Sunday, May 3, 2009


We’ve had a bad case of the Jumbies the last few months. Jumbies are a kind of dark ghost that are part of Caribbean folk lore and are evidently at fault for all sorts of bad luck. Jumbies can shape shift and according to Miguel Browne, a local dialect poet and comedian, in the modern world they take the form of anything from a computer virus to politician.

The year didn’t start off badly, in fact it started off looking very promising. We had a lovely visit in Salt Lake and Seattle over Christmas. Shortly after we returned to Trinidad, Rich was offered a temporary position as senior lecturer (i.e. Assoc. Professor) in Chemistry at UWI. We had a nice new English family move in to the flat on our right and enjoyed watching Obama’s inauguration with our American neighbors to our left. We spent several evenings listening to the local steel pan bands preparing for the Carnival Panorama competition and enjoyed the political and social commentary at the Calypso tents. We went to hear the Extempo competition again this year and went in to Port of Spain for Tuesday’s Carnival parade.

It was at on Carnival Tuesday that our luck started turning for the worse. We drove in to Port of Spain around midday. Naturally many roads were closed for Carnival and so police were directing traffic around road blocks and toward parking areas. The police directed us to park “right there” and so we parked “right there” just as directed and walked in to town where we enjoyed several hours liming and watching the Mas (short for Mascarade) parade before returning to find our car gone. After staring for a bit in wide eyed disbelieve, the taxi drivers standing near by informed us that the police had been towing cars and gave us direction to the police station. So we walked the few blocks over to the police station, found our car and joined the long line of people who’d had their cars towed. When I got to the front of the line, I explained to the police that the police had instructed me to park “right there”. They told me “they mislead you”. Evidently they were Jumbies. We paid them our 100 TT$ (~16 US$) and they released the hostage so we could go home.

Three days latter (Friday), Rich got up at 5 am as usual to go for his morning ride and a few minutes later he called upstairs to ask me what I’d done with his wallet. Since I had no idea what he was talking about I got up and went down stairs at which point we discovered that the lock on our back porch had been removed. Our computers, back up drives, and a wide range of other small but extremely valuable items had been taken. The Jumbies had struck again.

We called the police and started pacing up and down the street of our gated community while it gradually sunk in that I had lost 5 years of my research work and several thousand dollars worth of stuff. We walked down the back of our row of town houses and noticed that 8 more of the town houses in our court had also been broken into. One by one the neighbors started coming into the court in shock. One of the first neighbors up is an under secretary at the Indian High Commission. It had been about an hour since I’d called the police but no one had come yet so he called the Indian High Commission who called the police who acknowledged that they had received my call and we had two detectives in our court within 5 minutes. There are advantages to having well connected neighbors.

I gave a statement to the detectives and then the crime lab came in a dusted for fingerprints. Since most of the neighborhood are employed by UWI, the UWI housing officer and security team came by next and then a reporter from the local paper came by. The story in the Trinidad paper is fairly accurate, except that our flats aren’t posh even by local standards. The car in that photo is ours and the pick-up truck belongs to a friend who’d come by to give us moral support, mango juice and cornbread.

The story evidently made the papers all over India. The report in the Deccan Harold is a bit further off the mark. We were the first people up in the neighborhood and. there were no strange smells or evidence of any type of sleeping gas. We heard rumors about gas being used in buglaries of this type but the police told us these stories are apocryphal and there is no evidence to suggest gas was used in this robbery or commonly in other robberies. This was pretty much what we expected as chemists since we woke up clear headed at 5 AM as usual. It is kind of astounding that the thieves were able to break into 9 flats on our block where people were home sleeping and no one woke up or heard anything. In retrospect, we are very lucky no one woke up since the robbers were armed and shootings are not uncommon in robberies here.

