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The Story of the Theft

January 31, 2010

Well, our vacation to Jordan turned out to be a little more than we’d bargained for, and we ended up coming back to Sweden four days later than we’d expected. So before I dive into a post about the awesome actual week of vacation we had in Jordan, it’s best to get out of the way the long and quite interesting story of the theft that kept us there for so many days after.

On Saturday afternoon Oscar and I were sitting in the lobby of our Aqaba hotel, Aquamarina IV, waiting for the bus to come and take us to the airport. When the bus pulled up, I took our bags out to the bus, leaving my purse, carry on, and coat on the couch next to Oscar. As I was leaving, I heard a woman ask Oscar if he could show her how to use the hotel guest phone, which was right next to where we were sitting. I looked back for just a second, and glimpsed her from behind as he got up to help her, but though I thought it was kind of weird that someone was asking him how to use the phone, I didn’t really think anything of it.

A couple minutes later Oscar came out to meet me at the bus, carrying all the rest of our stuff…except my purse. I asked him where it was and he said it wasn’t on the couch. I freaked out a little bit, but assumed that maybe it had fallen or he just missed it somehow. We went back in the lobby and looked everywhere, asked the reception if they’d seen it. Nothing. At that moment Oscar and I both realized: the woman. She had been distracting him so someone could take it. He said that after he’d come to help her, she lifted the phone, randomly pushed two or three buttons, then hung up and walked away.

Now I started to really freak out, as everything important was in my purse: both our passports, my wallet with all my money, credit and debit card, all my identification, even all my Swedish and American money, not to mention my camera (third time I’ve had my camera stolen!) with all my pictures from the entire week (many times when we used only my camera — like at the Dead Sea and most of Petra — instead of Oscar’s), and a number of other things, many of which are only important to me (like a small notebook in which I had been keeping notes on all the interesting, funny, or otherwise memorable things from our trip).

While all these things were incredibly upsetting to have lost, the passports were more than just that. How could we leave the country in a couple hours without passports? A kind of chaos ensued, as Oscar and I, along with some of the hotel receptionists and the representative from Apollo, the charter travel company we did the trip with, and who was supposed to be getting us on the bus and taking us to the airport, tried to figure out what to do and also tried to look for this woman from the lobby.

I was pacing up and down the sidewalk, at a total loss of what to think or do, when I stopped at a car parked on the street a short way down from the hotel. I had a weird feeling, and I also had this crazy idea that it looked like a man in the backseat was holding what looked like my purse (which has large silver rings on each end of the strap). I of course thought it was a crazy thing to think, but I couldn’t help but stare more into the car and move a little closer. Then I looked in the front seat and there sat someone who looked exactly like the woman I had seen from behind.

The hotel receptionist, Issa, was with me and I said to him, “I swear I see my purse in this car.” We walked to the car and tried to get them to talk to us. They looked at me, and then suddenly they pulled out and started to drive away. We chased after them, yelling at them to stop, but this caused them only to drive faster, speeding away faster than I’d ever seen any car go down that street. At that point, I was nearly convinced it was them. Oscar saw me running after them, shouting and crying, and he took off after the car. Within seconds, everyone around had stopped what they were doing and was chasing after us and the car. The car turned at the end of the street, and I was sure we’d lost them. I was in full-on tears at that point, and was completely unable to deal with the crowd of people coming at us, all sure they’d seen the car, that they knew what was going on, etc. We talked briefly with a tourist policeman and a cab driver, describing the car to them and giving them my name, but we wanted to get back to the hotel and the representative who could help us figure out what to do.

By the time we got back to the hotel, the Apollo rep, Sami, told us he had talked to the police and they had already caught the car! I think the cab driver and policeman we’d talked to had immediately radioed around to everyone the description, but I couldn’t believe how fast they’d caught them. I was in disbelief but also full of hope when they put us in a car and drove us to the small police hut where the car was being held. Three people were being held inside the hut, and Oscar and I both ID’d the woman, but there had been four people in the car when it drove away.

