There are no clever or witty introductions when you are writing about a home invasion.
Last night, two armed men entered our home, shot Rob in the arm (he is okay) and severely beat me before absconding with about $500, our passports, and Rob's credit cards. We are okay, just shaken and bruised.
Here's what happened:
Around 6:30, we were watching Angels and Demons. I was in the last third of "Twilight" (I cannot believe a book snob like me could get sucked into a vampire romance, and yet I did!) and decided that the book held more appeal than the movie playing on my laptop. I went into the bedroom and contemplated taking a shower, as I was covered in assorted bug repellents that offer absolutely no protection, but decided to finish the book first. Thank goodness I put my literary addictions above a hot shower.
I had read maybe six pages when I heard Black Dog bark and Rob loudly say, "Hey! Hey!" I thought the dog was trying to eat the cat food or something like that. I returned my gaze back to the book when the next thing I know, a man wearing a ski mask and holding a gun lunged across my bed, grabbed me by the throat and started pummeling my head with his fist (and maybe the gun given the swelling on my lefts side). It took a second to register what was happening. He grabbed me by the hair and pulled me off the bed and started to kicking me in the leg and back. I remember looking under the bed as foot came crashing down on me, hoping that if there was some sort of higher power, my life would be spared. I knew it was a home invasion, but I still couldn't believe it was happening to me. I didn't know what was happening to Rob in the other room. I almost vomited when I thought about his safety for the next millisecond or two. Everything happened so fast. My assailant then grabbed me by my hair and dragged me into the living room, where another masked man was holding a gun to Rob.
"Donde esta el dinero?" screamed the man pointing a gun at Rob.
The next few seconds were a blur, as my assailant decided to hit and choke me a few more times.
Rob was trying to explain to them that we didn't have a lot of money because we made bank deposits every day. This is not the norm for Nicaragua. Most Nicaraguans deal in cash and surprisingly few businesses actually put money in a bank account. Employees usually don't have bank accounts and thus do not want to be paid by check. (If you have ever seen the bank lines during payday, you would understand why.)
"The money is in the bedroom," Rob said in perfect Spanish. I was amazed that he could speak at all. I felt like I was in a bad dream. The whole time I was telling myself to wake up from this nightmare. My voice was lost. I could barely get out a word, in part because of the vice grip around my neck, with the occasional twisting of my neck in two directions. The entire time I was either pulled around and held by my hair, locked in a vice grip around my throat, or trying to avoid the frequent punches that were crashing into my eye, jawbones, neck, and head. My assailant got off on hitting women, or at least me. The men didn't touch Rob save for pointing a gun at Rob.
Rob's assailant led him into the bedroom. My assailant dragged me in by my hair toward the dresser.
"The money is in the armoire in a plastic box," Rob said in perfect Spanish. I was amazed he could remember the words. My assailant used this opportunity to hit me again. I begged him to stop and all I can remember is looking up and seeing a smiling sneer as he punched me in the face again. I tried to hug the floor. He pulled me away from the dresser to the footrest of the bed.
Rob again explained that the money was on the bottom shelf of the closet. He reached over to grab it and the next thing I know, shots were fired. I later learned that there was only one shot, but I heard it as two as the bullet exited Rob's back and ricocheted into the wood door of the armoire.
At this point, I was hoping that it was just a warning shot. I didn't hear Rob scream in agony. I couldn't see much except for the dust bunnies under the bed. I looked over and saw some blood on Rob's arm, but he was okay.
Rob never felt the shot. He thought it was a starter gun and with renewed energy, he stood up to try to defend himself. That's when he saw the blood and knew that it was a real gun with real bullets.
"Where's the cuidador?" demanded the guy who shot Rob.
"We don't have a cuidador at night." If the guy was a local, he probably would have known this.
My assailant reached over and grabbed the box of money. He opened the lid from the Tupperware container and saw some cash. He seemed satisfied. He grabbed me by the hair and hit me again. I asked him not hurt me, foolish on my part because it goaded him into hitting me one more time, followed by a light choking. Well, not so light, as I saw pure white light on three occasions - a really bad sign. He then dragged me by my hair back into the living room.
I saw my purse (with my credit cards, but no money) and my Tazer (purchased at a Florida flea market last time I went home) sitting on the dining room table. I tried to stand up to block the view, but I was pushed down to the floor and kicked. I stood up and sat in the chair, covering the purse and Tazer with my elbow and a Barnes and Noble book bag that was also sitting on the table. The assailant let go of my neck. Satisfied, the two men ran out the back door, across my wildflower garden and down the hill of water-deprived weeds and grasses. I don't know how they saw in the dark, as they didn't have flashlights.