The most miraculously amazing part of this story is that the police actually caught the thieves and recovered many of the stolen items. We got back two laptop computers and one of my backup drives. Unfortunately, the Jumbies had deleted most of the documents from my computer and they were the items backed up on the hard drive that was not recovered. Still we were luckier than most of our neighbors whose hard drives had been completely reformatted. The hard drive I recovered was the one that contained all my irreplaceable data, for which I am deeply relieved and grateful. I’ve been able to recover some of my files using hard disk recovery software but I’m still discovering things I’ve lost, like the thousands of references in my endnote library. All in all, I have to say we were luckier than I had imagined we’d be in such an unlucky situation.

Wait, that’s not the end of the story. Two weeks after the robbery, while I was still talking with the police several times a day about recovering our stolen goods, Rich was mauled by a pack of 8 dogs while he out for his morning walk. While he was fighting off the smaller dogs with his stick from the front, the biggest dog came around back and sunk his teeth into Rich’s thigh just above the knee. The dog owners were near by and managed call off the dogs and take Rich to the hospital. I got a phone call from the doctor shortly after 7 am and went by the hospital to find Rich with a wound that was a couple inches long and went over an inch into his thigh muscle. They usually don’t stitch dog bites because of the risk of infection but this wound was so deep they decided they had to do some thing so they put in two sutures to kind of hold things together, bandaged the wound, gave us a boat load of antibiotics and some pain killers and told us to come back in the morning so they could check for infection. The wound was so severe that he was unable to walk or bend his leg at all for 3 weeks. Of course, he was back in at work that afternoon meeting with students and overseeing a lab. Rich would have to be unconscious before he’d miss working with his students and even then he’d feel deeply guilty when he regained consciousness.

For nearly 4 weeks Rich couldn’t ride his bike, swim or even walk more than a few feet. I drove him to work and even across campus when he needed to give a lecture. Those of you who know Rich know that this was shear agony and that had he not been both in severe pain and deeply worried about permanent damage to his leg there is no way he would have been able to convalesce that long. Luckily the boat load of antibiotics and brutal cleaning the nurse did on the wound were enough to prevent the wound from getting infected. As soon as the doctor removed the stitches and gave him permission, Rich was back to walking (or rather limping) to work. Within a week he was back out an his bike. Eight week later, he is not yet back to 100 percent and has some pain in the muscle when he rides, but he is back to doing all the things he normally does and we are hopeful that there won’t be any lasting damage besides the scars.

I wish I could say that was the last we’d seen of the Jumbies but the first weekend Rich was back on his feet we went out for a hike in the Chagaramas National Park. It was a lovely day, I saw a howler monkey and we sat up on a ridge watching leather back turtles swimming in the bay below. Unfortunately I came home with about a hundred chigger bites and Rich didn’t fare much better. Then there have been a serious of problems at the University that have made Rich’s job miserable and he got a nasty computer virus, on a Mac for all things, and my lab flooded once again so I’m still not able to move in to it and Rich has scrapes and bruises from the car that brushed him while he was on his bike Wednesday morning, and right now I’ve got a stack of reports and exams to grade that’s nearly a meter high (seriously). We haven’t tried walking into the house backwards or leaving knotted ropes at the door (two traditional ways to ward off Jumbies) but if things don’t improve soon we may.


SuSu & Gizmo said...

Hi guys,
Good grief! Oh, my God! Good Lord! (Sorry, I lack appropriate verbal skills today.) I can hardly believe you've been through all that...and somehow survived! You are definitely real troupers.
Bonnie--I'm extremely grateful that your most important hard drive was recovered. What a relief!
Richard--I can't imagine you having to be ferried about in "cages" (cars) for more than a day or two (if that). I'm so relieved that you weren't permanently crippled.
You are in my prayers, as always. I'll put in a special word to St. Jude (relief from the Jumbies) and St. Anthony (possibly return of more stolen property)--you need it.
Much love to both of you. I miss you so much.


Dee said...

Bonnie and Rich:
Just getting around to getting caught up after many months of being "out of it". I'm so sorry to read all this! I hope things are looking up - and congrats to Rich on his position. Please stay in touch.