As our taxi drew up to the chino, Lenny gestured for me to pay the taxi driver. Opening my wallet, I saw that I only had one pitiful 20USD bill and some change and my heart sank a little further. Handing over all my change to pay for the taxi ride, I got out of the taxi and stared blankly around, wondering how I was going to survive the next indeterminate number of days since I only got 20 dollars in my pocket. Dum dum dum dum, this was f*cking awful.
Credit: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
I entered the chino, hoping to see Herman and crash at his place for the night since he had initially offered me a place to stay when I first arrived, but Herman was nowhere to be seen. I sank into a chair and the full weight of my reality at that moment came crashing down on me. I was a foreigner, in a strange country where I knew nobody, could trust no-one, with no passport or any other form of identification, and literally 20$. My woebegone face must have reflected my complete helplessness, because two of the women working at the chino came over to ask what had happened. I didn’t trust myself to speak, so Lenny related the events of that afternoon to the ladies who listened with disbelief.
Upon hearing the story, one of the ladies got up and left without a word, returning a few minutes later with a plate full of food, which she set in front of me.
“No te preocupes. Puedes quedar conmigo hasta resolver todas las problemas.” – Don’t worry. You can stay with me until you sort everything out.
I really don’t know what I would have done without Rosa, but she is the main reason why I survived this horrible ordeal.
I didn’t have much of an appetite, but ate as much as I could anyway (free food is not something to be refused when you have no money), while Rosa got in touch of a friend of hers who was a lawyer. Her friend advised me to head to the main police station and file a report as soon as possible, saying that she would meet me there when she could.
Night was falling by then, but Lenny and I headed to the police station to file the report. Rosa had wanted to accompany me, but unfortunately had to work. She did however, promise to be waiting for me at the chino to bring me to her house. When we got to the police station, we were attended to by a lady who seemed more interested in wrapping things up early than actually helping us.
She started filling out the form (on her computer, thankfully).
“Nombre?” – Name?
“Pais?” – Country?
“Singapur.” – Singapore.
“No existe en la sistema. No es un pais. Tienes otro?” – It doesn’t exist in the system. It’s not a country. Do you have another?
The last thing I had expected was the absolute and complete denial of my country. I mean, I get it, the DR is on the other side of the world from Singapore, but come on. Exasperated that I continued insisting that Singapore
was is a country, she showed me her screen, where under countries beginning with S, only Senegal, Spain, Suriname and Switzerland existed. After arguing back and forth for a while, she finally gave in and listed my country as Others (no idea why she didn’t do that from the beginning). After my emotionally-draining day, my Spanish was starting to fail me, so having won that battle, I let Lenny take over to relate the events of the day.
I sat waiting for Lenny to explain what had happened in a trance-like state, until a question she asked, and his response made me pay a little more attention.
“Cuántas personas eran?” – How many people were there?
“Tres.” – Three.
“Y tenian armas?” – And did they have guns?
“Sí, sacaron armas para amenizarnos, y escaparon en una moto.” – Yes, they took out guns to threaten us and escaped on a motorcycle.
I shot Lenny a questioning look, but he either didn’t catch it, or decided to ignore me and went on to describe the motorcycle in detail. An astute reader may remember that I had only seen one man running away with my backpack, and the sound of the motorcycle possibly points at the presence of an accomplice, but three people? Even more odd, neither of us were threatened with guns, and there was no way he could have seen the motorcycle that was long gone before Lenny even arrived! It was an obvious lie, but I put it down to the fact that perhaps this is how the police could be persuaded to take some action, by making the situation seem more extreme than it had been.
We finally managed to complete filing the report with the lady, and while printing out the report, she informed us that I would need to return the next morning to submit some paperwork to a different department that had already closed for the day, in order to get some form of temporary identification. Rosa’s lawyer friend turned up at that point, and advised me the same. Discreetly, she also warned me to keep my head down and to stick with Rosa – something fishy was going on, but she didn’t know what and she told me to be careful. Handing me her card and some money for the taxi back and some expenses, she left, and Lenny and I headed back to the chino.
It was close to 11pm by then – Rosa had ended work for the day and was waiting for my return, like she promised. I made a plan to meet Lenny at the chino at 9am the next morning to go back to the police station, and we went our separate ways. When we arrived at Rosa’s home, her mother and two sons welcomed me warmly, unfazed by the arrival of a stranger to their home. Rosa provided me with some clothes and essentials and after a shower to wash away the grime of the day, we both collapsed into her bed and were almost instantly asleep (I offered to sleep on the couch, but her son assured me he would be fine on the couch and insisted I sleep on the bed instead).
A few hours later, I was awoken by a call from none other than MFA (due to the time difference, 2am was apparently the best time to call me). Their representatives had finally sorted themselves out and a guy was assigned to my case, to provide me with consular assistance from Singapore and guide me through the process of getting back to Singapore. He took down my particulars and promised to send me an email with more information, after I explained that it was in the middle of the night there.
The next morning, Rosa provided me with a decent outfit to wear and together we headed to town. Rosa had to work all day, but kept checking in with me, an easy task since I mostly hung out at the chino. I waited for Lenny to turn up so that we could go back to the police station, but after he failed to show up by 10am, I headed to the police station on my own. I managed to submit the necessary documents and was told to return on Monday (it was Saturday) to collect my temporary certification of identity.
I wandered back to the chino on foot, partially to save money and partially to pick up some essentials for survival. Rosa was a wonderful lady and so very hospitable, but I felt awful depending on her for everything. Eventually, I ended up back at the chino, where another chapter of the saga was unfolding.
Chatting idly with the regulars of the chino while waiting for Rosa to get off work, I ended up recounting my story several times over. Eventually, Rosa, who had been listening from her position behind the counter, pulled me aside and, out of earshot of everyone else but Rosita, her trusted friend, told me that Lenny had related quite a different story to them. Apparently, in Lenny’s version, two men had accosted us and fought with Lenny, threatening us with guns and forcing us to hand over our belongings before riding off on a motorcycle with a third accomplice.
When she told me this, I looked at her with surprise – this was the same story he had told the police, but why had he lied to Rosa too? I told her that that was not at all what had happened, and that Lenny was lying. Upon hearing my version of the story again, she regarded me seriously for a moment before confiding that she suspected Lenny’s involvement in the robbery somehow. She too, like her lawyer friend, warned me to be careful and to keep my head down, discouraging me from repeating my story to too many people.
At that point, the man of the hour, Lenny himself appeared. He apologized for not accompanying me to the police station – apparently he had taken ill and had not managed to leave his bed till just then. He did not look in the slightest bit ill, but I let his excuse slide. After a while, Lenny came up to me and asked in a low voice, if I had any money. Puzzled, I obviously said I only had 20USD and asked why he needed money.
“Es que…si tienes dinero, puedo hablar con la gente para ver si alguien puede recuperar tu pasaporte…” – “It’s just that…if you have money, I can talk to some people to see if someone can get your passport back…”
My eyes widened as I remembered what Rosa had said, but at that point, I just wanted my passport back. Everything else that was in the backpack could be replaced, but without a passport, I would have to cut short my travels and return to Singapore, a prospect I was not looking forward to. I quickly agreed and told Lenny that if he could get my passport back, I’d give him some money. With that, he headed off, presumably to talk to some people.
There was nothing more to be done but wait for Lenny to return with my passport, or wait for Monday when I could get my certificate of identity and start the arduous and costly process of getting a temporary passport to return to Singapore. And so, Rosa and I returned to her home for another night.
—–Stay tuned for Part 4!—–