Two weeks ago, we had just returned to Dar Es Salaam (the biggest city in Tanzania) after our amazing, life changing time in Mafia Island. For those of you following my instagram and/or facebook, you know how much I fell in love with Mafia. The help we were able to bring to these amazing children with the support of all of you guys who wanted to be a part of something great was incredible.
While in Mafia, I kept records of all of the donations, each child that was sponsored, and who would be their sponsor, we had a ledger book completely organized to the last detail on who gave what… what that money went to… and pictures to send to the donors so they could see first hand how they helped out.
I took thousands of pictures there. Images that told our story… images that told your story. I put some on facebook, a few on my blog, but the rest were all in my memory cards and an extra hard drive, just in case… when I packed to go home, I put everything in that bag, My laptop, my Canon 5d mark iii, 3 of my best lenses, my laptop, all of my paperwork with all of the details on the donors and sponsored kids, BOTH of my backups of photos (what was I thinking?!) and much more… I didn’t worry about it, I figured it was safe in my hands until I went back to where we were staying in Dar to unpack it.
So, back to Dar… we had just come back and the next day we had an important meeting at 8am in town at a very nice hotel. Excited about the meeting, still on a high from all we did in Mafia, I grabbed my camera bag (like I always do) and off we were. We got to the meeting early, so we thought we should grab a cup of coffee to go and head back to the car and wait until it was appropriate to show up. So we hopped out of the car, not even thinking about the bag we had just left… because we knew we were coming back. Well… the coffee places were closed, so we just decided to go to the restaurant where we were meeting these guys, and ordered coffee. A to-go option wasn’t available, and then they showed up soon after, so we didn’t go back to the car.
The meeting went great, lasted just about an hour, we had breakfast and 2 super delicious latte’s. We headed back to the car, and started driving off… then Matt slowed down as we were just yards away from where we parked. He paused, looked closely at the dash and said “there is glass on the dashboard… what the…. ohhhhh nooooooo. Tracy, someone broke into the car.” I immediately looked behind me to see if my camera bag was there. I felt sick to my stomach when I saw the vacant back seat. We saw the tiny window they had broke to get the door unlocked. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I rushed back into the hotel into the owners office (one of the guys we just met is the owner of this hotel), and all I could speak before I broke down in tears was, “Someone broke into our car… my camera… everything… it’s gone”. He immediately called security, called police and we went outside to the scene of the crime. After talking to all the parking attendants and “guards” nobody confessed to seeing a thing. I’m not sure how this is possible considering we were parked in front of a very nice hotel, with LOTS of people constantly walking by. How could no one have seen anything??
Luckily, we were parked right under a camera, so we went to the security room and watched the tape. You have no idea how awful it makes you feel when you see 3 guys pull up next to your car, and work as a team to steal from you. One was on the lookout pretending to be on his phone, the other was crouched down in between the two cars and broke the small window, then reached his lanky arm into the car to unlock it, the other guy… I’m not too sure. Maybe he was the one giving orders. Took them like 30 minutes to finish the job, then they were off.
There are 47 Million people in Tanzania. I thought I would never see any of those things again. The worst part was knowing both of my backups of those precious photos were in that bag. Photos of my entire time here in Africa. Important documents, memories that I was so excited to share with the world. Pictures of all the children that were sponsored by our generous donors. Pictures of the cement that was put into houses, soccer balls that were donated, the joy of the kids in school with their uniforms supplied by our donors… and the list goes on. I admit, I cried. I cried a LOT. I was (still am) heartbroken. How could someone do that? The camera gear… that is my livelihood. I saved for years to be able to afford those things, and then someone comes along, breaks a window and takes it.
After talking to the police, they asked how much my items were worth… I told them (thinking I needed to have it in a police statement for insurance) and when I told them, one of the officers texted that amount to someone. Matt and I both saw it and wondered why that was necessary. We were told to trust no one by many people before we traveled here, so I assumed that meant police too. After some further investigation, those police officers were thrown off the case as it may have been compromised. I still don’t know if they were working with the thieves or not. I really hope they weren’t, but sadly, it happens much too often. Not just here… all over the world.
I told a few friends and family what had happened, I even googled what the next step was. Insurance. I thought, oh no… what if insurance doesn’t cover my camera gear here?! How did I not verify that before I left? What if I have to replace ALL of this? I can’t afford that… my heart sank. I felt helpless and overwhelmed. When I researched this online. I read multiple comments like, “don’t report it, police will do nothing and insurance most likely won’t cover it, so just keep quiet and wait until you get back to the states, then report it stolen, and say it happened in the states… break your car window or insurance won’t cover it… things like that. At first I thought “How awful! Of course I would never do that!” But I will be honest… I did think about it. This was thousands and thousands of dollars. And I feared if I reported it to my insurance company, and they didn’t cover it, I was totally out of luck. And I had no idea what I would do next. But I knew I couldn’t do that. Especially after talking to my Mom, I mentioned that other people were saying that and she said, “Tracy, trust me, I know that can be tempting, but you are doing such good things over there. You are being so faithful to God and you know in your heart you need to keep glorifying Him. Right on, Momma. Always full of solid advice. I couldn’t believe I even gave that idea any thought at all, and I said a prayer, and had my Studio Manager, Steph report it to the insurance. Turns out my camera gear IS NOT covered outside the US and Canada.
