The moments immediately following a violation of any sort are the most crucial. The survivor goes through a series of emotions rather rapidly. Time feels arrested. Shock and disbelief turn into re-winding and analyzing which lead to anger, which is then served to self and to anyone who dares present a lecture on ways to be safe. All these emotions come careening into a hangar called paranoia. Paranoia has the ability to seep into core places in the survivor’s life and set up shop for long-term operations; if not checked quickly, it has the potential to consume the whole fleet.
On Tuesday my phone was stolen. Swiped from right under my nose. A man pretending to have HIV claimed he needed money for his drugs and went round the bar asking for an endorsement on a very crumpled-looking piece of paper. When he arrived at our table, he repeated his spiel four times and by the time I had finished counting, he had a smirk on his face which quickly turned into a smile as he folded up the paper and said goodbye. Sadly, he used this piece of paper to cover up my Samsung touch-screen phone that happened to be lying next to my drink on the table. In the brief, barely four-minute encounter, he managed to chip away at my confidence. See, I was playing tour guide and had been talking my friend’s ear off regarding street smarts. Now here I was missing a relatively new and slightly-expensive smart phone. He had my confidence alright.
The minutes immediately following kept to the basic pattern. Rationally I knew they would, but I was not prepared for the physical reactions that came with it. As the realization of loss hit me over and over again, my hands balled up into fists, my throat seized up with anger, and I found myself unable to stay seated, choosing instead to pace between the bar and the patio. Although my exterior remained calm throughout, the emotional pattern occurring threatened to hold me captive if I didn’t do something differently. So I started muttering to myself: “breathe child, breathe,” and then mindfully I asked the universe to help me channel the energy somewhere else. Even as I searched for a cab to take me home a half hour later, I could feel the negative energy sitting lopsidedly on my head attempting to hold on. I had been stolen from; I couldn’t trust myself to pick a safe cab driver. I was paranoid that perhaps this was my night for bad things to happen and that the cab might carry me off to some greater harm. That perhaps the phone was a sign of worse things to come. It took me a good ten minutes to decide on a cab driver. Having done so, I felt uneasy that I was wrong as I had been about the poor HIV guy so I let this cab driver go. A total of four cab drivers and half an hour later, I had walked several blocks away from the scene and hopped on a Trotro (local bus) which would only take me half-way home. Once I boarded, I noticed I was one of two females in the 18-passenger van and I was seated in the middle surrounded on all sides. An active imagination coupled with paranoia’s new place in my life caused a mini panic attack. I finally made it home that night in a bit of a daze clutching my bag tightly and trying to stave off the ideas that were fast sprouting shoots in my mind. I dressed in darkness that night because somehow I felt the house was now more susceptible to burglars, like somehow the phone had put my location on the map. I decided to take hold of the situation by writing and getting it all out. Words helped halt the wheels of Paranoia.
Over the past four days, I have been replaying the scene over and over in my head, mourning the loss of my pictures, new contacts, and music, and saying what most survivors probably say in hindsight: “had I known…” I must say though that the “why me?” hasn’t been as strong as the “how stupid could I have been?” and this makes the process of healing even more difficult. In any case, all survivors must move on because life does move on. I have returned to the use of an old phone from my last trip to Ghana and I’m in the process of blocking that sim and recovering that number which apparently should be “easy” though that’s not been the experience thus far. The rate at which I have had to move on has colored the event so that it feels like it happened a while ago. However, in my mind’s eye I relive it at least ten times a day. I can picture the perpetrator mesmerizing me, him walking away, me frantically searching for the phone and knowing it was gone forever, and me feeling I had not been a watchful tourist. I try to intercept the scenes as they are playing and replace them with better choices (like putting my phone in my purse immediately after finishing that call) but this is often a useless task.
When it happened, I questioned if I should be praying for the miraculous return of the phone (highly unlikely), for the perpetrator’s demise (only universe will know if this prayer works), or uttering incantations to ward off any other evils that were coming my way. In the meantime, I am exploring the existential idea that everything happens for a reason, and working channelling my paranoia into more positive places.