I pulled out the yogurt from my large bolsa and began to eat, enjoying its smooth feel on my tongue. The old woman wearing pink on the bench next to me moved, and I noticed a young man sitting down where she had been. He was texting. Moments later he asked me a question. I tried to respond. No, I didn’t understand. He began to move away as I settled into my seat. Then in one wild moment I knew: the purse on the bench beside me was no longer there. “!Me robaron!” I had fallen prey to one of the oldest schemes of a skillful ladron. While one person distracted me, his accomplice had grabbed my bag filled with meds, travel vouchers, cell phone and credit cards.
Wait! Where was my passport? I reached for my travel pouch around my neck and began to breathe again. I had my passport along with – I tried hard to remember – about 40 Euros.
When I could walk again, I wobbled to the nearest tienda for help. The kind storekeeper assured me that I would never see my bag again, and he called the police, who, he informed me, wouldn’t be able to do anything either. Ting-Toomey and Chung’s revised W-shaped model of culture shock which I teach in Communicating Across Cultures had come alive for me. Gone was the honeymoon stage. I had dropped to the bottom of the first V of the “doble V” right into the hostility phase.
Remembering that the passport would bring up my flight information, I retrieved my suitcase from the hotel and headed to the airport to fly to my language school in Malaga. However, Monday morning I discovered that the school’s computers would not connect to Goshen College. Nor would the telephone. Tuesday began with a sense of urgency as I tried my GC email and then the phone again. I was one can of tuna and four crackers away from being without food or money.
Late Tuesday afternoon I reached a close friend who called GC. But no money could possibly arrive before Wednesday. “Hungry in Malaga,” - “Stranded in the Costa del Sol.”- I imagined the possible titles for the story I would someday write.
Then I remembered to do as we had been advised in our orientation meeting on Monday morning. “Si tienes un problema grande, pida a hablar con la directora.” At 6 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon I did just that and found the school’s director kind beyond my expectations. “How much do you need before the wire comes through?” she asked “500 Euros?” She reached for a large envelope thick with Euros and began to count. “Oh, no,” I replied. “Three hundred will certainly be enough.” And it was.
I slowly relaxed into the rhythm of classes, tea in a café , and homework completed as the sun set over the Mediterranean. The next day money arrived from Goshen College. By Thursday I had moved from the hostility phase of the culture shock model to the In-Sync stage where one day slides poco a poco into another.
So what have I learned? First, that I can indeed be comfortable with being uncomfortable, a challenge I present to my Communicating Across Cultures students. Second, that even when isolated and alone I am part of a rich global community. And third, most importantly, that God is present with me…no matter where, no matter what.
Am I ready to go again? Ask me in December. I strongly suspect my answer will be “Si, por supuesto!”
(Many thanks to Nancy Miller, Dallis Miller and Anita Stalter who together made sure that money was wired to me as quickly as possible after the robbery.)
El Puente, LLC. ©