All last week I was in Málaga and Marbella on the Spanish Costa del Sol. It was not a holiday. I had gone there to try and help with some difficult family issues and problems. My wife was already there. She had been staying with our daughter - who lives in Marbella - for a few weeks. My wife met me at Málaga airport, and we spent the night in a hotel in the old part of town.
The next morning my wife left her handbag in the breakfast room of the hotel. It contained a credit card, a pair of sunglasses, 70 euros, a mobile phone - and both our passports. Two minutes later she realised what she had done and went back to retrieve it. It had gone. The waitress said two guests had witnessed a well-dressed South American-looking gentleman enter the breakfast room, order an orange juice and a coffee, take the bag, then vanish. We were assured the police were on their way. In the meantime we had to report the theft to the local police station - as we would need an official police report in order to obtain emergency passports for our return home.
But gradually we realised the story just did not add up. We could not trace the supposed witnesses to the robbery. They had mysteriously disappeared into thin air. Then the story was changed to two thieves perpetrating the crime, not one. We were unable to track down the hotel manager for two whole days - and only managed to arrange a meeting with her after extreme persistence, as the hotel staff blocked us all the way. We have no evidence the police ever showed up, though the manager tried to persuade us that they did. We were never asked to be interviewed by them, and CCTV footage (there was a video camera in the foyer) was never examined. In short, we are more or less certain it was a cover-up job. We believe the waitress took the bag (my wife noticed the table had been cleared by her very quickly), but of course it cannot be proved, and the hotel just wanted to brush everything under the carpet. Petty thieving in hotels is rife. Hotel staff are very badly paid, and the temptations can be great for unscrupulous, temporary staff who flit from one service industry post to another.
All this pretty much run-of-the-mill stuff, you might think. My wife was careless. Tourists are often targeted. Indeed I was once mugged myself in Rome by a couple of expert Eastern European girls. Their scam was so good and well-practised that, when I tried to fend them off, they appealed to passing male tourists for protection! Though on that occasion they failed to get away with my wallet, I'm glad to say.
However, the interesting dénouement to such an all-too-common story is this. Applying for emergency passports in the British Consulate in Málaga, we met a lovely Moroccan family, who had endured a far worse ordeal. Driving through Catalonia on their way through Spain to Algeciras (the ferry port to Tangier), they had been the victims of an attempted carjacking. A gang had shot out their exhaust from behind. They were forced to stop, and the gang tried to get everyone out the car. When the elderly, disabled grandmother locked her door, they cut their losses and made off with some luggage - which contained all their passports. The 16 year old daughter of the family was so incensed she chased the thieves to their own car - risking her very life. She saw guns on the dashboard and had to back away. My wife was most tender and sympathetic as she comforted the grandmother - who cried as she recounted her harrowing story.
But what I take away from the whole affair is this. This wonderful Moroccan family was so calm and philosophical and gracious about its horrendous experience. They were so unbelievably warm, emotional and communicative, so natural and easy as they talked about the significance of Allah in their lives. They impressed me more than I can say. I will never forget them. They are an example to us all. It made our own trivial robbery seem just a minor inconvenience, and put everything into perspective for us.