The Great Migration: Where I've been

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another Lesson Learned

You know that sinking feeling you get when you know something is wrong, and you're about to have to face it? I knew it Sunday night, but I didn't want to believe it. I kept making up excuses. But after Monday morning I was sure. Yep, my host family has been stealing from me.

I have a drawer in my room at my host family's house for miscellaneous things--my passport, earrings, information about my program, and, until recently, my money. The drawer locks, but I decided from day one that if this family, the Rubios, are going to trust me enough to live in their house for four months, I'm going to trust them enough to not lock up my room or my things. Oh, trust.

Friday morning I went to the bank and took out $200. I took $100 with me for the weekend (maybe a little high to travel with, but you never want to be without when you're going to a town without an ATM) and left $100 in my drawer, where I always keep my money. Sunday night, when I got back from yet another spirited weekend Ecuadorian jaunt, I found only $70 in my drawer. At first I tried to explain it away--I got my numbers wrong, I took out less than I thought, I took more on the weekend. I tend to be a little lax on the accounting front (you can save the lecture, Dad) and I always spend more than I intend. But $30 is hard to explain away. So I decided to do a little test. I put another $10 in the drawer, bringing the total up to $80, and wrote the number down and told two friends, just to be sure that I would remember correctly. I then left for work. When I returned just four hours later, there was only $60 in the drawer. There was nothing I could do but face the cold reality that my family is robbing me.

This situation sucks from every angle, so much more, and so much deeper, than the money lost. I love my family--especially the mom. Maria Elena and I are tight, and we joke and chat all the time. I'm not home much, so we aren't as close as I'd like, but they are still absolutely wonderful people and I just feel so comfortable here, in this house. Or at least I did.

When I noticed the money missing on Monday afternoon, I asked the empleada (maid) Lorena who had been home since I left for work. Just her and my host sister Carla. Here's where it gets tricky: I have no proof which of them did it. When I put the pieces together, Carla, the 23-year-old, mostly deaf veternarian student from a well-off family isn't exactly a likely candidate. However, Lorena, the most likely underpaid, and certainly overworked single mother of two looks pretty good. She needs the money far more than Carla does. Am I stereotyping? Am I letting my prejudices and expectations of what a thief looks like push me toward the empleada? But doesn't it just make sense? The whole thing just makes my heart hurt.

Rightly or no, I've been working under the assumption that Lorena is the culprit. I don't know what to do. To tell my host mom would mean one of two scenarios--she doesn't get fired, but I spend the next six weeks with the awkward feeling of everyone in the house knowing this big secret; or, she does get fired and I make her life, and lives of her two girls, extremely difficult.

I didn't realize how much it would hurt to have my trust trampled on like this. Lorena sits with me every day at breakfast and lunch, and she chats with me--she helps me understand the news or explains Ecuadorian cultural things or how she cooked lunch. More than likely, she's been stealing from me for months, because this is not the first time I've felt like there was less in the money drawer than there should have been. I guess I'm either too naive or too slow to have thought of stealing before this. How can Lorena sit across the table from me every day and make small talk while she has a pile of my money sitting in her piggy bank? I guess she just sees me as the stupid rich gringa who has so much money that she doesn't even notice it go missing. Which, in a way, is true. How long had she been fishing out of the Hayley Charity Fund Drawer until I finally noticed? It took a loss of $50 in a four day period for me to finally figure it out.

This morning, at the urging of my friends, I confronted her, though in a very roundabout, chickenshit way. I said (in Spanish of course) "I am missing money from my room. I know you go in there to clean it, so have you seen it?" All she said was, "No! What a shame. I'm sorry." That didn't exactly convince me of her innocence, but at least she knows that I know. She knew what I was implying, so why wasn't she quicker to defend herself, to make sure I knew it wasn't her? Of course, why didn't she beg me not to tell Maria Elena? The drawer is now locked. And that's as far as I've gone.

I'm writing this entry more for myself than anything, to relieve my heavy heart. I'm actually surprised at my own emotional response in this situation. It makes me sad, confused, and just a little overwhelmed. I want to understand where Lorena is coming from--I'm sure she doesn't have a lot of money, and taking a couple of bills out of a big stack from a rich American probably seems harmless. But I also refuse to hold someone to lower moral standards because of how much money they have. That is unfair and condescending--poverty does not mean a lack of understand of right and wrong, permission to steal, and most of all, an inability to understand friendship and trust. I thought Lorena and I were friends. Not best friends, but friends. I don't care how much money you have or what cultural differences exist, there are certain things that come with friendship. And trust is one of them.

The question I have now, is what do I do next? How do I act around her? I'm not going to sit there and ask about her day and pretend like everything is alright. But I also firmly believe in the adage "Hate the sin, not the sinner." (I seriously think I just quoted the bible in my blog...what is happening to me? What? Who am I? But I guess I heard it from Alice Walker [see open letter to Obama] so I think that's OK.) Lorena's indiscretion does not define her, and she still deserves to be treated with respect. Thus, unless something happens, I'm going to take the mature, straight forward route--lock up the cash and just avoid her.

I hate to think that I'm too trusting, too naive, too young and that's why things like this happen. Am I wrong to walk into a situation assuming the best of all people involved? Is it wrong to give people the benefit of the doubt? No, I can't accept that. I'd rather loose all the money in my bank account than start believing everyone is the enemy. (I hope I really believe that, but I also hope I never have to make that choice.)

On another note, a volcano is erupting in Ecuador!

