Wednesday, February 25, 2009

i learned my lesson this time

I am a very stubborn woman. (I know everyone out there that knows me is saying out loud, DUH we knew that!!)

And I like to learn from my own mistakes. Over the years, I have learned that people are usually right when they give me advice, yet I still continue to ignore it (much to my husband's annoyance). But that's just the way I am.

Before I moved here, I tried to prepare myself for this new world. I did my research, joined a Yahoo group (Honduras Living) and subscribed to several blogs of other Gringas living in Honduras. One of the most frequent pieces of advice posted on the group/blogs was this: Do not trust anyone in Honduras.

So, I came to Honduras knowing that I couldn't trust people. I guess it just took a while to sink in, like uh, 8 months.

When the cable technicians were here installing the cable a few weeks ago, I was friendly with them. I let them work in my bedroom installing the cable, just checking on them every 5-10 minutes. I offered them glasses of water and cookies. We chatted about things, about life in Honduras. Remember my post gunshots and gangs? They even taught me all about the Revolocos. Well, it turns out that the whole time I was being friendly, one of them had something of mine in his pocket. I didn't realize until last week that when he was in my room working, he had gone through the cabinet in my room and stolen my US cell phone.

Since it's my cell phone from the US, I don't use it here. It's just for when I go to visit, so I keep it stored in the cabinet in my room. Well, one of the guys stole it, and not knowing it was a US phone (meaning very high international roaming charges), used it as his phone for several weeks. I didn't even realize it was missing until last week. When I realized this, I called my parents to let them know that I might have misplaced it. When my mom called AT&T, she discovered that it had, in fact, been stolen and that the thief had racked up a $500 phone bill. That's in US dollars!

So, what did we do? We printed out the bill, and started calling the phone numbers that the thief had dialed to figure out who stole it. That's how we learned that it was one of the guys from the cable company.

After we determined that we had enough proof as to who stole it, we sat down with Jose's parents for advice and figured out that we have 3 options:
1. We could involve the police. And if the police actually take the time and catch the person...the person could get mad and come back for revenge later on (remember, they know where we live). And we'll probably still never get the money.
2. Call the cable company and ask for the money. If they say no, we will threaten to put an ad in the paper exposing them for having thieves as employees. (The cable companies here are VERY competetive, and will (hopefully) do anything to prevent bad publicity.) We still risk the thief coming back for revenge if he gets fired.
3. Do nothing, be out $500, but be safe and not have to worry about an angry thief.

None of the options are ideal. But we'll probably end up going with number 2.

And I can't help but feel that all of this is my fault. If I hadn't given these guys the benefit of the doubt, and if I had watched them like a hawk like I should have, they wouldn't have stolen the cell phone.

But that's not all! In the same day, I learned my lesson, again.

Last week I asked my assistant to come to work out of my apartment instead of coming to my in-law's office. I gave her some money to take a taxi because it's farther than she usually comes. And because she takes a taxi collectivo (she can't ask to go to a direct's cheaper this way) she has to walk several blocks to get to my apartment. So I gave her some money, and made her promise she would use it for a direct taxi.

She arrived Friday morning, and I asked her how she got there. She said she took a direct taxi. What she didn't know, is that my husband had been driving to work and saw her walking to the apartment 3 blocks away. I asked her again twice how she got to the apartment, and each time, her story changed. I was furious. Not because she kept the money, but because she lied. Yes, what she did was financially smart...she pocketed a few lempiras and walked instead of taking the taxi. But she lied to me. You see, I warned her during her first interview that I would be nice as long as she didn't steal from me or lie to me. I told her she would regret it if she did. She said she understood. And then last week she lied.

My whole life I've defined myself as a good person, and to me that means that I should treat everyone as equal and that I should give everyone a chance. So it is devastating to learn that I have to change that way of thinking. But I've finally learned: don't trust anyone. But not just that. In Honduras, don't give anyone the benefit of the doubt. Assume that everyone is going to lie to you, or steal from you. Because they probably will. It's a game of survival here in Honduras, and the only person you can worry about is yourself.


Live Simply Love Strongly said...