So we went to the chief of police and Maryvonne Pool (the woman we are staying with, Seychelles Ambassador and well respected all over the world) talked to them and made sure they worked very hard on this case, as she knew how important it was to me, but more importantly, she knew if these guys got caught, it would save a whole lot of heartache for many other future victims. The police looked at the tape and recognized these guys. They had multiple cases against them and could never get anything to hold up in court, so they always got off scott free. They wanted to make sure this stopped once and for all. So for 10 straight days, these dedicated officers literally spent every waking hour staking out the places they knew these guys would eventually show up at. On the 11th day, they got word that these guys would be performing at a party (they are recording artists/djs’s I guess). So the officers waited outside the event, and at 5am, when the guys came stumbling out, there was an entire team of police waiting to arrest them.
They had the guys… and that’s great, but of course I’m thinking… where is my bag?! Turns out, the guys sold it right away to another guy for 700,000 Tanzanian Shillings, which is about $430 US dollars. That’s right, Over $15,000 worth of camera gear… for $430. Then that guy sold it to another guy for 1.2 million shillings ($800). So after following the trail, they were finally able to retrieve my bag. Soon after, we headed to the police station to see the bag and assess what was left. I of course was happy to see my camera, lenses, and laptop, but after frantically searching the back for either my memory cards, or the hard drive, I realized they were gone. I started crying thinking of the images I would never see again. All the work I put into telling a story that I felt was really important to tell. After that, things got even crazier.
The guys that stole our bag entered the room. They stood right in front of us, with their heads looking straight down. The were ashamed. They were probably shocked to have been caught, and even more shocked to be put in front of the people they stole from. I didn’t know what to say, I just looked at them, trying to understand why they would do this, and wondering if they even cared. Matt started talking to them, he asked how old they were. 19 & 20 years old. So young. Matt went on to tell them that when he was a little younger than they are, he went though a rough phase in his life. He stole, he was angry at the world, and he did some stupid things that got him sent to a program where you go to a jail for a day and pretty much, the guys at the jail scare the crap out of you making you NEVER want to do anything bad again. He told them shortly after that, he gave his life to Christ and it was the best thing that could have ever happened to him. Life is so much more than stealing. It’s so much more than money. He encouraged the guys to use their brains for something better, something that matters. It was a very powerful moment. He stood up from his chair, touched them on the shoulder and said, “We forgive you. God wants so much more from you guys, and I know you have it in you to change.” One of the guys said “I’m so sorry”… but still couldn’t look up. I tried talking… I tried to tell them how much those pictures meant to me, and how devastating it is to have something taken from you, but I couldn’t get many words out. I lost it again, and tears started flowing. At this point, they couldn’t feel any worse than they did before. They were asked to look at me, and picture me being their mother, or their sister. Would they ever want this pain for their mom or their sister? Of course not…
They left, I wiped the tears away, and we went home. We may have forgiven them, but the law certainly hasn’t. We are extending our stay just a little so we can be in court to help finally prove a case against them. I do believe in showing mercy, but these guys have over 50 open cases against them, and nothing has ever been done. Usually because they target tourists, and before anything can get done, the tourists are on their way back home, so they get away with it.
I am still praying for a miracle for my hard drive and/or memory cards to be found. But if not, I had some great people remind me that everything happens for a reason, and at least I have those memories in my head, and my heart can never forget what I experienced on Mafia Island.
So… a little word of advice: Make sure you have your travel insurance covered before you leave for any trips, don’t ever leave anything in your car for any amount of time, even if its an open, guarded, nice area. Always trust in God and know everything happens for a reason, and everyone will have trials to overcome. Always look on the bright side… even when it’s hard to see.
Thank you Maria, for putting so much time and effort and prayers to help catch these guys and get my things back. I love you, and will forever be grateful for all you have done for Matt and I.
Thank you to everyone for your prayers during this crazy time here… love and miss you all!
Thank you to the Dar Es Salaam Police force for spending all of your hours on this case. You guys did an amazing job and I am so thankful.
To those of you who donated for projects in Mafia, we are working on getting all the data together again and should be going back to finish the projects in March. Thank you for your patience during this whole turn of events.