One year ago today, I was robbed of everything. My giant backpack containing all my clothes, electronics, money, credit cards and most importantly, my passport was taken away from me. It was partially my fault for letting my guard down and trusting the wrong people, it was partially the robbers who saw a vulnerable tourist and took advantage of the situation. Either way, now is not the time for blame.
I was in a strange country, far from home, surrounded by people I didn’t know. I had about 20USD, my mobile phone and my tablet (both of which I no longer have either, but that’s a story for another day). No form of identification, no way to get anywhere. For all intents and purposes, an alien from Mars and I were indistinguishable from each other.
As the enormity of the situation sank in, a multitude of emotions flooded my being. I felt angry; at myself, at the robbers, at the world, for having allowed such a thing to happen. I felt overwhelmed; without an embassy or consulate in the country, I had no way of getting a new passport and I would have to somehow figure my own way out of the mess I had gotten myself into. I felt violated; my backpack had become an extension of myself after almost a year and a half of travelling and although not one person had laid a finger on me, my security had been stolen. And I felt very afraid; the reality of being entirely alone in a place far from everything and everyone I knew suddenly seemed terrifying instead of liberating.
The ten days that followed were some of the most difficult in my life. I was reduced to depending on strangers for food, for a place to stay, for even the most basic necessities of life. As someone who prides herself on her independence, it was a humbling experience. A lady, Rosa, took care of me during those ten days, treating me like her little sister and constantly being on the lookout for me. She wasn’t rich, or well-off. She worked as a cook in a little restaurant, lived in a small house with her mother, step-father and two sons. Yet, she didn’t think twice about inviting me into her home, feeding me and providing me with clothes and other necessities.
I remember the first night when she took me to her house. She give me a toothbrush and a tiny tube of toothpaste, and told me to take a shower and get ready for bed. I don’t know what it was about that small act of giving me something as simple as a toothbrush and toothpaste that made me burst into tears. Perhaps, after the completely traumatizing events of that day, someone treating me like a human being deserving of basic hygiene was more than I could handle. Perhaps, it was the sobering realization that I couldn’t even afford to buy something so basic for myself and was almost completely dependent on this complete stranger’s kindness. Whatever the reason, I doubt I will forget that moment for a long time to come.
Well, many things happened in the ten days after I was robbed (if you want the full blow-by-blow story, ask and you may receive) but to cut a long story short, I got back my passport and one credit card and moved on to other adventures from there. But the point of this post is that even in an awful situation where you think there isn’t any hope, the world is full of good, honest people who want nothing more than to help. And there isn’t anything wrong with asking for help when you need it.
So here’s a huge thank you to the kind people in Santiago de Caballeros, Dominican Republic who took me in, fed me, clothed me, and kept me alive while I literally had nothing (special thanks to Rosa and family, Rosita and the POLITUR), and my friends and family in Singapore and all over the world for all their help, support and assurances that everything would work out. Because it did – I’ve lived to tell the tale, and have become a much stronger person for it.
I’ve learnt that life will go on, no matter what. We just need to keep on keeping on, and things will work themselves out. It seemed like a disastrous situation at that time, but one year on, it is just another in my collection of great stories to share. I’ve learnt, and I’ve grown, and I will keep learning and growing. And hopefully, one day I’ll look back on my life and proudly say – it was a life well lived.