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Monday, October 20, 2008

The Life and Times of Louis & Amber - Crime & Punishment

It is common in South Africa to have problems with water and electric supply. Sometimes we have a water main break, or construction crews are working on something, causing our water source to be cut off. As for electricity, there would be two main reasons one would lose power. The first is that South Africa forgot to build additional power plants over the years, leading to a decided shortage of available electricity. To remedy this situation, they will turn off the power to certain portions of certain cities at certain times of the day. While this is becoming a less common occurrence, load sharing continues to be an un-popular fix to the crisis. Fortunately here at The Pines we seem to be on the same grid as a hospital down the road, meaning they really think twice about shutting off the electricity to this little district.

The second and for us more common reason one might lose electric supply is through theft. Copper currently has a high salvage value, so many people turn to that as an alternative source of income. While you may think to yourself that stealing live high voltage lines seems to be a dangerous proposition, you must remember that some of these people are desperate enough to attempt many things we would deem a bit risky. They have also shown themselves to be quite resourceful when they truly set their mind to it. The process for stealing this copper is really quite simple. They will dig a hole underneath the line, then light a fire, causing the insulation on the wires to burn off and thereby grounding out said wire. Once it is grounded out there is no longer a danger of electrocution (theoretically), and they are able to then dig out and remove a section of wire.

About 10 days ago, two of our buildings lost power due to just such a scenario. Upon inspection, vandals had removed a large section of wire right up to our fence.These two buildings have been without power since then, and one of them houses Leonard our gardener, his wife Temperance, and two small children. Electric crews have been working to replace the missing section with overhead aluminum wiring. In the meantime, Brian put a band-aid on the situation by running an extension cord from the main building, but this didn't allow sufficient current for them to also run the overhead lights usually left on for security purposes.

Which brings us to Sunday evening. About midnight Amber & I wake up to something banging against our window. I look out and there is Brian throwing rocks or some such projectile in an attempt to waken us. While it would not be out of character for him to decide to waken us just for kicks, I proceed to ask him what was so urgent. He told me he had received a call from Temperance that someone was snooping in or around their buildings. Leonard normally works nights, so Brian and I were called upon to investigate.

I quickly dressed and grabbed a few items I thought might be useful. Brian of course had done the same. My weapons of choice were a 28 oz. framing hammer, Amber's bottle of pepper spray, and a mag-light (unfortunately my sleep deprived brain failed to remind me to put on a belt before I left, limiting me to one hand on the pants and one holding my other three items). I almost grabbed my camera but ultimately chose not to. In hindsight it would have made for some great pictures. Brian's favorite tools were an aluminum bat and high powered flashlight. Oh, and I also grabbed my realistic looking Airsoft gun, in case we needed some additional aesthetic persuasion. Maybe if I shot him in the eye...

Anyway, by time I had dressed and gathered the necessary equipment, Brian was already over at the other building. I hurried to catch up with him and in my haste failed to see the black man standing nearby. In my defense, black people here can be hard to pick out in the pitch dark of 12:30am. An acquaintance of Brian & Lois uses the term "Our non-reflective friends". So when I do finally notice said man moving around, I nearly clawed him with the back side of the hammer. Remember I said Leonard normally works nights? Apparently he had this night off, a fact which would have been useful to know.

So here we are, the three intrepid men setting off to find whoever or whatever was making the suspicious noise. Behind Leonard's building is a courtyard, and we were fairly certain that if anyone was still around, it would be in this area. After a brief inspection, we found where more wires had been cut and removed, but the courtyard itself proved empty. Also bordering this courtyard is a large, mostly empty, machine shed type building. While I finished the systematic search outside, Brian & Leonard went into the building to have a look-see. Suddenly, I heard Brian call my name in the tone of voice that said to hurry. I ran into the building to see Brian focusing his beam of light behind an old cupboard.