So sorry that you had to find out the hard way. Unfortunately, sometimes that stuff happens even to people who have their guard up. It's also hard for me to accept the belief that you can't trust ANYONE. For me that's like giving up hope that there's good in the world, and I just can't do that. And while my husband doesn't trust anyone, I'd say the I "hope for the best, but expect the worst" or at least think there's a possibility for the worst. As for the lying, I have found that it's (for many people) not seen as wrong. People make promises they don't intend to keep, tell others things to avoid offending or flatter (even when they don't mean it or it's not true), or invent stories because it's easier, more convenient, or gets them something. Don't take it personally that your assistant lied to you. Keep in mind that she has grown up in a culture where nobody is doing anybody any favors, and if you want something you better grab it because no one is going to give it to you, and you will probably never get a chance to earn it. I think people must feel hopeless and powerless in a system like that.

Aguilar Family said...

It is sad that you find that kind of people here. Hannah, there is a lot of good people here. Not everyone is trying to get something from you. I had to learn to trust people instead; and I am a Honduran born person. My wife, who is a Caucasian north American woman has been teaching me to loose out instead. Of course, it helps that people I work with or deal with are mostly people with high moral levels.

Don't give up trusting people or you will be wasting beautiful moments. At some point you will know how to distinguish the ones who you truly should be aware. Until then, have fun.

Oscar Aguilar

Anonymous said...

Well I understand what you are feeling. An incident like this also happened to me here in the US with a person from Honduras that we allowed stay with us in our home for a few weeks. He was very desperate because when he left he had still not found a job and a few days after he left we found out someone had broken in through our window (that had been left open by him) and taken some of our things. We don't have proof it was him, but I am almost positive it was. I think some people have a mind set that if a person is successful then losing a few things isn't going to do them any harm. That's not the case though, we felt so violated. I also agree with the others who have commented in that I do not believe that you shouldn't trust anyone, but just that you should be aware of what's going on at all times. I wouldn't have imagined someone who I had been so nice to would have stolen from me, but I should have been a more aware and cautious. I also agree with LSLS when she referred to your assistant's situation. She has grown up in a much different place than we have and I'm sure many people who have grown up there who see an opportunity will go out of their way to save a few lempiras.

Trisha and Kelly said...

Hannah Lawrence de Barahona is a Leader...not a follower! Btw, I like the comments posted by LSLS.

I thought of you this morning while finishing-up my talking points for the kindergarten class at BGCA. I am going to show our video accompanied by Billy Gilman’s song, “One Voice.” The lyrics below made me think about this situation. The Hannah that I raised is a leader, not a follower. As the lyrics state below, YOU have to keep believing til you find a way...

One Voice by Billy Gilman

Some kids have and some don't
And some of us are wondering why
Mom won't watch the news at night
There's too much stuff that's making her cry
We need some help
Down here on earth
A thousand prayers, a million words
But one voice was heard

A house, a yard, a neighborhood
Where you can ride your new bike to school
A kind of world where Mom and dad
Still believe in the golden rule
Life's not that simple
Down here on earth
A thousand prayers, a million words
But one voice was heard

One voice, one simple word
Hearts know what to say
One dream can change the world
Keep believing
Till you find a way


As for the bill, here are a few more options to consider:

1) Call AT&T one more time and use the assertive/persistent Hannah tone. Ask them if they will consider waiving the roaming fees since it was stolen. Is it possible to get a police report to help document that your phone was indeed stolen?
2) Pay the bill, learn a lesson, forgive the thieves (hard to do, I know) and pray that they will one day learn that what they did was wrong?

Live Simply Love Strongly said...

Today as I was driving, I remembered something that happenned to me when I was working in Colombia. I was filling in for a teacher who injured her foot, I was teaching her class, and I had to collect the book order money. When she returned, there was a lot to do, I set the bag with the money and orders on the table, and planned to mention to her later. Well, we got busy teaching, and later I forgot. The money disappeared! It just grew feet and walked away. Well, I had to talk to my supervisor and admit I had lost the money. I was so embarrassed! I couldn't help crying as we talked about what to do...that made me even more embarrassed. Well, in the end it was about $150 and it was deducted from my paycheck. (Good thing I wasn't counting on this money to live, I had a little extra.)I also had to talk to the parents at conferences to "confirm" their order. (No admission of guilt, I wouldn't want to make the school look bad:) That was a learning experience for me! Wow, I hadn't though of that experience in such a long time, that was about 6 years ago, I think, gosh how time flies.

Honduras Sprout said...

what a bummer for that to happen. I think its ok to trust, but carefully. Sometimes I have to be a little extra stern with people.

Once I had a female security person at the big City Mall here plain as day start to go into my purse while it was next to me sitting at the food court. If I had spoken more Spanish she would have heard an ear full but instead she got the "back off b*tch" stare.

That is a hard lesson.