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.