Thursday, June 23, 2011

robbed.

It's now D-day...

...{sigh}...

here I go....

**********

Our final day of our trip was filled with traveling. As I woke up early that morning I mentally braced myself for a long day. We weren't going to arrive to London until midnight that day and we had to be at certain places at certain times all day long. We needed the day to run as smoothly as possible.
Morning went fine loading the car, getting breakfast, and driving to Barcelona. Another 2 1/2 hour drive to Barcelona - no problem.
We arrived to the airport to drop off the car - no problem.
We found the right train to take us to the nearest metro stop by the bus station - no problem.
So far so good.


As we were walking from the metro stop to the bus station, I was so relieved to be at this point already. The bus was a 3 1/2 hour ride to Zaragoza which is where our cheap flight was flying out of. All we had to do now was chill on a bus and have a pleasant ride like we did coming to Barcelona.
The girls were doing great, trying hard to hang in there with us. I kept telling them to hang in there just a little bit longer because once we get on that bus we are done with this trip! Ironically, I vividly remember thinking as we walked into the bus station, "We made it. We survived Barcelona and we were never pickpocketed...."

The bus station was super busy this day and it was really hot. I remember thinking on the metro that out of all the days to have beach weather it is the day we are leaving Spain. I was so bummed and wished we were staying another day...

Tim had two of our big suitcases with a little carry-on suitcase strapped to one of the big ones and his back pack on his back. I had Natalie in the stroller and Marisa at my side. There were dozens of buses parked with people getting on them and some getting off them. We were trying to locate which bus was ours and what time we wanted to leave. You can choose the time you want to leave. We were going back and forth several times across the street from one side of the station to the other trying to locate the right bus. We wanted to get one that left ASAP. Because it was hot and we didn't want to keep dragging all the luggage and make Marisa walk back and forth we decided to just go off to the side and assess the situation.
Tim suggested we just park our bodies off to the side outside but it was really crowded and hot and I was nervous that the girls would just wonder off and get lost in the crowd or onto the street. Plus, I wanted to change them into cooler clothes because they were both now sweating.
We walked into the bus station and found an empty area in front of a little shop. Perfect. We unloaded our stuff by a bench that had another bench right behind it. Tim said for me to wait right there with our stuff while he went to figure out our bus. (We already had tickets we just needed assigned seats allocated to us and the time of the first available bus.) We thought because we had tickets it wouldn't take very long.
So while Tim was gone I changed Natalie's diaper right there in the stroller, changed the girls' clothes, and then sat down and let out a big sigh. I had the two big suitcases right next to me to my right, the stroller was right in front of me in front of my legs, and Tim's backpack right next to me on the bench to my left.
Perfect timing, I thought. We all had lunch already, it is Natalie's nap time and she can sleep on the bus, the girls have cooler clothes on, we are almost there.
I let the girls wander close by to get their wiggles out like all little ones do. They would walk up to the shop that was closed for siesta and look in, and then come sit by me, and then chase each other in this small little area, no biggie.

Then this is where it happens...
Natalie is following right behind Marisa while Marisa runs to the bench behind the bench I am sitting on and she sits down herself. She sits there for just a couple of seconds when I notice a man quickly sit behind me.

I look back over my left shoulder thinking it was really odd for this man to sit down so quickly and literally right next to Marisa. But then again, that is city life and you sit where you can find a seat. But I remained alert and kept a close eye on my girls.

I remember Marisa looking up at him and I remember seeing the back of his white shirt. I couldn't see this man's face at the time.
I then look up toward my left side and I see another man with a backpack over his shoulder looking down at his hand that was touching a high table which was right next to the bench. He was probably 8-10 feet away from me. I keep looking at him and then he suddenly says something kinda under his breath. I didn't make out what he said or to he was saying it, at that split second I didn't think too much of it, but after the incident he was actually talking to the man sitting behind me.

