Untold Stories from a Remote African Town
Chronicles of a Thief
Very early in the month of January 2016, I traveled back to this town to continue the work I was sent there to do. It was a journey that involved boarding public transport on three different occasions (and locations).
The farther you go from the little civilization in the major towns, the worse the roads got. And when you are seated in a 2-door hatchback car with 5 other passengers and the driver, your trip isn’t that fun. The journey is about 4 hours, not counting the delays.
The Surprise on Arrival
On this particular day, I arrived early and went straight to my lodge. The closer I came to the door of my room, the more I realized something wasn’t right. And then my suspicion was confirmed when I came close enough — the door lock has been forcefully removed.
With just a simple push, the door opened wide. I could only laugh. I went in and initially, things didn’t seem as bad as they appear. Then I began to observe the details, some of the properties my roommate kept in the room were missing — the DVD and the speakers.
I looked into the little corner store where we kept our luggage and I saw my clothes on the floor and some documents of mine on the floor. Lots of my stuff were gone including my box (that’s why the things left behind were on the floor). In case you are wondering, this is what a theft experience looks like.
Who is a Thief?
A thief is not somebody who steals. This is very important. A person is not a thief merely because he stole. The truth is — a thief cannot do without stealing.
A thief is not a thief because he stole, but because he is a thief, he would steal
A thief is someone whose person and character has been corrupted and has his nature twisted towards taking for himself something that belongs to someone else to the detriment of the other person. A thief is someone who is conditioned by greed or perverseness to create hurt and hostility by taking ownership of something owned by someone else through crook and illegal means.
To be a thief is a nature embedded in the one who steals. A person who is not a thief may steal because of certain reasons (probably the person is forcefully conditioned by someone to do so). But it takes a thief to practice stealing.
Therefore, before anyone begins the stealing practice, the person on the inside is first conditioned or programmed in that direction. It is when such a person accepts the possibility (of that reality) within himself that he can proceed to act like that in the outside world.
So, if you say you want to change the world by putting an end to theft, how would you go about it?
For most people, this responsibility is to the government. If you think that way, it most likely means that you are thinking that people will not steal if they have enough money to get by in life.
For example, if the guys who robbed our room had some incentives by the government or a job, they wouldn’t steal. That sounds right, but in reality, things are different.
Have you ever been bothered by those who have and yet steal? What about men in high positions of responsibilities still accused of diverting funds to be used for a certain purpose for their personal use? The irony is — the world only calls the one that is caught a thief (meaning, it is normal life as long as you’re not caught).
Someone says greed is in every human being. That is not true. What is in every human being is the desire for more and better. And that is something good and what is responsible for the developments we see in the world today. That desire can be molded into greed, the desire can be suppressed and the desire can be used for constructive purposes.
Greed is when you have to get what you want at all costs, at the loss of others, without regard to simple, fair rules of dealing with other people. This is the real theft problem and a solution that cannot face this is no solution.
Back to the Story
The incident I described earlier was not my first in that town. You’ll discover more as you go on. In fact, my story of the incident was not as interesting as my roommate’s.
He came earlier than I did although I didn’t meet him in the room. He narrated his experience to me later. When he arrived, he went to the lodge we initially stayed to check if he would see anybody. Then he noticed that the door of a neighbor was opened.
He had called the neighbor before his trip and the neighbor said he wasn’t going to be around until a later time. So, when he saw the door opened, he thought the neighbor had changed his mind. Then he went in and saw that the neighbor was truly not around but his room was scattered by thieves. So, he was making jest of the neighbor within himself that his place had received unpleasant visitors. Then he took out his key and started making his way towards our room.
He was dangling the key in his hand as he made his way towards the room. Then, he saw the lock broken. He was shocked because he never thought that could happen. He just peeped in and left to see the other colleagues who lived nearby who had arrived.
They greeted each other and got carried away in chatting for a while before mentioning the situation of the lock to them. The other colleagues smiled and said they met theirs that way too. They began mentioning some things they couldn’t find anymore. It was then what had happened dawned on him. It was so bad he was asking me, ‘it’s like you have a box where all your clothes were?’
A Lesson to the Heart
The experience didn’t make any of us bitter — it only made me more resolute. That (to me) doesn’t hurt. What makes me angry and infuriated is when a man comes and says, ‘we will put an end to theft in this place’. And what they think of doing when they say that is to increase security and punish people caught stealing. But can that solve the problem? Or maybe the right question is — does it solve the problem?
This reminds me of an advert I saw on TV during this period about security and they ended with the saying that the security of the country is in the hands of everybody. Then I thought to myself:
Am I the only one intelligent here? Can someone else see the foolishness of this? Don’t they understand that the more “security conscious” the people get, the more fearful the people get and the more hostile the place becomes?
There is a big difference between opening a door and trying to open a door. When you come across a locked door and you have the key, you simply open the door.
But when you come to a door where you don’t have the key and you want to get it opened; you try to open the door. Even if you succeed by trying to open the door, you didn’t open it the appropriate way (i.e. with the key) and hence, you have rendered the door useless and destroyed the essence of having a door there. That is because you have surely broken something.
Increasing security doesn’t stop theft, rather it gives thieves a choice to get smarter, get bigger, play the fool, give up or hope for loopholes. For a petty thief like the one that raided our rooms, if stealing is no more possible, they will be beggars. I even have the notion that they were former beggars who found the “stealing trade” more lucrative.
Now don’t get me wrong, security is necessary but it is not the solution. And in most cases, increasing security is a wrong approach to solving the problem. If the statistics change, it only suppressed the act.
What About Punishing the Guilty?
Every thief knows if they get caught, it is trouble. I have lived in a community where people caught stealing are beaten erratically by the public. The beating is so severe that you would find it hard to recognize the thief after the beating. But even in that place, stealing still takes place.
The question is — what’s making them do it? As I explained earlier, it is in the nature of a thief to steal. One time, I thought of what I’ll do if I get those thieves (of course, the things they stole would already be sold and gone). In the end, I resolved that it is better for us not to meet.
If I meet anybody, I want to meet people I can be of benefit to who can also be of benefit to me. Even if they say they have the thieves in police custody, I won’t bother to go see what they look like. That’s because they are people too. Somebody gave birth to them. They have a conscience just like everybody else but something made them into the thief they became.
The real problem is that thing that molded them into thieves — that thing is still in existence and is probably molding another person. So, while you are busy after the thief, there is another growing and developing to be a thief
This is the chronicles of a thief. If you want to make a difference to end theft, how would you go about it?
This article was written in 2015/2016 from my experience in a community service initiative. Read the entire collection in the order it was written here.