The culprits all claimed they were Italian or Spanish, and that the fourth man was also Italian but they didn’t know him and they couldn’t remember where they had dropped him off, a ridiculous thing to say. We quickly discovered many of their lies. They were Peruvian, and in time the police were able to deduce that they most certainly knew the fourth man (who was, in fact, really Italian). Before we headed to the official police station, they let me look around a little bit in the car to see if I could find anything of mine. This is where the story gets a little bit strange/interesting/funny.

I first looked in the trunk, where there were some bags but nothing of mine. Then in the backseat on the floor I found a lone tampon, which just happened to be the same exact brand and size that I keep in my purse (and is also not the most commonly used tampon, I would say). I felt like I was on CSI as I picked it up and showed off the evidence to the police: “I believe this is mine!” This caused an uproar among everyone, and they told me to quickly put it back where I found it so the evidence would be kept in tact.

We were then driven off to the police station, where everything was complete madness. More and more men were constantly arriving, running around speaking on the phone and to each other in hurried Arabic. It was also quite funny seeing a bunch of Jordanian men passing around a tampon examining it as evidence, and shoving it in the faces of each suspect asking, “Is this for you? No, I didn’t think so! This is for her!”

Our Apollo friend, Sami, and another Apollo rep, Youssef, were both with us, making phone calls around to see what was going to happen next for us. They said there was a chance they could get paperwork together for us to be able to go home without passports and we could still get on the flight up to even ten minutes before it was to leave (the Aqaba airport is absolutely tiny), but it still was quite possible we wouldn’t make it. They told us the court really wanted us to stay to give statements and everything, or else they wouldn’t be able to hold the suspects. Oscar and I definitely didn’t want that to happen, but we had absolutely no money at that point. But our reps told us that if we stayed everything would be taken care of for us: accommodation and a new flight home. So we decided to stay.

First I had to take care of the most important things, like calling my parents to cancel my cards. Then the process of giving my statement began. At least three or four times we began telling our story, but always we were endlessly interrupted and eventually passed off to someone else before we could finish. Finally, though, I was to give my official statement, via a translator. I was ushered into a small room where I faced who they called the judge (really a general prosecutor) and his secretary/typist, speaking to each other through a translator.

It was scary, stressful, and also unbelievably comical. They asked if I was a Christian, and thus my oath was “I swear to tell the truth and nothing than the truth.” Then they offered me a cigarette! Then I began my statement, which began as me just saying what happened, but quickly turned into more of an interrogation. Everything I said, the judge had a rebuttal question. Sometimes he seemed angry at my answers or my reasons for accusing the people, and this put me into a really high stress level. I was in there for at least two hours with constant questioning, also always being interrupted by people coming in and heated conversations in Arabic, often involving a lot of pointing at me though I had no idea what they were saying. Toward the end I completely broke down crying again, but by that point things had become less strict, the door was open, and Oscar was allowed to come in and give me a little bit of support.

View from our hotel room

Finally the interrogation ended, and I was given a number of papers written in Arabic that were apparently my statements, which I had to sign. Then we were loaded back into the car and taken to our hotel for the night. We thought we would probably be back in Aquamarina IV again, but apparently they felt so bad about how upset we were, and what happened in general (we were constantly told that this just doesn’t happen in Jordan — which is believable since, after all, they weren’t even Jordanians who robbed us) that they decided to upgrade us. They put us up in the Mövenpick, a five star hotel, one of the nicest in Aqaba. Not only did we have a great room with one of the best beds I’ve ever slept on and views over the hotel courtyard with ancient city ruins and the Red Sea in the background, but they also gave us half-board, which meant an absolutely incredible buffet for dinner and breakfast.

De-stressing in the jacuzzi

We couldn’t believe how great they were treating us, and it definitely helped to go take a dip in the jacuzzi and pool under the stars on the hotel bridge and try to soak away the stress of the day. And then of course to indulge in the kind of meal we could never have afforded on our own!