I breathed a quick sigh of relief as I saw them scoot over the back wall. I looked over at Rob. "I've been shot!" he exclaimed. I saw two wounds - one on his shoulder, the other on his bicep.
Rob never saw what happened to me. He was always in front with a gun pointed tim. He didn't see all the punches and kicks I absorbed. In hindsight, maybe this was a good thing.
At some point, he locked the gates to the back door (which is actually a sliding glass door). We were locked in our house. Drops of blood covered the tile. I shut my eyes and saw lightning bolt lines of red, green, and blue in the peripheral vision of my left eye. I opened my eyes and the lines were still there.
I started to vomit, barely making it to the bathroom. I could hardly breathe. It was shock and the effects of the attempted asphyxiation. I couldn't see straight. everything was blurry. I had no depth perception and even in the bright lights, everything looked half-lit.
We tried to find the telephone. Rob struggled as he searched the phonebook in my phone for our neighbor Fred's number. No answer. He called again. No answer. He got on the radio and called for Fred's cuidador. "Luis, we need help!" he called over and over, without a response. I instantly feared that Fred had fallen victim to these robbers and attempted murderers.
We tried to call Jamie and Blue, who live 4 km (about 10 minutes) away, but it went straight to voice mail. Finally, we got in touch with Will and Vanessa, who made record time getting here from town - and they had to find a babysitter at the last minute. Rob called Celia, one of our employees, and asked her to call the police. (The number I had in my cell phone was not valid.)
I got some tea tree oil and tried to clean Rob's wounds. I have never seen a gunshot wound in person. I assumed that the two wounds were bullet holes and the black flesh was the bullet. "It was only a .22" I said to myself and Rob. Thank goodness it was just a little gun. (We later learned it was a.38 and an entrance and exit wound.)
Eventually, Fred and Luis made their way down, as did our other neighbors. Fred took off hoping to catch the guys who did not appear to have a car. Will and Vanessa arrived. After sort of securing the house, we drove to town. Well, Vanessa drove our 4Runner and Will took Rob in his pick-up truck.
I had popped an extra-strength Tylenol and a Valium before leaving the house. I was in a lot of pain and severe shock. I wouldn't have taken the Valium had I had to drive Rob to the hospital. Actually, Rob could have driven himself to the hospital. I was useless. My head was throbbing and it hurt my throat and nose when I tried to breathe.
We went to Centro de Salud, where Rob was treated. At that time, the doctor said it was one bullet that had entered his bicep and exited the back. I couldn't believe it. A .22 wouldn't penetrate the body like that. I worried that there was shrapnel that needed to be dug out.
My face was swelling by the minute. Will asked one of the doctors if he had an ice pack for my face. We got no response, so Will drove home and brought me a towel and ice.
The doctor barely looked at me. He took my blood pressure and examined my injuries. He prescribed some pain medicine and a neck brace.
We went to the pharmacy and then headed down to the police station to file the denuncio. Rob drove me to the station To say that he had an adrenaline charge is an understatement.
In perfect Spanish, he explained to the police what happened. We filled out some reports. We were told that would have to see the forensic doctor in Rivas the next morning, or it would not be possible to prosecute the assailants for the injuries. Nicaraguan law is screwy.
We went home and slept in the spare bedroom. I slept (not well), but Rob probably didn't have more than 45 minutes of sleep. We couldn't sleep in our bed because there was too much blood on the floor. Also, we didn't want to destroy the crime scene in case the police actually did their job and took fingerprints. (This is usually a question of whether the department has a budget and money for prints.)
We tried t figure out who could have done this. We did not recognize the assailants, and after four years, we know most people in town by site, including the barrios leading up to our house. We went through all sorts of crazy conjectures. It certainly wasn't random.
The evening before the invasion, two police officers showed up at our house on a motorcycle sometime after dark. One officer said they saw three bikes and two men hiding in a ditch. They said they were waiting for "Ronald." Our cuidador's name is Ronny. The officer then made a reference to our other neighbor Fred. He seemed to contradict himself, but t was just poor translation abilities on our part. I knew that the policemen wanted gas for the moto (they know we have a generator and gas cans), so I figured they were just making something up to justify the gasoline donation. (This is Nicaragua - this happens sometimes.)
Later that night, we heard a noise, which I chalked up to the cat crawling through the sink. We heard the noise again, but the dog wasn't barking and there were no footsteps. We went back to sleep. In hindsight, we realized that these thugs were actually trying to break-in while we slept. Evidently, they didn't have bolt cutters. They came back the second night to complete the job.
