Once we got back to the city from the Monkey Temple, I bought a SIM card for my phone. I hadn’t yet uploaded any photos of Nepal because my phone had a virus that wouldn’t allow me to use Wi-Fi. At least, I think it was a virus. My laptop also stopped recognizing the phone for some reason, so I couldn’t even transfer the photos. And so, I intended on sending the photos to myself on Messenger once I got my hands on some data. Hence the SIM card.
Trevor and I arrived at our hotel, and just as I climbed into my bunk and turned on my laptop, I got a message from Pieter and Natalie. They had changed their plans and were in Kathmandu! Pieter asked if I wanted to meet up, and of course I said yes! I sent out a couple messages and e-mails to let the world know I was alive, and we headed out towards Darbur Square, where my favourite Belgians were waiting for us.
As I approached the square, I walked with my head down, looking at my location on Google Maps. I looked up at the sound of my name, and sure enough, there they were. I quickly shoved my phone into my sweater pocket, and walked over to hug my pals. As I hugged Pieter, I felt somebody brush past me. At least, I thought they were just brushing past me. The streets of Kathmandu are so packed with people that it’s impossible not to bump into others when you’re walking. After a couple seconds, I realized this wasn’t just an innocent bump; somebody’s hand was lingering–it was in my pocket!
I reached my hand into my sweater pocket. My camera lens was still there. I did a quick check of the rest of my pockets, and realized that my phone was missing. By the time I looked up to look for the culprit, they had vanished into the crowd. I didn’t even catch a glimpse of their face, their body–nothing. They were a ghost as far as I was concerned.
Desperate, I tried chasing after…somebody. I got to the corner of the street, and Natalie cried out that the guy up ahead on the left seemed to be moving pretty fast. I chased after him. When I caught up to him and confronted him, he looked completely perplexed. He let me check his pockets and his bags. There was nothing. Now it’s possible that he was in fact the culprit and that he had already handed it off to a buddy, but I doubted it.
Pieter and Natalie caught up to me, and the three of us stood there for a while. I tried to absorb the shock of what had just happened, while the other two came up with creative and ingenious schemes to get my phone back.
Unfortunately, without the IME number, I didn’t see much of a point in reporting the theft to the police. Besides, I was leaving Nepal in a couple days.
With nothing else to do, we eventually headed out in search of a phone store. We entered a mall and went up to the second floor. A man standing outside of his shop told us that there was a building nearby that sold nothing but phones.
Once we found the building, Natalie went up to a guy and basically asked him straight up where one goes to buy stolen phones. He said the third floor. Apparently phone theft is so prevalent in Nepal that there are entire shops dedicated to selling nothing but stolen phones.
My tour guide the next day confirmed this, telling me that his phone was stolen on a bus one time. Apparently it’s quite a lucrative business here.
We went up to the third floor (which is technically the 4th floor, but whatever), and hoped for the best. I asked at the first counter if they had any second hand Samsung Galaxy S7’s. One of the guys reached for his phone, and for a moment, I felt a glimmer of hope. It wasn’t mine, though.
Desperate, I asked if anybody had brought in any stolen Galaxy S7’s. The jerkbag behind the counter claimed that they can’t sell stolen phones because they are legally required to provide customers with the paperwork to prove ownership of each specific phone they sell.
On to the next counter we went. This guy and his buddy offered me a two-year old Samsung E7 for $140 USD. I eventually got him to knock $20 off the price and he threw in a shiny case to seal the deal.
On the left: The sketchbag who sold me my used/stolen phone. On the right: Probably the guy who stole the phone, as he was testing out the camera before selling it to the aforementioned sketchbag.
As for the “paperwork” they were legally required to give me. It wasn’t anything from Samsung detailing the model and IME number or anything like that; it was a business card with the store’s logo on it and the date and time of sale. This whole city was becoming sketchier and sketchier by the minute.
Natalie, bless her heart, was determined to right the wrong, restore balance to the universe, and find my phone. She remained valiantly optimistic that we’d find my phone if we just kept looking at different stores. I admired that optimism in her.
At this point, though, I just wanted to eat and drink my frustrations away. Pieter and Natalie were kind enough to offer to pay for my meal. We ended up eating a place they’d eaten at earlier in the day called OR2K. Pizza, beer, and some hearty laughs–some even at the expense of my recently lost phone (there’s no such thing as “too soon” as far as I’m concerned)–and I was feeling a whole lot better by the end of the night.
As I said before on Facebook, it’s just a phone. On the surface, I was upset, not because somebody had stolen my phone, but because 1) financially, this was not a great time to have to buy a new phone, and 2) I lost some great pictures from Poon Hill and the Monkey Temple. (There were two particularly awesome photos of the Metallica boys that I was heartbroken over.)
But these are minor inconveniences. Life goes on. Deep down, there were more severe issues troubling me.
First, I was saddened by the fact that this is somebody’s life. Here I am, waking up every morning excited to explore new cultures and go on new adventures while living a carefree life, while this other guy probably wakes up every morning wondering where he’s going to get the money to feed himself and/or his family today. Nobody turns to crime for the thrill of it; nobody collects stolen items the way I collect fridge magnets or you collect antique clocks; they turn to crime out of desperation; they turn to crime because they need help; they turn to crime because they don’t know what else to do. They don’t have the knowledge, tools, or resources to get themselves moving in the right direction.
So part of me almost felt like if anybody was to get robbed, I’m glad it was me. If a local person gets robbed, they may not be making that much money, and so having to buy a new phone might be a serious financial burden to them. And if a fellow tourist like Pieter or Natalie had gotten robbed, while I’m sure they are both well off enough to afford a new phone, at the same time, it would tarnish the memory of their trip to Nepal.
I, on the other hand, am fortunate enough to be able to afford this temporary life of a vagabond. While I will go home at the end of this trip without a cent to my name, this entire year is a luxury that few can afford. Having my phone stolen is but one unfortunate mishap in a long series of laughs, moments, and adventures that have brought endless joy to my life. It is one dark spot in the glimmering tapestry that has been the past 6 months. I will treasure this year forever because I know just how rare this opportunity is. I’m grateful for it every morning when I wake up, and I count my lucky stars every night when I go to bed.
I am fortunate and privileged enough that I have never had to consider, even for a moment, stealing something to pay my way through to the end of the day. Apparently many people in Nepal do, and that needs to change.
The other thing that troubled me about this whole episode was how shaken I felt afterwards. I felt extremely vulnerable. I felt completely helpless. And suddenly, being lost in a crowd, those two feelings overwhelmed me. Everybody could be the culprit. I felt like everybody was staring at me, secretly laughing at me because they were the one who stole my phone. This feeling was toxic. I felt like I was poisoned. I hated not being able to trust anybody. I hated being afraid of everybody.
Friends have told me several times that I’m an overly trusting person. But I like living like that. I like seeing the good in people. The world is such a more vibrant place when you see it that way. Sure, there are your occasional bad seeds, but so what? Life is full of bumps and bruises. I’d rather assume that most people are good and be surprised when somebody betrays or hurts me than assume that most people are bad and be surprised when somebody goes out of their way to help me out. And that’s pretty much how my life has worked out.
That night, though, I was afraid of everybody that walked past me. I was afraid to even bump into somebody by accident. It was a crippling feeling that I never want to feel again, though I’m sure I will–probably even before this trip is over. But even when I do, all I need is to spend some time with people that I care about, and my faith in humanity is restored.