Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Thieves, Bandits and Shiftas

“A thief has been here and stolen from me.”
Dad was sitting on the couch in his office, slightly bent forward with his hands clasped together in his lap. He sounded very tired when he told me this. He said he knew who it was. The trusted neighbor boy who had attended to the yard while my mother was alive had continued his weekly job. He was the one who knew my Dad’s habit of a daily nap in his office. He even knew where my Dad kept the money in his desk. That fifty dollars hurt Dad because he felt betrayed. While we sat side by side, our hands intertwined as he related the following.

“I am eighty-six years old and have traveled and lived all over the world. No one has ever stolen from me before.”
Then he related some of his experiences with bandits and “shiftas.”
“In the early days, trekking in Ethiopia, I was at the home of Eric Palm in Northern Ethiopia. The first night there were loud cries from the servants, “Shiftas! Shiftas!” Eric Palm dressed quickly and made the much-regretted decision to run outside. The “Shiftas” were very visible in the bright moonlight. They had decided to steal the tires from the Model T that was such a novelty in Ethiopia. They changed directions from the car to run after Eric Palm. He made it inside the house, where his wife was hiding. The shiftas made it as far as the bedroom where Dad had been sleeping. The men were pushing against the flimsy door and Dad had braced his shoulders against the door and his feet on the bed. With every shove he prayed for help. The help came, not from the servants, but from the barking dogs. The bandits knew the alarm would arouse the neighbors.

“I remember another time when bandits could have robbed and killed me,” continued my Dad. “When I returned by ship to Ethiopia after the war, we had to transfer our trunks to an Egyptian Dow. There were two of us who were passengers, a Catholic nun and myself. We were fascinated by the navigation required to keep this open craft with large sails on course toward Aden. Boards placed out over the ocean were scaled for restroom privileges and required great dexterity, especially by the woman who used a towel for a private screen.” “You know,” my Dad continued, “those Arabs could have thrown both of us overboard and stolen our luggage. We sailed in perfect confidence.”

“Once in Jamaica a thief came into our house,” remembered Dad. “He came during the night, climbing the stairs to the back porch and into the kitchen. He seemed to be satisfied with a meal that he fixed for himself. No one heard him enter or leave. He did not go in the dining room or try our bedroom door.”

When Dad had finished his trail of memories, I reminded him that his confidence and trust in God had always given me a feeling of peace. We had always known that God and his angels were our safety. A smile broke across Dad’s face when I pressed the fifty dollars into his hand. That replaced the money stolen from the middle desk drawer. “Jane, you shouldn’t do this,” he said as he took the money. “It will be our secret,” I told him.

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