Ever since I started Trini Tuesday features I have wrestled with whether or not to share this story. If I do, how do I do it? I NEVER want to come across as disrespectful or judgemental of the culture because I loved it there so much and there are so many people in Trinidad who I cherish so deeply and esteem so highly. I think it is reasonably well-establised that I loved it there, that I sought to learn all I could about the place, that I truly enjoyed the experience, that I continue to have a great affection for Trinidad's people and culture.
That being said, all was not sweetness and light. Trinidad, like everywhere else in the world, has a dark side. In Trinidad, it is the crime rate. When we moved there we understood it was virtually guaranteed we would be burglarized at some point. I can't think of a single person I know there who doesn't have a story about being robbed. It's practically a rite of passage. As such, most houses have high fences or walls around them and most people put burglar-proofing (iron bars) on at least their windows. Most people also keep dogs for security.
Our turn came January 19, 1993. Prior to that we had been living in Arima in a relatively safe neighborhood. Then we moved briefly to D'Abadie because a fellow affiliated with our boss was coming to the USA to study and wanted to have someone live in his house while abroad. We agreed to be the renters/housesitters. I was concerned about the lack of burglar-proofing even though there was a high wall with broken bottles along the top. I refused to move until some was installed. Admittedly, we still did not have a dog due to my protests about allergies. We were smart enough to ask about neighborhood security. The homeowner assured us in the 5 years since he had lived there he had never been robbed. The guy was going to be attending seminary in the USA, surely he'd be forthcoming about something this important. Uh, yeah, right.....what a naive Lime you are.
Our former house had faced west which meant it baked in the afternoon sun and the walls literally radiated the heat back on us each night. This new place was an 'upstairs house' (two-story) which faced east, so each evening we got the most refreshing breeze. I was 5 months pregnant and having real difficulty adjusting to the tropical heat. Diana was asleep in her crib, Mr. Lime and I were watching TV with the front sliding doors open (lots of people sit with east doors open at night) so I could sit right in front of it and enjoy that wonderful breeze.
And then he came in. He had on a ski-mask. I am feisty enough that I started to rise to chase him out and then he raised the gun. I sat my ass right down. Something about being pregnant and having a gun trained on me makes me quite docile. And then the next one came in...and then the next one....My God, when will they stop coming in??...Three ski-masked gunmen were in our living room demanding whatever cash we had. Sleep, Diana. Just sleep right through this, please. They got a lot because we did not yet have a secured checking account (several months rigamarole before they will give you one), which meant we had to stop by the office of each utility service and pay in cash. The long lines meant you went to the bank one day and got to pay the bills the next day. Mr. Lime had just gone to the bank to be able to pay the bills the following morning. Mr. Lime and I each had a gun pointed at us as they marched us around. They demanded our wedding bands and made Mr. Lime empty his pockets (hence they came into possession of our car keys).
Then they marched us into our bedroom and told us to lie face down. We are going to catch bullets with the backs of our skulls...Diana! They had brought rope but during the looting process found our duct tape and decided that would work better. They taped ankles, hands behind back, then mouths. Mr. Lime, then me. As they started to tape my mouth they went up over my nose as well and I squirmed and mumbled in a panic. They removed it from my nose.
Two left the bedroom and one remiained with his gun still on us. I heard Diana cry out once and fall silent. My God, what are you fucking bastards doing to my child??????!!!!!!!!! I started wriggling, trying fruitlessly to get to her. The gunman flipped me over on my back and tore my clothes off from the waist down and then undid his own pants. They are hurting Diana and now they will hurt this baby too! NOOOO!!!! With pleading eyes and muffled cries for mercy I begged him not to while my husband thrashed in desperation next to me, as helpless as I was. I will never know on this side of eternity what made him stop before he raped me but something did. All I know is I am deeply grateful.
The other two came back to our bedroom and said we had to go keep Diana quiet. They yanked us to our knees. My husband was able to knee walk slowly. I had been taped so tightly my feet turned purple. I kept falling over as I frantically tried to reach my daughter. One of the gunmen grabbed me under the arms and dragged me to her. Oh, my Diana....You're ok!!!! Diana sat very placidly sucking her thumb in her crib. The mosquito netting around her crib was undisturbed. She smiled when she saw us, pointed at our faces and babbled, 'Mommy, Daddy, funny masks. Hahaha!!' Oh my precious child, you have no idea. We hummed every soothing bedtime song to her we could think of while she reached through her crib and touched our faces. She had been cranky and fussy all day. This was the only time she had been calm.
While we were humming my husband managed to get his hands free from the duct tape. We waited what felt like an eternity until the house fell quiet. My husband removed the rest of his duct tape and then mine, he checked to see the house was empty while I scooped Diana out of the crib and clung to her tenaciously. The phone lines had been cut so we would have to go to a neighbor's house to call the police. I am quite sure even though I was barefoot, 5 months pregnant, and carrying a 2 year old while I ran across a dark pineapple patch I could have easily beaten Ato Bolden himself (T&T's Olympic track and field star).
It was the most horrific event of my life thus far and one I hope is never repeated or exceded and yet some good came of it. Back then the routine robbery scenario was coming home to find a ransacked house, maybe a break-in while people were asleep. Our experience horrified most who knew us. Until that point, some folks had been a bit aloof. Yeah, dey nice an all but dey gonna leave when tings does get bad. When we didn't immediately run home to the States people were more trusting. We found out we were loved when a good friend came to us the next morning with tears in her eyes and just hugged me while I cried and when others came and offered practical assistance (we'd lost an entire month's paycheck BEFORE we paid the bills and bought groceries, if you recall).
The other positive outcome was being reconciled to my brother. He had not spoken to me for 7 years, for various reasons. I had never shut the door on reconciliation but he had chosen not to walk through it. Several months after we came back to the US he came to me and we made peace. I was stunned. I was overjoyed, but I was stunned. I couldn't imagine what brought it about finally. I asked my mother what her thoughts were and she told me after we'd been robbed he started asking about us. She said he remained worried for the rest of our stay in Trinidad. None of us were harmed physically so if that ordeal is what it took to bring my brother back...well, ok, I can be thankful.
Some weeks after the robbery the police found the 3 guys they believed had robbed us. They were a fairly notorious group that had killed one of their robbery victims the week after our encounter. There was a gun battle between police and the men. One of the men died in the shootout. The other two went to jail. Works for me. We also found out that while the house we had lived in had not been robbed in the prior 5 years the neighborhood itself had seen 23 robberies in the past year alone. Shame on us for taking the homeowner at his word and not pressing further.