The Keys to my House

Liza David - Ecuador


April 5, 2011

It is a bit funny to me how much time and effort is put into security in the United States. Although robberies do occur, they are often infrequent events where I live. From my experience, in Long Island, NY, a house robbery occurs maybe every few years. Then again, we have alarm systems, video cameras and secure locks on our doors.

When I first arrived at my house in Apuela, I was annoyed that my host family did not give me my own set of keys to the house. I soon learned that this was unnecessary. Applying the right amount of weight and pressure usually resulted in an open door to the house. The only room that was securely locked was mine and the single key to that room was left in a secret place that everyone knew about. I also figured out that most doors here are like that, with very old doorknobs and locks.

I want to be clear in the fact that I was never afraid for my personal safety in any of these situations. This is Apuela. Everything is relaxed and rather slow. Everyone knows each other. This is a place where my host mother enters her neighbor’s house and finishes cooking whatever is on the stove for her while she is out. It is a place where you could spend the night at somebody’s house even if you just met them. They are incredibly nice and welcoming people. The houses are open which means that anybody can get in or out of the house. But because people are naturally interested in other people’s belongings means that the house needs to be protected. Or maybe it is because they do not have these technological barriers that we have that they can be so open. I do not know. I just wanted to share another side of life here.

These are some of the events that have happened in the past few months. I would like to acknowledge the fact that these events occurred over a long period of time but are presented to you as though they were not:

The first incident is the most personal yet probably the least interesting. I lost my camera. I do not know how or where, but now it is gone. Wherever I left it (if I did leave it somewhere), somebody else probably picked it up. I am not the first volunteer to “lose” her camera. Cameras get lost here all the time. Sometimes they show up, sometimes they do not. Usually cameras get taken from people who have been living here for some period of time and not from people who are passing through or just visiting.

The second incident is a bit more interesting. My host family had some objects taken from our home. We naturally have a bunch of shovels, pickets, hammers, etc. lying around due to constant utilization for farm work. Almost every day we have a worker come work in our fields. One day my host mother was taking stock of these tools and noticed that a few were gone. Believe me, these tools are now located in a secure place. We have a pretty good idea who took the tools. My host mother was incredibly angry. She was so angry that my host siblings and I scattered to flee her wrath (another bonding moment).

The third incident is rather typical. My neighbor was robbed. People entered the house and took everything: the T.V, DVD, Stereo, CDs, DVDs, telephone, and of course, money. Similar to this incident is another- a few weeks after this robbery, a little party was held at somebody else’s house in Apuela. My host family decided not to go. It was no surprise to me the next morning when my host mother told me that at the party somebody took a huge chunk of change from the house (a few hundred dollars). Yet another robbery. My host sister turned to me and said, “Aren’t you glad we didn’t go?”

I have described how things have been taken from me, my home, my neighborhood and even relatively public events. And now for the fourth incident: work. Oh yes. We were robbed. And more specifically, the lab was robbed (which is where I work). Somebody entered the lab and stole a computer. But not just any computer. This computer contained a lot of important documents, papers and research. The owner of the computer sent out a reward ($500) for the hard drive that contained these precious materials. After not hearing for a few days, he went to Quito to buy a new computer. My supervisor also left which meant that I was working in the lab by myself (She gave me a list of things to do). When I got into the lab, I found a note on the floor. It said that the computer would be returned for a sum of $600 at a certain abandoned building at a certain time if the money was first dropped at a certain place. Otherwise the former owner of the computer’s friends would be hurt. After looking through the note and realizing what it was, I ran and delivered it to the office. They freaked out. In conjuncture with the police, they attempted to follow the steps and catch the thief. The thief though, tipped off, did not show and the former owner ended up buying a new model with his money.

Truth be told, I find the last incident funny. I was never worried, nor did I think anything seriously would come of it. In Apuela, things move slowly. People, events all take a long time to happen, if they happen at all. It’s also funny because it feels like it’s straight out of a Hollywood movie, in a place where Hollywood is the last word you would ever use to describe Apuela or the types of events that take place here. Probably the most important lesson of all from these events is that one needs to be aware of one’s surroundings. Apuela is much less dangerous than a city. It’s just that in such a small town incidents like these seem inflated, especially since everyone knows each other and there’s not much else going on around town on most days. In Apuela, one would never expect these things to happen, but they do. These events get blown out of proportion because it’s the most exciting thing going on in town, but once the excitement passes people get on with their lives because they have more important things to do.

On one of the first weekends in Apuela, my host family left me by myself at home. I was incredibly upset and depressed by this; it was one of my first weekends and I was still adjusting to my new life. (Currently, I would love a day in the house to myself). I did not understand how they could leave me alone in the house, bored. A few months later, when they asked me to stay home I understood why. Somebody need to almost always be at home in order to guard the house. And yes, I have had to kick people off the property since.

I finally got the key to my house. My host mother, after hearing about our neighbors, decided to install a new stronger lock to the door. This gives us a bit more flexibility when moving about; nevertheless, it is always good to have someone home just in case.

Liza David