It was a hot Friday evening in Curacao. I remember looking down at my hands. I moved every finger individually, felt every muscle and bone surge with life. My breath radiated through me, sparking every limb toward action. Every thought that passed through my mind washed over me like a wave, enveloping me; pulsing through my mind. I was electrified by the realization that I was alive.
A Relaxing Evening at the Beach
Hours earlier I’d been sitting on Kenepa Beach in Curacao. It’s cliche, but the scene was straight off of a postcard: clear, blue water lapping at a white-sand beach fringed by grey cliffs. The sky was tinged deep pink from the dying sun. Taylor and I stood facing the water; watching the sky darken after the sun’s departure. Lilah was strapped to the front of me, lulled to sleep by the sound of the crashing waves. The beach had emptied out 15 minutes prior to sunset and we’d been left to enjoy the incredible scenery on our own. Our belongings were sprawled out behind us: a couple of bags, Lilah’s carseat, a beach towel and a few other items.
We’d just been talking quietly about how well our vacation had gone so far. Lilah was a happy little traveler, and we’d already enjoyed quite a few interesting sights and places on our trip despite arriving just two days earlier. Turning away from the water back toward the beach, I was startled to see movement on the isolated coastline. It took a moment for my brain to process that two men were running toward us wielding bright, large guns.
Instinctively, we stepped back and raised our hands toward our heads. Our eyes were locked on the assailants: two tall, skinny, dark men in black masks. One man knelt off to the side while the other approached us. I fixed my gaze on the man who walked toward us and tried with all of my might to exude confidence–regardless of what was about to happen to us, I didn’t want to give this creep the satisfaction of knowing he’d scared me.
“Back up”, the man demanded. We obeyed and he proceeded to sift through our belongings. Taylor said something along the lines of “take whatever you want.” I said “please, I have a baby.” I hoped my tone conveyed a mix of just enough humility to not get ourselves shot along with a hint of if-you-approach-my-baby-I-will-rip-you-apart-limb-by-limb-and-gouge-your-eyes-out. Beyond those short sentences, no words were exchanged. The silence hung heavy in the air as the men snatched Lilah’s diaper bag and began pawing through Taylor’s backpack. He found the keys to our rental car and summoned his friend toward him. Our belongings in hand, the men ran toward the car while keeping their guns trained on us.
A Surreal Experience
Although it was over within 30 seconds, it felt like a lifetime. We sprung into action after the men sped off in our rental car. Gathering what remained of our things with shaky hands, Taylor reminded me of the possibility that the men would come back if they thought they had something more to gain from us. We began walking briskly up the dirt path toward the main road. The adrenalin rush left me repeating my fears out loud over and over again: they took our rental car, we could have been killed, my poor baby, etc. We walked for nearly 15 minutes. The distant sounds of cars made us jumpy; I was hyper-alert of our surroundings. Presently we approached a building and saw headlights cresting a cliff. As the driver passed us we shouted for help. He slowed, but appeared to hesitate. As we rushed toward him the story flowed from us. Despite a language barrier, the local man understood our plight and ushered us into his car. We drove for over 20 minutes until we reached a police station.
Getting Help from Curacao Law Enforcement
Under harsh fluorescent lights we recounted our ordeal to the local policeman. We told him about how the thieves took Lilah’s diaper bag with all of her clothing, diapers and other belongings, Taylor’s backpack with his wallet, passport, headphones, phone charger and lastly, our rental car. He listened and commented on the fact that this type of robbery is very rare in Curacao: petty theft and the occasional stolen rental car weren’t unheard of, but being held at gunpoint was a rarity. The officer made a few calls and left us to sit in silence while he coordinated a ride for us back to our AirBnB.
On the ride back to our AirBnB, the gravity of what we’d just endured hit me. Given the remoteness and the opportunistic nature of the perpetrators, I felt extremely grateful that Lilah hadn’t been harmed and that I hadn’t been a victim of physical or sexual assault. I was beyond happy that none of us had been hurt. The fear and panic I felt was totally eclipsed by gratitude: we had survived our terrifying incident in Curacao.
In one of my favorite books, The Kite Runner, the main character is taught by his father that every sin is some variation of theft. In essence, he believes that theft is the root of all evil-doing. This thought resonated with me after our ordeal. Losing our physical possessions in Curacao was frustrating, but losing our peace of mind was far worse. From this experience I learned a few important lessons: always keep your wits about you, hug the ones you love and embrace every moment!