In that instant my suitcase to the right of me tips over. I look to my right to see what happened, how it fell. I straighten my bag a bit to see that the man behind me kind of touched it and I say to the man behind me, "That's my stuff." He quickly kinda mumbles something, I think he said, "Oh ok," and I go to turn back to my left to grab Tim's bag and pull it a little closer to me. But before I could he then kinda gets up and in English says, "Watch your stuff." I turn to my right again and I quickly say without really looking at him, "Ok, I know," and go to turn back to my left yet again when he now stands straight up, touches the top of my suitcase, looks me in the eye, and says slowly and firmly, "Remember, watch your stuff." I rudely reply, "I know!" and stand up to bring my suitcases closer. I'm halfway turned back to my left when I see Tim running past me with a panic yet determined face.
Panic strikes me suddenly because my senses just registered what happened but my mind didn't want to accept it. I quickly turn left to complete my turn and quickly assess the bench and my belongings around me.

Tim's back pack is gone.

"OH my GOSH," I say at loud. My hands go on my head and I say again, "OH MY GOSH, he took the bag! I can't believe this is happening." My hands then go over my eyes and I begin to panic and plea, "Oh, Heavenly Father please! This is not happening..."

Mind you, from the second the man sits down to when Tim's goes running past me happened in a total of 30 seconds. So while this whole distraction from the men is going on I'm thinking of a million things that are happening to me at the moment yet nothing at all at the same time. Time was slow, yet so fast. Weird how your body reacts to danger.

My body is now shaking and I'm panicking. I take one step forward to follow Tim because I knew I could help him catch the guys. I mean, it just happened! But I quickly stop because for obvious reasons: #1 my girls are just standing there, I can't leave them unattended, #2 the rest of my belongings cannot be unattended, #3 I have no idea who else around me is working with those men.

To stand there and feel totally helpless is an awful feeling. I was hoping that Tim ran fast enough to catch the guy, I was silentely praying that it would all be solved in a few seconds, and I was trying to find someone to help me, but who??

I look to my right to see a bunch of American looking young adult men and I naturally wanted to ask them to help me, but do I trust them? I went ahead with my gut feeling and said, "Please, help me! A man just stole my bag! My husband went after him! Can you help me?"

They quickly reacted and looked genuinely concerned. At that point I only hoped they were genuine.

They run off to the centre of the bus station outside where I had pointed them to to see how they can help. I then glance further to my right and see a policeman. Oh good, I thought! I motion to him and suddenly I am speaking Spanish I didn't even know I knew. If you were to ask me to say what I said in Spanish again I couldn't.

As I'm rambling the policeman slowly approaches, taking his time, and asks how long ago did it happen. Just now!

He then walks slowly off to help. Ugh.

Tim then runs back...

...empty-handed.

Are you kidding me?
I'm still shocked, shaking, and the look of defeat in Tim's eyes made me cry. I felt horrible. I felt like it was all my fault. Why didn't I grab that bag?? Why wasn't I holding on to that bag??
Tim just gave me a big hug and we held each other while I was saying sorry over and over again.
The young adults soon come back, empty handed too...


So, I'm going to pause and interrupt here to explain Tim's side of the story to this point...



Tim walked down the escalators and turned the corner to look up and see this man (the 2nd man who was standing by the table) swoop down real fast and put a black bag over his shoulder and walk away. His first reaction, "That's funny he would pick up his own bag like that..."
Then within a second he scans the benches and thinks, "That's my bag!"
Tim goes sprinting down the hallway to catch up to the thief that just stole his bag. As he runs out of the station there is a 3rd man, (yes, 3rd man), waiting for him and in perfect English (odd...) says, "He went that way," and points left. Tim without even thinking starts running left, but after 5 steps realises that he should have known better than to believe that man. He instantly knew that man totally lied to him and that he is working with the thieves. Tim spins around and the 3rd man just shrugs his shoulders. Tim just glared at him, but didn't have time to deal with him because he wanted to catch that guy.
Tim then turns to where the man ran off and there was nobody around. The station just emptied out into an empty staircase that went into the plaza.

Luckily, (or so Tim thought), there was a police station literally right next door to the bus station, he ran through the front doors and said, "My bag was just stolen!"
The police man at the desk said, "Well, my companion isn't here yet, can you come back in an hour and a half?"
"Are you kidding me?" Tim thought.

