Safe behind the locks at home?

Burglaries seem to be common in Colombia too. Last Sunday afternoon I was hanging out with a Colombian woman, Merche. She is a single woman in my age range who works in a government agency in Bogota. Her friend, Rosa, from Cartagena joined us later in the afternoon.

“What kind of security system did you install after the burglary in your house?” Merche asked Rosa,  as we were passing a fabulous mansion in the fancy Usagen-neighborhood. The building was surrounded by a razor wire in large coils on top of a tall cement wall.

“What happened?” I asked in astonishment.

“I was about to open the gate at my home when three men in jumpsuits came to ask for water.  I thought they came from the construction site opposite of my house and let them in to the front yard. Immediately thereafter, one of the men pulled a knife from his pocket and forced me to open the entrance door.

During the following hour, while the man with the knife guarded me, the two other men collected and carried out valuables from my house. Apparently there was someone else waiting with a car. My teenage daughter was in the house staying in her room but luckily no one went there and noticed her”.

“Of course after the men left I called the police. They came and I could describe the men rather precisely. I also had the feeling that the police knew who they might be – a gang living in a poor neighborhood robbing houses using the same technique”. 

“The police wrote a report but nothing happened after that, even though I have been in contact with the police station. No one has been arrested, and nobody seems to do anything to pursue the case. Since I was threatened with a knife and kept captive in my house, I also lodged a criminal complaint for kidnapping. According to the law, kidnapping should result in a harsher punishment. 

The authorities, however, seem to shrug it off. The prisons are full and they do not have enough resources to investigate all crimes. “

“What about the burglary in your apartment?” Rosa asked Merche “Has anyone been convicted for it?”

It turned out that Merche’s apartment had been robbed a couple of years ago in the middle of the day when she was at work. All valuables were stolen. The safe was broken open and all family jewelry and cash were stolen.

There had been three guards in the building at the time, and in order to enter the apartment, the criminals had had to pass two security doors. These had remained intact. Because the police seemed helpless, Merche hired a private detective to investigate the matter. His finding was that probably two or more guards had worked in co-operation with the burglars and let them through the first two doors. With pressure from Merche, the police called the guards to submit them to a lie detector test. The men did not show up for the test.

Over two years have passed since the burglary. No one has been indicted, and Merche’s report is shelved in some stack waiting for someone to further investigate the case.

After the robbery Rosa installed a new security system that includes cameras. Merche, on the other hand sold the apartment and moved to another area.

“After that, there was bad energy in the apartment,” she says.

These two Colombian women’s stories help me understand why I did not get keys to the entrance door and the door between the first floor and my floor in the Airbnb-house where I stayed. For a week I had felt like a prisoner in my Airbnb-room, because every time I wanted to go out of the house or come in, I had to call the landlady and she – or, in her absence a domestic help – had to come to open up the two doors separating me from the street/my room.

Näkymä ikkunasta kadulle Kolumbiassa 1

When I first came to that house, I found that the only emergency exit in case of fire or other emergency was to worm my way through a 30-inch wide window and let myself drop down 18 feet to the street. In the best case, I might be able to land in the flower bed on the edge of the sidewalk …

Näkymä ikkunasta kadulle 2

The aforementioned burglaries could have happened almost anywhere in the world. In fact my editor informed me today that her house in L.A. had been burglarized in the middle of the day in 2012 while she was at work.

None of her neighbors had heard or seen anything although the back door had been demolished savagely, even the frame had been forced out of its lodging. Everything of value had been taken and the place was ransacked.  In her case too, the police came, wrote a report, and nothing else happened. She never recovered anything of what had been taken: a family heirloom that had sentimental value, and indeed monetary value.

Moreover my house in a little Danish village has been burglarized twice in the last ten years. The first time, a copy of an Italian lounger was taken as well as a defective Danish-design lamp. The insurance covered the two items. My husband was happy to get rid of the lounger that I had purchased;  he had hated it. 

The second time the burglars did not find anything of value in the house, as I am increasingly becoming more of a minimalist. Moreover I buy almost everything in secondhand shops and thrift stores. Outside in a shed, the burglars found a moving cart that they stole – probably to move out design furniture from some other house.

The Danish police are equally helpless with the many burglaries. Most of these cases are never solved. 

Therefore, owning valuable objects makes us vulnerable, and it is our luck if we are not home when burglars are working in the area. What are material goods compared to one’s life?

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