To trust and friendship, amigos.


Ryan said...

dear hayley,

you touched upon so many important, powerful, difficult themes. when we go study abroad, we think of all the glorious foreign meals and cool peoples and improved spanish we'll acquire. we don't think about, we don't hope for, what you are experiencing. but i assure you, it is as much a part of your time there, a part of this period of your life, as a shared banana with four stars.

your words and reflections are wise, you're dealing with this in such a mature and heartfelt way, and you're doing the best you can. be proud of yourself, be proud of this road you're on. let it, let your heart, guide you. what else can we do?

i leave you with a quote which has taught me so much:

"every journey has a secret destination of which the traveler is unaware."

p.s.--i think it's rad you quoted the biblia :-)

Anonymous said...

wow girl, that's a toughie... i don't really know what to say... except, that i'm thinking of you, and i wouldn't be suprised if whoever is potentially doing the stealing is thinking of you to, (and probably--knowing your amazing self--con carino)
and i wanted to say, thank you so much, hayley, for your lovely message. i'm so happy that you have been embracing your experiences for all that they are. it's clear you are learning and internalizing so much, and it's really wonderful to be able to read your blog (and see your rockin' farm photos) to share pieces of that with you.
paz y amor, sara rose t

Claudia said...


im so sorry. I know its hard to really put your faith and trust in people/situations...and for that to be tainted hurts. But sometimes, you've got to see things for what they really are. You should be proud to be dealing with all of this in such a mature way. I just hope that this one experience won't leave a negative permanent mark on your OVERALL time spent

Mom said...

Hi My Sweet Hayley,
I am sorry this happened. However, I think you need to take some of the responsibility for leaving the money so there and available. I can see someone rationalizing that you have so much and you wouldn't notice (which as far as they're concerned you didn't for quite some time) and if you cared you wouldn't have left it so available. I don't think that you can assume a friendship of someone just passing through (you) can outway such a temptation. Also, I think you can't assume it's Lorena. The two times that someone consistantly stole from you and Morgan, it was by friends you trusted that didn't need the money or the things. People steal for many reasons. Since you don't know who is was for sure, I wouldn't say anything (or tell your host mom when you leave so it doesn't happen to her or the next student), lock up that money, and do as you say and chalk it up to a lesson learned and know that you are now older and wiser. ILYVM, mom

Debbiskis said...

Oh my god... I so disagree with your mom and just going over this situation with Marc, I now disagree with him too, although that's no surprise. You are basically living in a house where you can not trust someone, be it Lorena or Carla. Either way, let your host mom know of the situation, call your school/work advisor, and find another host family. If it is Lorena, how do you know she hasn't been stealing from the family and other students for years. If it's the daughter, than your host family will need to address that situation with their daughter. In anycase, yes, it was a costly lesson learned and yes, you have to lock up your crap so nothing else is taken, but do you really want to live in an untrusted situation.

On another note, I LOVE THESE BLOGS! Miss you.

Orly said...

Hi Hayley,
I don't have any wise words of wisdom, I just want to say that I'm very impressed with how thoughtful and considerate you were about this. I know that many people (perhaps myself included, who knows) in the same situation would have been really really upset and wouldn't have handled it so delicately and kindly. We have a "femme de menage" here as well (in fact, she's in the kitchen as I type), and I had never thought for a second about the fact that she could steal my money. I keep my money a little hidden just in case there's a freak robber in the house while I'm out, or something... I hadn't EVER thought I kept it hidden because this cleaning lady might take it. She's also really nice, we chat, etc. And now it's sadly something I should think about too... wait, this wasn't supposed to be about my reflections on my own situation, this was supposed to be about YOU! (whoops). I think you handled it very well, and I'm very proud of you. Keep it locked and best of luck. I hope you feel better after writing about it... :)

you still lead the most fascinating life ever,
love Orly

Julia High said...

It's so wonderful that you can understand (for the most part) that this isn't anything really personal, but really just a matter of getting by for Lorena.

But I wonder if you should still tell your host mom- you're very close to her, right? She could have been losing so much money, etc. for months now! I feel bad for Lorena, but stealing is never OK, and your host mom does not deserve to have someone working for her who does not respect her belongings.

Maybe your mom is right, though, and you should wait (is it 2 months?) to tell her. But I feel like you might be leaving on a bad note then, and also that she might feel disappointed that you didn't tell her sooner.

Also, your mom is right that people steal for many reasons- you could also your host sis about it...

Gabe said...

hey hayley. I just wrote a response to this and it got deleted. oh technology! I know how you feel because this happened to me too. $200 worth of it happening to me. We it didn't happen to me. I allowed it to happen. It happened and I was a part of it happening and our host mom was a part of it happening and the whole situation was a part of it happening and it was out of everyone's control and it wasn't and yeah I know. Hart would be proud of that analysis I'm sure. i hope.

I lent our host family $200 because their crop failed in a sudden hail storm and she needed it for her daughter's graduation the next day. She didn't ask us but was calling her friends and we were eating her food and, you know how it goes. I knew I probably maybe would never see it again. I thought I had come to terms with that in advance but I still think about it more than is really healthy. Its really sad. its angering. Trust. Trust. Poverty. Responsibility. The whole thing is a part of the equation I know. Its your responsibility. Its her morals. Its the situation. Its different down there. There are universal laws of interaction. I have thought about it all. Everyone has something to say about it. Seems they are all right. Let me know if you find a way to forgive and accept. I'd like to try my luck at it.