The tourist police also stopped in the hotel that evening to discuss with us some things, and again it was hilarious seeing them try to talk about the tampon. The translator kept calling it a “pipe” in English, and when they talked about it to each other (in Arabic) it seemed they weren’t sure of the word for it themselves, so they would have to use gestures (and I’m assuming funny descriptive words) to describe it among each other, and it was hilarious. They were obviously a little embarrassed about it as well, and at one point all of us couldn’t help but break out into laughter about it. Having such special evidence definitely helped lift the mood a little bit.

Chillin at the beach

The next morning Oscar had to go to the courthouse to give his statement, which was supposed to take only two hours and then we were supposed to be able to get on an afternoon flight to Copenhagen. I took this time to enjoy the benefits of our hotel, going to the beach (a REAL beach!), relaxing in the sauna and jacuzzi, etc. Unfortunately, Oscar wasn’t having as nice of a day. First he had to come back to the hotel and change because he had worn shorts and the judge wouldn’t see him until he was properly dressed. Then the whole thing took a lot longer than anticipated.

He was supposed to be back before 11:30 so we could have plenty of time to catch our flight. By 12:15 I was worried and made a call to Youssef. The most frustrating thing about our entire time in Jordan after the theft was that we never knew what was going on, and we were always the last to know anything. Youssef informed me that things were taking a lot longer than expected, and that also now we would have to go to Amman to get new passports, which meant we wouldn’t be going home for at least a few more days.

Finally around 1:00, Oscar returned to get me and we both went back to the courthouse so I could answer a couple more questions. Then Youssef took us out to lunch, then back to the Mövenpick for another night. By this time, though, we were both so worn out that we didn’t do much but sit in our room and watch TV. And of course eat another huge dinner.

Swan ice sculpture at the hotel restaurant for dinner

The next day we were picked up by a driver and began our journey to Amman. It was a long drive, most of which we had done before to go to the Dead Sea (which had partly turned brown from a ton of rainfall that had washed dirt and mud into the water — we were lucky we had gone when we did and had beautiful clean water!) Amman was freezing cold — rainy and windy and dreary. We agreed it’s not somewhere we’d be too eager to return to, as the city was fairly rundown and dirty, with lots of crazy traffic.

Our first scare was when we were told that on top of the costs of our replacement passports ($100 for mine and over $200 for Oscar’s), we would also have to pay for a flight home from Amman (which would cost about $1500, way more than we’d paid for our entire trip) and accommodation in Amman for the two days until we could get a flight. Of course, Oscar and I didn’t have anywhere near that kind of money, let alone that we could access then. But after some discussion, Apollo agreed to pay for everything, except of course the passports (later we learned it was Youssef, truly the most amazing person, to whom we owe so much). We are forever in debt to Apollo and Youssef for all they did for us. They went far, far above and beyond what they had to do.

The rest of the day was spent running around trying to get our passports. First we went to where the Swedish embassy was supposed to be, but it had moved. When we got to the real one, it wasn’t open yet. We then went to the American embassy (which was huge and surrounded by tanks and machine guns and scary looking soldiers), where they told us we were too late and had to come back the next day (it was only 1:00!) but we insisted and eventually they let me in. We were able to both get our passports right away (though Oscar’s, which cost twice as much as mine, was only valid for one week, while mine is good for a year). But still our flight was not until Wednesday morning, at four a.m. (Though we were given an option of going  back to Aqaba and having accommodation provided until Saturday, when we could get on the next charter flight back to Stockholm. But my Dad was coming in Friday to visit just for two days, and Oscar had a number of things to take care of at home, so we just couldn’t afford to get back to Sweden that late – any other time, though, we would have jumped at the chance to double our vacation for free, except for the fact we couldn’t do much of anything without any extra money.)

And so we were taken to a hotel, Amman International, which was also quite nice (though certainly no Mövenpick) and also included breakfast and dinner. Tuesday we had an entire day with nothing to do. There wasn’t anything in Amman we particularly wanted to see, and as it was our hotel was far from the city center. So we spent almost the entire day in the room watching TV. We needed a day where we could sleep in and de-stress, where nothing was expected of us. Especially since we were getting picked up at one a.m. that night to go to the airport, where we would begin a more than 24 hour journey back home.