He quickly left to find me where I was freaking out and in shock.


So from there we all walked next door and talked with the police. I'm pacing around back and forth, back and forth, in front of the police desk explaining what happened and Tim as well. I was so frustrated that police men and women were just lounging around doing nothing. And there were quite a bit! Siesta?
I was screaming out in English, "Why aren't they doing anything!? He is right outside!"

Everyone was taking their sweet time doing, what, I have no idea and showing very little interest in the matter.
"Do you know what they look like? Can you spot them out?" they asked me.
"YES! Now let's go! They are just right outside!"

My frustrations were useless. To them, the thieves were gone. But to me, I knew they couldn't have gone so far...yet. I felt like there was still time.
The anger in me just kept rising and my heart was beating faster than before. I couldn't sit still. I could only keep pacing.
Growing more and more frustrated at the lack of the response from the police, (I mean, can't you radio phone all the cops around the station and plaza to watch out for these men that I can describe in perfect detail with a black bag??), I walked outside because I couldn't contain it anymore. I just put my hands on my head and yelled out in complete anger, "Bastards!"

Yes. That is the first thing that came to my head. The only thing I was feeling.
How dare they steal from me like that?? I was alone with my girls and you targeted me like that? How dare you look me straight into the eye and say, "Watch your stuff," when you are knowingly going to rob me! How dare you!! And I said the "B" word several times after that too.

I then just start to cry. I'm so mad. But I have to contain myself. My girls...

I go back inside to see Tim making phone calls, talking with police, etc. Natalie is calm and sitting in her stroller saying, "Mommy, sad," and Marisa is just laying back against the wall real quiet. One police officer who spoke English kinda well began to calm me down and express his apologies. All the while I am tearfully telling him, "How could they?"

He said to me, "You were an easy target. They want to steal from someone they can easily fight off. You were alone and with two young children. You were the perfect target. The thieves just want your electronics to sell in the black market. They will most likely throw away your passports and any other items in the bag. Sometimes people will find passports and bring them into the police station. But only sometimes."

I look down to see Marisa just standing there kinda spacey. She hasn't said a single thing yet and I knew something was wrong. I bent down to her level and asked what was wrong....and this part kills me and gets me every time...

She runs into my arms and immediately starts sobbing loudly. And I mean sobbing. I then start to cry, but I'm trying so hard to hold it back for her. I ask her, "What is wrong sweetheart? Please tell me."

In between sobs she replies, "I don't want them to throw away Jessie in the trash! Why did they take our bag?"

I then remember that her Jessie doll (from Toy Story 3) was in that back pack. Her absolute favourite doll she got for her 4th birthday right before we moved to London.

I just held her so tightly and it is only then where I shut my eyes so tightly and desperately invisioning, forcing my mind to mentally take me back to California. Back to my comforts, back to my home, back to my familiarity, back to safety...
I then begin to get angry again.
I now have to explain to my innocent child with these big watery brown eyes looking at me why someone would take our bag and why someone would throw away her favourite doll.
I can't tell you how much that killed me.
How do I explain that there are horrible people in this world who do not care about others? How do I tell her that someone was evil enough to take her doll?

I just told her at the moment I didn't know why they had taken our bag but that we would get her a new doll right away. Marisa remained sad the rest of the night but would only cry whenever she would say again and again, "I don't want them to throw away Jessie."

Ugh...so after talking with the U.S. consulate on the phone and local police we had to head to the police headquarters to file a report. The U.S. consulate emergency services were currently closed so we were going to have to wait until morning to apply for temporary passports. The lady on the phone said to come early because the wait could take at least 3 hours. Ugh, again.

Police escorted us to the station which was nice, but the whole ride though I kept looking through the windows wishfully thinking I could spot them. And the further we drove and the more time passed, the more my heart settled in the fact that they were long gone now.

