Tuesday, April 15, 2008


My cell phone rang at 2:30 this morning. I checked it and it wasn't a number I recognized, so I didn't answer. Generally when this happens, it's some drunk fool, often calling collect, to talk to someone I've never heard of, and the first thing they demand to know is who they are talking to. So I didn't answer.

Then it rang again. And again. I answered.

It wasn't a collect call, and the voice on the phone was Evani's, but she wasn't talking to me. She was talking to someone else wherever she was, which was at the second day of a Candomblé ceremony. She was clearly agitated.

"Ma?" That's what she calls me. "You better call Oi and block my chip. My phone's gone."

"What happened?" I said, stupid with sleep.

"They stole it!"

So I called Oi, our cell phone provider, and I said "I'd like to report a theft s'il vous plaît."

I actually said s'il vous plaît. I studied French in junior high, which makes it... almost 25 years ago. I remember clearly that when I was here in Brazil the first time, Evani asked me to say something in French and I couldn't remember a single word- I had been working so hard to learn Portuguese that all my foreign language capacity was taken up with Portuguese words. Whenever I tried to remember a word in French, up popped the Portuguese version. And now, as I mentioned, stupid with sleep, out pops this mental anachronism.

I blocked the chip. I was bummed. This was a phone I had just bought Evani for her birthday, and it had all the bells and whistles, at least by Brazilian standards. Bluetooth, MP3 player, a decent digital camera. Luckily I hadn't yet bought the memory chip and USB cable we were needing for it. Worse, I'd 'dividido' the purchase on my Brazilian credit card (my nemesis) and still had a lot to pay on it.

Here in Brazil, they do something strange with credit cards. You can divide a purchase into a number of payments, which enter into your statement every month until the item is paid off- in this case, ten payments for ten months. This is a good thing in a way, because the interest payments on my credit card are usurious. But it's a bad thing because I'm going to be reminded every month about a phone that I am still paying for, that no longer exists.

Cell phones here work differently than in the States too. I never had a cell in the States, but if I remember correctly you pay for a plan, with a bunch of minutes, often with free evenings and/or weekends, and they either give you a phone outright, or it's quite cheap. And calls cost the same if you are calling a land line or a cell phone. Here, phones are not free, and generally not cheap. You can either buy a pre-pay, which means you need to buy credit, or a post-pay, which means you get a bill in the mail. There are probably many thousands of people in this city walking around with phones that have no credit, and can only receive calls. Calling or using cell phones is considerably more expensive than calling land lines, and if you call a cell phone, you pay for the call.

I have also never seen an iPhone here in Brazil. Even if they were available, and relatively affordable, I wouldn't dare to carry one around.

So I tried to go back to sleep, which was difficult. I was thinking about the minutes that the thief might have burned up calling people before I shut down the chip. As it turns out, I didn't need to worry about that.

Now it's noon, and Evani is home again. She told me that as she was getting ready to leave, she got her bag with the phone in it and set it down next to her chair. She was surrounded by a bunch of people who she trusted, and a couple people she didn't know. Apparently one of these people, sitting next to the bag, suddenly had a desperate need to go to the bathroom and crossed his legs to prevent an accident. He was told there was a bathroom downstairs that he could use, but he didn't use it. Evani was right there. He used the upstairs bathroom, where the little sock that she kept the phone in was found later on.

The last time my mom visited, she rented an apartment with a friend. Alone in the apartment, the friend suddenly had a knock on the door. The woman at the door tried to explain to her that she wanted something in the room my mother was staying in. The friend was confused, not speaking a word of Portuguese. She said to her wait here, I'll get my shoes, and we'll go find someone to translate. She left the woman alone in the living room for less than a minute. In that time, she got up off the couch, unplugged a charging cell phone, stashed it, and returned to her seat. The friend noticed nothing until much later. Afterwards my mom found a necklace in her room that must have been what she was after. I suspect that this woman was either a prostitute outright, or one of a class of quasi-prostitutes that exist here, women that sleep with men not for payment, but to live well for a while and maybe get some presents along the way. I also believe she may have forgotten the necklace on purpose so she'd have an excuse to come back, maybe for that very cell phone.

I tell this story partly because it's a good story, but also because it shows that the thieves here are good. They are fast, and they are smart. Whoever stole the phone, and we aren't certain it was the legs-crossed guy, may have lifted it right in front of her. He was also smart enough to turn it off immediately. That way, it didn't ring when the alarm was raised and the phone was called. It also prevented the phone from getting bricked when the chip was deactivated.

When Evani discovered the phone was missing and the alarm was raised, the party was over. The house was turned upside down, the missing phone was called, I was called, purses and bags were searched. The legs-crossed guy suddenly wanted to leave. He was not searched, but if he had the phone most likely it was in his sock or his underwear and as Evani pointed out, only the cops search those places (actually, I was once so thoroughly searched entering a show here in Brazil that the guy ran his hand right up between my legs and knocked me in the balls with some force. Whoa! No weapons in there compadre).

So now people are going to be talked to, the woman who brought the legs-crossed guy will be confronted, people will get offended, and we'll still never see the phone again.

To add proverbial insult to injury, I received an email today about how to get a unique code out of your cell phone that apparently can get it bricked even if it is stolen and a new chip installed in it. Not as good as getting the phone back, but large in vengeance points.


AkuTyger said...

Get used to it. I've gone through two so far in 4 years here. One stolen from my at knife point on the corner of my street. Another "disappeared" from my house while we were on the island and the doormen were coming in to feed the cats for 3 days. I don't think it was one of the doormen who took it, but everyone knows my keys and they were just sitting there in the portaria for 3 days, so who knows who came in. It's not like they man the station 24 hours a day.

You should post that email about how to get the code - could come in handy for someone.

markuza said...

Get used to it?? I don't want to jinx myself, but I've been here six years and...

No but seriously my phone is a piece of crap, on purpose- it's the chip that I'd hate to lose.

Actually there was one really close call and I almost lost my laptop at the same time, but that's another story.