I awoke the next morning to realize it wasn't a bad dream. All sorts of things went through my mind, such as "What if I had taken a shower?" I get ill at the thought of what might have happened had they broke in while I was naked in the shower. My assailant probably would have raped me in front of Rob. He had a very dark energy about him. Okay, that's a given since he was beating me and holding a gun at me, but still. It was dark. This guy will rape and kill a woman (or women) someday.
Had Rob and I not been together, I think the solo occupant would have been killed. If I had been alone...I can't allow myself to even think of what may have happened.
The robbers were such idiots. The best they got from the take was maybe $40. The rest of the money they stole was in euros and British pound sterling. I doubt they know what the currencies are, and to change the notes at a bank requires a passport or cedula. (And pounds can only be changed at the airport.) Half of the dollars were ripped or torn, which cannot be used in Nicaragua. Now they have the police and the community searching for them. I hope their jail term or the vigilante revenge that might be carried out by some angry Nicaraguans was worth the $40. The thing is, they probably just used the money for alcohol, maybe some crack, and a prostitute. They were not starving, that's for sure.
When I saw my friends later at the store, many had tears in their eye. "I'm okay," I said, but it's different when it's one of your friends. My friends David and Luna were robbed in a taxi in Managua. David was stabbed in the leg. "They were in a taxi in Managua," we said, still feeling horrible about the situation, but somehow justifying it in our minds. Every time something bad happens, we can find an excuse. "He is an asshole and deserved it," or "She was carrying way too much money to the beach," or "He didn't pay his employees well enough and so they wanted to get back at him," or "She was in a bus and shared a taxi with strangers" - there was always something to help us put it in perspective. This isn't mean - it's just a coping mechanism that allows us to continue to live here despite the increase in violent crime. that afflicts our friends.
This is a little different. Sure, I piss people off, but that's usually because they don't like my directness or economic and political opinions and prognostications. We pay more taxes than almost any business in town, despite that many businesses have greater sales than we do. We teat our employees well - there is almost no turnover. We pay our domestic help and cuidadors well. We give away tons of stuff to locals. We provide a free taxi service most days for the residents in our barrio, sometimes fitting 17 people in a Toyota Hilux. We give a lot to the community. We don't serve alcohol, so the police are not called to our establishment (except for burglaries, all eight of which are unsolved). We have a good and well-deserved reputation. We aren't flaunting wealth. We rent a nice home and have some nice things, but they are primarily books. We are far less ostentatious than the majority of foreigners living here, in part because we own a bookstore, which is not exactly the path to amassing large fortunes. Maybe some people can justify this because they don't like me personally (which is okay), but it's certainly not karmic payback for anything I have done here.
My friends are wigged out. I have received a few dozen calls and emails from friends and acquaintances. The news spread faster than a California wildfire.
We are hiring armed guards to be on the property 24/7. I wish I could say that is an over-reaction, but Nicaragua is facing an economic disaster. We have had a drought that has killed most of the corn and rice and much of the coffee crops in the country. Our President and his wife are tyrants with popularity ratings lower than the US Congress. The EU and Japan have cut off foreign aid. There isn't any aid available, anyhow, given that we are in the beginning of a global depression. Tourism is way down, despite the lies propagated by government officials. Investment is down. There is almost no new construction. Jobs are decreasing right and left. Businesses are going under. The dollar is about to crash and tax revenues are down - and now we have a drought that will cause massive malnutrition. All these things indicate that violence will increase.
It's not just here. These things happen all over the world. I would still rather be here than the US, but I cannot live here any longer. I have a plan to be out by June, if not sooner. I have worked too hard and given too much to allow myself to live behind iron bars with a security guard 24/7. I want to be able to take my camera to the beach and not worry that I will be mugged. I want to drive home at night and not worry that someone is waiting for me to pass by a deserted area so they can jump me. I want to live a life where I can be safe but not have to live in fear. I don't feel Nicaragua offers that to me. I am not returning to the US, but I am not staying here much longer.
I have thought about moving to the northern part of the country, but even if I had my own little finca and my organic veggies, I have no doubt that when things get really bad, Ortega and his band of thugs will go about nationalizing working farms a la Mugabe in Zimbabwe. I am not willing to put more effort into this country.
I hope that they catch my assailants and they will spend the next ten years in jail. It will give me some hope, but as Rob's old trader friend says, "Hope is when you're lying face down in the mud and someone is using your ass as a bicycle rack." Nicaragua is a masochist´s dream. For most everyone else, it's a struggle. There are so many things I love about the country, but this latest experience is too much for me to handle. I survived yet a second attempt on my life here. I cannot risk a third.