I’ve been told that if I ever stopped what I am doing to pursue something a bit more mundane, that I would be bored, that I enjoy the rush of what I do. As time goes by I tend to increasingly dispute this theory. It’s not only that I have kids (and that certainly does make me more risk averse), but it’s also about dealing with the prolonged uncertainty of the security situation and the fatigue of being tense for extended periods. It’s less like barreling down a steep single track on a mountain bike or attacking a precarious ski slope (which I love) and more like running a series of marathons in bad neighborhoods.
I’m currently in Rwanda. I just arrived for my regular visit. The team is smaller now since we recently had a project end. Nonetheless, it’s important that I come to support the team, possibly even more so than before. And the fewer meetings give me a chance to get some things done.
As the title suggests, we had a little break-in at our Bujumbura office a couple weeks ago. I normally would have dwelled on it more at the time, written a blog posting immediately and made a bigger deal of it but the pace of life seems to get away from me and I'm simply forced to move on to new dramas. It’s hard to spend too much time on anything to be honest. You have to deal with things as they come, respond as necessary and just move forward.
This particular drama began between 2 and 3 in the morning. I, strangely, was fast asleep. Since we returned from the US I’ve slept better than I have in a long time. Part of it is that both girls are now in the other room but for whatever reason, the light sleeping that has been my nature for years has at least temporarily given way to frequent nights of deep, unfettered slumber.
On this particular night my phone rang and I didn’t hear it. That’s a new thing for me since I normally awake at the sound of a pin dropping (or distant gunfire). It’s not that I needed to respond to the situation immediately. We had people doing that. But I would have been informed earlier of what I would witness a few hours later. As I pulled into the office compound at around 7am I knew immediately something was up. The guards had somber faces and the front doors of the admin building were open. Because I normally arrive before any of my staff, I tend to be the one that unlocks the doors.
Once inside it was apparent what had happened without anyone saying a word. The reception area was trashed. Papers were everywhere. Chairs were overturned. Drawers were on the floor. A couple of police were chatting with my two security focal points. I was briefed on what had happened and then I made my way to my office to see the damage there. It wasn’t as bad but in addition to breaking the door lock, the bathroom door was shattered. Apparently they’d rounded up the six guards who were on duty, tied them up and locked them in my office loo. The door was eventually broken open to get them out, thus creating the mess.
|one of the two desks in the reception area|
In all, four rooms were broken into in addition to the reception area. They made off with a safe and some other small equipment. They notified the guards they were looking for a document and that they would kill them if they didn’t find it. This would explain the rifling through the drawers. However we have no idea what they could have been after besides money and electronics. So far we’ve been unable to think of what sort of document that could have such value that they would make such a huge effort.
|where it started|
The attack began by the piercing of a hole in the compound wall. Once big enough for a human to pass through, around twenty armed men entered and began by rounding up our guards. They seemed to know: a) where to bore the hole in the wall and b) which building to target. It’s likely that someone internally had provided them with information. We think maybe it was someone from the guard company but we don’t know.
|empty compound adjacent to ours|
It wasn’t all gloom and doom, however. When I asked our finance controller how much we lost in the safe, he said not much. In fact he smiled and said probably three dollars. I know that we don’t keep much money in the office for just that reason but I didn’t realize that it was THAT empty. I should also say that the safe was huge. A few years ago when we moved it into that office it took about six rather strong men to lift it. The poor bandits had to get that heavy thing out of the office, out of the building, out of the compound and into a waiting vehicle. Then they had to transport it someplace where they would put tremendous effort into getting the door open. Only to find that it was empty. I can only imagine the expletives. Later than morning the controller came into my office with three dollars in his hand and announced that the loss was even less than we had anticipated.
|the bits of wood that used to be my door|
They also took an old laptop (hard drive completely cleaned) that I was procrastinating in donating and a no-longer-usable computer battery that I had recently replaced. Strangely, a small projector which was sitting on my desk (worth about $500) was left behind as was my scanner, computer screen and printer (??). For me it ended up being quite handy in that I was able to get rid of some obsolete equipment.
In any case, we all felt a bit violated. It’s never a pleasant experience to have something stolen, all the more when it’s such a large and dangerous force that carried it out. We found out that over a three-week period a number of other places in the area were targeted as well, also by a large group of armed men. So we’re hopeful it’s a one-off thing and they won’t be back. Nonetheless we’ve further strengthened out security, added/changed locks, added lighting, etc. As people always say in these situations, it really could have been worse. We were thankful that no one was seriously hurt. We clean up, fix things and move on.
“It's a shallow life that doesn't give a person a few scars.”