I haven’t written lately. At the beginning of October, my laptop was stolen out of my room. I’ve always had the good fortune to be robbed when I’m not around, for which I remain grateful, but it’s taken me awhile to get back in the swing of things.
Robberies are tough to process and often overwhelming, especially when you’re in a foreign country. For starters, there are the legalities and logistics — reporting the incident, time at the police station, formal statements (in my case in English, French and Wolof — I had help). Replacing the indispensable — like the laptop I use for my writing and consulting work — can take time, especially in a country with limited shopping options.
Then there’s the anger, which for me comes out of nowhere and rages until I allow myself to breathe, calm, process and release the negativity.
A month ago, I was on deadline for a cool mHealth job I’d been after for months, and the laptop had all my research, my planning, my interviews…It took me a couple of days to process that I’d need to start over, and then catching up took the rest of my focus until today. It was hard, as I was working, not to blame the person who stole my laptop for these hardships. It was hard to have compassion for the desperation of someone with fewer resources and opportunities than me. And it took nudging to keep moving through the process and to do the next right thing — police, replacements, letting it go.
Here’s how I did it, in case you ever find yourself in a similar situation:
1. Call a friend.
Right after a robbery, you are not at your most rational. You need backup. This is extra true if you came face-to-face with the person or people committing the crime, especially if you experienced or were threatened with violence. Get help from your friends and let them keep you company, go with you to the police station, and buy you a drink or two later.
If you experienced or were threatened with violence, seek out a professional to speak to. If there isn’t a good one in your country, find one online or through friends and Skype with them or call on the phone.
2. Involve the local authorities.
This is not the time to play jaded expat. The police exist in your country, even though they’re likely not perfect. Respect the position and the person, and be patient as you go through their system. You may want to let your embassy know what happened, especially if the police open a case and ask you to testify. If you can, take a local friend who knows the system and is a native language speaker, even if you’re fluent and usually confident: this is not the time to act tough.
If you’re approached for a bribe, handle the request politely and without cynicism. If your perpetrator has been caught, ask that he or she be treated fairly and without violence, even if that’s not how you feel at the time.
3. Decide how much you want to share.
Expat gossip travels fast, and you’re likely to get a lot of attention and requests to tell the story of the robbery, especially over the first few days. While sharing information is important, try to avoid making generalizations about your host country or people and decide in advance on firm boundaries about what you are and aren’t willing to discuss.
Sharing your anger with trusted friends is one thing, but getting into all the details out at the bar might stir you up more than calm you down, and you need to put your needs first.
4. Recover what you need.
Yes, it sucks that my laptop is gone, but the sooner I replace it, the sooner I give myself permission to find closure. Don’t delay this or expect your stolen item to be magically recovered. Now is also not the time to imagine scarcity and worry about money: replace what you really need as soon as you can.
5. Give yourself good backup.
I used Evernote to write notes and outlines for some of my work, and because the program automatically backs up to the cloud whenever I’m connected to the Internet, I was able to download the program on my temporary laptop in order to access some of my work. I’m using that program a lot now, since full-scale backups are only something I do every couple of weeks and a lot of work can happen in that time.
Physical backup counts here as well — ensuring that doors lock, that you know who has copies of your house keys, that you feel safe and secure in the place you live.
6. Be where you are.
Let yourself move through your feelings and accept that this is a process. Feelings are emotional reactions based on our perception of a situation, and they change with our attitudes.
Give yourself downtime, quietly letting yourself release all the tension that comes from the adrenalin of dealing with the robbery. Let yourself feel anger and fear, but don’t hold on to either. Exercise is good for this. So is visualization.
When you’ve given yourself time, go out and enjoy yourself. Go somewhere that is special to your country and that you love. Enjoy the good and let go of the bad.
Due to the mentioned delays, the next issue of the Expat Backup eMagazine will be published on 15 December.