At the police headquarters we filed a report and then had to look through 4 thick binders of mugshots. And these were only pictures of those who fit my description of the thieves: male, 25-35 years old, and European looking. Nevermind the Arabs, the South Americans, the younger and the older thieves. Plus, these were the thieves that work in this area in Barcelona only. Can you believe that?
This part was useless to me. They are not going to be in here, duh! But whatever.
Also the police by the bus station and the police at the headquarters kept asking over and over again,
"Are you sure they weren't Arabs?"
"No. They were Spanish. Totally European."
"Are you sure they weren't South Americans?"
"No their skin was light not dark."

"Are you sure?..."

They kept asking me over and over again!...
I just wanted to yell out....

"LES DIJE QUE NO SON ARABES!...VALE!"

I guess the Spanish blame Arabs for their crimes like Americans blame Mexicans. They had a hard time admitting it was one of their own kind who stole from us.

Marisa fell asleep in the stroller at this point and Natalie was wired and being totally naughty. (It was past her naptime...) The police thankfully allowed us to use their internet to find a hotel for the night.
We walked out, now past dinner time at this point, and grabbed a taxi to the hotel. I remember walking out to the plaza to get a taxi thinking that if anyone tried to mess with me right now I was going to sock them hard. I was tired and angry and not in the mood for someone else to steal from me.

Natalie had her worst melt down ever in the taxi on her way to the hotel. I couldn't even be mad at her at all because she had every right to hit me in the face, which she did, and scream at me. She hadn't had a nap all day, she was very hungry, (how were we supposed to get food at the police station?), and she was absolutely done with traveling and being dragged everywhere. I just let her scream and kick it out and couldn't care less what the driver thought. I would punch him in the face too if he told me to keep her calm.

The hotel Tim found ended up being an amazing two bedroom hotel. I highly recommend it if you want to visit Barcelona! :)
The staff were so nice to us and sympathtic toward us and went over and beyond to accomodate all our needs.

Natalie continued to be deliriously upset and scream and push and hit and throw tantrum after tantrum. Tim and I couldn't believe her behaviour. It was seriously unreal. Then Marisa would get sad from time to time and cry about Jessie. And all the while Tim and I were mentally exhausted. I felt faint from not eating anything for half a day and my body was still shaky after what had happened earlier in the day.

I just couldn't stop thinking about it. I would play the incident over and over again in my head. I would play the what-ifs, should-haves, and if-onlys, in my head over and over again too.
I would picture their faces, my frantic attempt to get things under control as it was happening to me...just everything.

I was quiet the rest of the night and although my body was hungry I felt so sick to my stomach. I couldn't eat. Tim kept trying to get me to eat but I just felt like I would just throw it back up.

After getting the girls to bed, (thankfully they crashed), Tim and I just lay in bed staring at the ceiling, holding hands, totally quiet. Both still completely shocked.


I have never felt so violated and so targeted as I did today. How long were they watching me for? How dare they target me because I am alone and with two young children. How can they be so past feeling? So past feeling that the man who sat behind me can look at Marisa in the eyes and think, "I'm about to rob your mom. I don't care if you have a place to sleep tonight or money for food." How can they be past so feeling that as they look through Tim's bag feel nothing when passing two dollies and a little girl's cardigan and pink sunglasses?  I have spent days and long hours and drives getting our passports ready in LA. The girls had their "first" passport pictures taken looking all cute. They had their first two out of country stamps on their passports. Marisa loved having her passport stamped as we entered Spain! And all those videos on my iphone of my girls giggling on the beach in Spain. How can you look through my phone and not feel anything?? And how can you look me into the eye and act like you are watching out for me, but be so deceitful?



How dare you.



I have never been the focus of so much evil so this incident really affected me. My heart just doesn't work that way. My mind and heart can't wrap themselves around the concept of thievery and deceit. Maybe that is why I felt so sick.
They knew I would protect my girls before my belongings. In fact, this was my first thought once the man sat down behind me. Watch my girls.
I can still vividly feel the second the man suddenly sat behind me. A feeling of alertness so tangible.
They can have our iphones, they can have Tim's work laptop, I just want our passports back so we can go home. I want Marisa's Jessie doll back so she can sleep at night with her, I want Natalie's georgie doll so she can sleep at night too. I want all of Tim's maps back because he has been collecting them for years. The very things they don't care about, I care about the most.
And having to explain during dinner to Marisa why we weren't going home that day and why someone would be so evil to take Daddy's bag. Little kids don't understand that. They are so innocent. I can tell Marisa was trying to wrap her mind around the concept of "doing bad things to others." She inherently can't.