We were lucky, in my opinion, that they even got us a room for that night at all. I thought we’d have to check out at noon that day and have to find some way to kill the next 13 hours until we went to the airport. But we were able to get a few hours of sleep that night (certainly not enough, though). Then it was off to the airport.

At first things were fine. We checked in and checked our bags. Then there was immigration. Of course our passports had no stamps from our entry into Jordan, and no one had said anything to us about having to do anything once we got our passports. But not having a stamp was a big problem for immigration. There was a lot of debate, a lot of different men taking our passports and disappearing to various places to talk about what to do. At one point they told us we’d have to go to some office downtown to get a stamp. But we were not missing that flight, especially after all the trouble we had to go through to get it (and paid for –which I’m sure we wouldn’t be able to convince anyone to do for us again). Finally they allowed us to pass immigration, though we also had to pay a 20JD exit tax, which was pretty much all the money we had left from our emergency passport money withdrawal, and which we had hoped to be able to spend on food and water.

Lucky for us, we weren’t back on an SAS charter flight where all food and drink costs an arm and a leg. Instead we were on Malev, a Hungarian airline, which was wonderful because they served us both free beverages and a sandwich! We couldn’t believe our fortune! Well, to an extent.  That was only the beginning of our trip home. Then we landed in Budapest at about six a.m. and we had 12 hours until our flight to Stockholm. Twelve hours in a small airport with no money. At least it had free wifi so we could distract ourselves with brief stints on the internet on Oscar’s iphone, and I had a deck of cards so we spent a lot of time playing card games. For almost the entire time we thought we had absolutely no money, so were incredibly hungry and thirsty, then we discovered Oscar did have a little bit more money left that we could access, so we were able to at least treat ourselves to some food! But it was a very, very long 12 hours, especially since we were both exhausted, sleep-deprived, and desperate to be home and away from all the madness that had been our lives for the past four days.

Luckily, our flight wasn’t delayed, and we were in Stockholm just a little after 8:30 and didn’t have to wait too long for our bags. Unluckily, there was only one more bus to Jönköping that night, at 10:55, and we ended up on the absolute slowest bus into the city ever. We sat for 25 minutes while the driver let everyone at the stop on (instead of letting some of them get on the next buses, which come every ten minutes and instead just passed our bus by and made it to the city before us!). It had just snowed also, so the driving was slow and frustrating. We made it to the central station just in time to make the bus, and were happy to finally be really almost home, but were exhausted and arrived to Jönköping at four a.m., exactly 24 hours after we’d left Amman, to a bitterly cold and windy night.

And so that’s the summary of our extended post-theft time in Jordan, and our long journey home. Even days later I’m still catching up on sleep (and still trying to get over the loss of my third camera and amazingamazingamazing photos, not to mention my passport that I had just added pages to, with visas and stamps from all over Europe, Asia, Oz/NZ, and South America, from Morocco to Bolivia, special stamps from Machu Picchu and the Galapagos, student visas from Italy and Thailand, etc.)

Well, that’s our story, and I’m sticking to it. (Oh, and they still haven’t found the missing Italian guy, but they know his name and if he tries to leave the country they’ll stop him. — UPDATE: They found him…. but not our stuff…)

9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2010 3:52 am

    Hi Rachael,
    I’m sorry to learn what happened to you and I hope they will find the Italian guy and your purse sooner or later.
    On the other hand I really enjoyed your writing, I could familiarize with many of the situations: testimony at the police station, dealing with the immigration blokes at Amman airport, the sandwich on the MALEV flight… :-))
    Best regards from Aqaba.

  2. May 30, 2010 1:56 pm

    Sounds like some nice travels. Were you able to find any more free wifi? I am trying to create a list of free wifi hotspots in Denmark – if you have any to add please let me know.


  3. February 7, 2011 9:49 pm

    Holy cow!!
    I’m surprised you guys were able to handle all of that so well! I guess it helps to have someone else traveling with you when that happens.
    thanks for sharing your story!


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