There, hunched down trying to hide was a shabby looking man. Once he realized we had indeed noticed him curled up back there, he stood up. He had a small piece of wood, maybe 18 inches long. It was particle board so it would have just broke if he tried anything, but nevertheless, we held our distance. He began inching toward us, as we were between him and the only door. Brian & I both told him to get down, a technique learned from watching Cops. The man apparently didn't understand the bad boys were coming for him. He also didn't understand English, so Brian yells to Leonard to tell the man to get down, assuming that since Leonard speaks both Sesotho and Xosa that he would be able to communicate with him. Leonard proceeds to say "GET DOWN", not in Xosa or Sesotho but in English. While I would like to mock the decided lack of brilliance there, I really am in no position to throw the first stone. Remember that we work mostly with children over here, and one of the most important things to know how to tell a child is, of course, "Get down". It wasn't until this morning that I realized that I myself know how to say this in Sotho, but in the excitement of the moment, I completely forgot (for the record, it's "Doula Fadsi").

While Leonard and I are both forgetting that we know a little Sotho, this man continues to try to move toward the doorway. Brian lucidly performs a flanking maneuver and I advise them all that I have pepper spray. Since the man shows no propensity to cooperate with our request to get down, Brian tells me to go ahead and spray him. Looking back, I think I was more curious to see what would happen than I was thinking about the appropriate spraying technique. If I can offer a suggestion to anyone required to use pepper spray: Make sure you use the whole bottle. Unfortunately, I just gave him a quick 2-second spritz in the face. It took a second for him to realize it wasn't that comfortable a feeling, but once it kicked in he wasn't too happy about it.

He obviously couldn't see too well, but he did find an object laying on the floor and picked it up, holding it as if he planned to throw it at us. Leonard and Brian both backed through the doorway and at this point the man turned to me. I quickly regained my lucid thinking skills, and shut off my light, knowing (or hoping) that he couldn't see well enough to find me in the dark. I think that is the one thing I did correctly throughout the whole affair. After realizing he couldn't see me, the man turned and ran out the door, throwing the object in the general direction of Leonard and Brian. He then kept running/stumbling all the way across the courtyard to the fence on the far side. It took him a bit, but eventually he got up and over the fence.

We again completed an inspection to make sure there were no accomplices lurking about. We located the hacksaw he had been using, and found the piece of wire he planned to salvage. It was about 10 feet long and loaded with copper. After locking everything back down, we returned to our respective homes to attempt to catch some sleep with what remained of the night. As you can imagine, sleep didn't come quickly. About an hour later Brian heard someone back in that area again, so he drove his truck around to the backside. The same man it seems had returned to find his hacksaw and copper, but obviously we had removed them. Brian called the armed security but they didn't arrive in time to apprehend the man. It's probably just as well, since we have been told in a situation like this the crook is fined less than $5 and released. Petty crimes like this are such a common occurrence that there is no way they could hold all of the perpetrators. It's at times like these where we miss our American dog Hank. He would have ripped anyone apart if he thought it would help. Molly the weiner dog just doesn't cut it. Hank would have made sure that crime doesn't pay.


  1. To funny, tell Leonard to get a reflective vest so next time you guys decide to chase thieves you and Brian don’t mistakenly beat him senseless whit a claw hammer and a bat.

  2. This is not funny, but of course, Louie you made a potentially serious situation pretty hilarious.
    It reminds me of the guy who says "call me a cab" and his friend says "you're a cab". Thankfully no one was hurt. God Bless

  3. The story made my day. I felt like I were right there watching. I couldn't help but envision the situation and wish that the POG Team 6 could have been a part of the action. :) On the flip side, I thank God you are all ok and hope he or anyone else stays away!

  4. Absolutely wouldn’t have been funny at the time, in fact would have been very scary!

    So Louie, how’s story is it going to be at the dinner table next time?

  5. Wow, I bet Amber really feels safe living on the 2nd floor! With a little practice I think you will be an accomplished crime fighter. Now you know why cops go to police academy-might become an AIMI requirement too!
    -3 against one--pretty good odds. Better get another german shepherd. Be good to Leonard--you need him there.

  6. I wanna know if your pants stayed up. That would have made the situation even better if you were standing there facing this guy with your pants down around your ankles! Glad to hear you guys came out okay! Actually I can tell that Brian has matured alot!! I just figured he would have decked the guy!
    So if Joy and I come out next year do we need to bring some kind of protection with us?? Thanks for the blog Louie it was great. Tell everyone "HI" for us.