Tim and I never blamed each other at all during that day. We could have easily said, "If you were 3 seconds earlier you would have caught him." "If you held onto the bag this wouldn't have happened." "If you hadn't left me with all the luggage and carried your bag with you this wouldn't have happened." "If, if, if...."

No way. We just held each other close so thankful that we are all safe and unharmed. It could have been worse. Someone could have gotten hurt. Tim just kept reminding me that everything can be replaced and to just think of it as "they have only caused us a huge inconvenience".

It took us forever to fall asleep that night. And even when I did I could still picture in my dreams the face of the man who looked at me and said, "Watch your stuff."

**********

I read online before going to Barcelona different popular scams thieves use to pickpocket you or steal from you. I remember thinking, "Man, I'm scared to go." But just like the website also said, it shouldn't stop you from traveling and having a good experience abroad. I just have to be prepared.

Thieves work in groups. Big groups. we only know of 3 in our group but there could have easily been more. This is another reason why we never blamed each other for the what-ifs to prevent the robbery. What if Tim had caught up with the guy. How many men where waiting to fight him? And many men carry knives to cut off bags right from people's shoulders! What if these men had a knife? It could have been much worse.

I won't tell you what I read online. You can read it yourself here, but while we were at the American Consulate getting new passports there were several other Americans doing the same thing because their stuff was stolen too.
We ended up chatting with all of them and swapping war stories with one another. Here are their stories in a nutshell I think you might find interesting....

One young man: He was at the Metro and walked up to the ticket booth to buy a ticket. He put his bag next to him on the floor and not even 5 seconds pass when he realises he shouldn't do that. He bent down to get his back and it was gone. Looked around him and couldn't see anyone suspicious or who could have taken it. Money, wallet, everything gone.

One young girl: She has traveled to 22 different countries, speaks spanish fluently and is no dummy to keeping your guard up while traveling. She was walking down the street with her backpack on and a fanny pack type bag around her waist. One man comes up and spills what looks like "bird poop" all over her. Another man comes to "help" her wipe it off with napkins. She refuses help telling them "no", "go away", repeatedly and tries to shoo them off. Once they leave she looks down and her fanny pack type bag is gone. They had managed to unbuckle it around her waist without her feeling it. (This is actually a very common scam.) Money, wallet, everything gone.

Two young college girls: Just arrived to Barcelona. Hadn't been more than 10 minutes in the city. One girl had a backpack on her back and another one in front of her. Second girl had one on her back as well and needed to make a phone call at the telephone booth. So the first girl took her friend's backpack that she had in front of her and placed it between her legs so as to no one can steal it. A man then comes up waving money in his hand and says, "Change, change, do you have change?!" Both girls knew to ignore him and kept saying, "No." Man then walks away and both girls look at each other and laughingly say, "I bet that man wanted our bag." They then both look down and the bag between her legs was gone. Didn't even feel it. Money, wallet, everything gone.

After chatting with our fellow Americans we were able to vent, talk, and kinda laugh. We all felt at home and felt like we weren't alone. We all felt stupid for having been robbed. After all, it wasn't like no one knew what Barcelona was like. It's just that you can't even let your guard down once or even a little. These men are professionals. Once they target you, it's over.

Tim and I felt like after we talked with all these people we were actually lucky. We had access to money. We had food with us. These people were on the telephone trying desperately to get money wired to them, didn't have a place to sleep the night before, no money for food, and had to walk two hours to get to the consulate because they had no access to money. Tim and I passed our bag filled with food around the room because we just felt so awful for them.

