souvenir? You are kidding right?” Apparently he is not. “I have nothing on me, maybe you come visit me, when you are over in Europe, or would you like to have a book on English-Bahasa“ and I show him a handy booklet I bought in Bandar Lampung. “No Europe is too expensive for me, but I have never seen Euro bills, maybe you can show me one“. I dig in my wallet and find a $5 bill, that I hand to him, I rifle a bit further and find a €10 bill, give it to him and try to take back the $5 bill. He is not going to let go. While this is going on I’m aware of all the other policemen watching. I always assumed that things like this would be handled more discretely, but here it seems to be business as usual. That doesn‘t change the fact that I am not feeling too proud of myself, caving as easily as I did.
In my mind I try to go over all the information that is on my laptop, I still have thirteen hours to go on the bus and what can they get their hands on by looking at my files and possibly even websites in the meantime. I am feeling pretty low right now. Lost almost a day's work yesterday (my original Krakatua text), lost what I had rewritten again on the bus, I am annoyed at all the little things that led to the situation and could easily have been different (if I had not lost the text, I would not have needed to write it again and the guy would not have spotted my laptop; if I had not eaten the rather spicy nasi goreng kampung, I wouldn’t not have had tummy trouble; if the medicine I bought had worked straight away instead of hours later, I would not have needed to go to he loo again; if ‘executive’ had really meant the executive I paid for, the cubicle would have been clean and I would have taken my backpack with me; if the guard in the back seat had kept his eyes open…), but most of all I am angry at myself. I never leave that backpack alone, never, how could I have been so stupid to do it this time. How could I… and that brings me back to the list of silly little things that had brought around the situation.
In “Men who Hate Women”, the thriller by Stieg Larsson, that I finished just before I left (if I had not finished it I would have been reading that instead of typing on the laptop…), an autistic, anorexic, punker girl hacks her way into people’s computers and ruins the villain of the plot by emptying his bank account in the Bahamas of $360 million; he ends up with three bullets in the back of his head because he can‘t pay the Colombian-mafia types any more. I don’t know any Colombian-mafia types, but identity theft and emptying my bank accounts is enough to have me very worried. I still have twelve and a half hours to go on this bus, enough time for the thief to get his hands on stuff even without hacking.
“Hi Sweetheart”, “Hey Gunnar you're calling that is fantastic...“ I quickly interrupt Olive, I'm not really in a mood for chatting now, and I tell her what happened. It has only just occurred to me that I can call her from the bus. It is 7.30 a.m. in The Hague and Olive logs on as me on the home computer, and we change the code words for my bank accounts and e-mail accounts. Once that is done, I feel a lot better, although I still have 12 hours to be annoyed about the little things, angry at myself and fret about what the thief might have gotten his hands on before the password changes. We arrive two and a half hours late at 00:30 a.m. Sunday morning and at 1 a.m. I am in an internet cafe checking my accounts. All seems normal.
“Nobody in Indonesia goes to the police, if they can avoid it.” A few days later, Arman, my guide, tells me about the time that his motorbike was stolen, from outside the mosque. He had gone to the police to report the theft and had been made to pay for an expensive round of drinks for the ten policemen present. He is still indignant about the fact that he lost a lot of money by losing his uninsured motor bike and still the policemen made him pay for expensive drinks. To boot he got reprimanded for not going out there himself to look for his bike all over town. The story he tells about his mother is a lot sadder though. He brought her to a government hospital in Bukettinggi when she was seriously ill a few years ago. They were living in a tiny rural village outside town and had little money, enough to pay for medicine but not to pay the doctors and nurses. She was just left, untreated, on a mattress in the corridor. She died seventeen days later.
Corruption is at the centre of the debate in the press and on TV, with daily airings of the spectacular revelations from Jakarta about the trumped-up case against members of the KPK, the anti-graft commission. It appears to be a blatant attempt to derail the KPK’s work. Next Monday, November 23rd, SBY, President Yudhoyono, is slated to take a position on the report of a fact-finding commission he set up himself, and their advice to release the falsely-accused members of the KPK and sack the Chief of Police and the Chief of the State Prosecution Office, who were responsible for the fabrications. He is however already dragging his feet on the matter and has raised many eyebrows. If he does not act decisively, Indonesia is not likely to budge from its spot as No. 121 on Transparency International’s list of the most corrupt countries.