I know this is a long story, but in the end, we got temporary passports and where able to book a flight that evening back to London. We are currently in the process of filling our expenses out for our travel insurance and it looks like we will be more than just fine with the return. Hopefully...

Like I said it took me several days to finally get over it all. I literally had to get on my knees and pray to have the anger removed from my heart.
Now it is easier to think about and talk about. It is like telling a story from a scene of a movie and I no longer really think about it or have ill feelings of any kind.

As for the thieves, a couple days after Spain I received a friend request on Facebook of the name of Xanders Dominquez. Odd? The profile pic looks like Spanish graffiti and I don't have access to his information. I obviously didn't accept the request.
And my mom told me that a few days after the robbery she had looked at her phone bill and it was a whopping $400. The thief managed to rack up hundreds of dollars on my iphone. Luckily, I had called my mom the day we got robbed and the moment we arrived to the hotel to tell her to cancel the phone line or do whatever necessary in case the thieves try to use it. She did so immediately. But in between the time they robbed us to cancelling the phone line they racked up all that money. Amazing, huh? My parents got their money back because they did report the phone was stolen that same day.

In the end, we are so glad everything can be replaced. I learned stuff is just stuff. I can't take my stuff to heaven, but I can take my family. I did what was right by protecting my girls first. Sure it would be nice to have the girls passports with their first stamps, and videos of them on the beach. But in the end,
It is just stuff.

9 comments:

Kari said...

Oh boy-what a story! I am glad that all of you are safe. We love you.

L said...

Ugh, this post made me feel so sick to my stomach. I'm so sorry you guys had to go through that - I'M SO SORRY! How totally violating, and awful. I'm SO happy you are all safe.

Please tell me Marissa got a new Jesse doll... That BROKE my heart. Do you need me to send her one?

Stacy Christian said...

This made me sick! I found myself getting full of rage just reading it. Can't imagine how you felt. Well, you explained yourself pretty well, so I guess I can. The nerve of some people!

Jason and Jessica Bills said...

I am sorry that you had to go through that. I have had that happen to me twice in the past two years(once in Atlanta and once in Portland). Both of them were group thefts. It makes me so angry how much hatred and evil there is. I always assume the best in people until I have something like that happen.

Carl said...

Tanya,
I haven't talked to you in a long time but had to read the post when I saw your comment on twitter.
I'm sorry you had to go through that terrible experience. My wife and I have traveled in several places (including Europe) and have lived in constant fear of the same thing happening. Glad you are all okay and that you are dealing with it so well.

Chrissy said...

This is horrible Tanya. Thanks for posting though, my S-I-L will be traveling Europe for the next few weeks and I am going to forward this post to her! I immediately thought of the girls when I was reading this and feeling so vulnerable for you! Makes me sick. so glad you are all ok though.

On a positive note, I love all these posts and updates of these fun adventures! Keep them coming!

becca b said...

Oh my gosh, I bawled through most of this story...and laughed at the swearing part. You did a great job, and good for you for not wanting the harbor the anger but getting rid of it. You're great.

Arlene Marie said...

Tanya, what a horrendous experience. My heart dropped, raced and now aches for you and your sweet little family. What a CRAZY post! I'm so sorry you've experienced the dark side of traveling abroad. It is nerve-racking for sure. Hopefully the sweet memories will outweigh this scary moment. Glad your family is safe and is now home. xo

Baby Making Mama said...

It is sad that I was excited to read this post? When you told me this happened to yall right after we were vandalized I just felt like I wanted to read another experience nad go "yes yes yes!!" to the emotions. I guess kinda like you said when you were talking to the others at the consolate who were robbed.

I can't believe that happened to you all and I'm so sorry Tanya. I'm so glad you have been able to get over your anger. I have too but it did take time as well.

Did your girls get new dollies? I hope so! I'm so sorry and I know exactly how you feel. EXACTLY. The what ifs.. I wish I had been there to see the people but at the same time I'm glad I wasn't. And I'm glad Tim didn't keep chasing after them and get hurt. *hugs* mama.

Thanks for sharing and warning others. You are a great writer and I'm enjoying reading about your European adventures :)

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