Aug 032010

That gypsy over there! She took your phone while you were getting off the tram!” said a woman next to me as I reached into my pocket and looked up with an expression of panic.

I’d been in Sarajevo for less than twenty minutes. It was pouring outside, I was covered in luggage, and suddenly I had no idea where I was supposed to go. My hostel’s address was written on my smartphone, now in the pocket of a Bosnian gypsy.

I dashed back across the street to the tram stop, not even bothering to keep my umbrella overhead. There was a small crowd of people huddled under the glass roofing, trying to keep dry from the rain. Standing before them, I shouted out to nobody in particular: “Did anyone see who took my phone?”

Several bystanders pointed to a woman and two boys walking away in the distance. I recognized them immediately. One of the boys had been sitting next to me on the tram, and another was sitting next to my Canadian travel companion who I’d met just a few hours earlier in Mostar. The woman stood a few feet behind; I noticed her because she’d been rudely smoking a cigarette in the sealed passenger compartment. That is, until she threw it on the floor and walked away, not caring whether or not the still smoldering embers would melt into the plastic flooring.

I can only imagine how insane I must’ve looked when they spun around to see 30kg of luggage barreling down on them at a full sprint, screaming “HEY YOU! STOP WALKING RIGHT NOW!

I was soaked to the bone. My shirt had gotten so wet that I’d already stripped down to my thin white tanktop, and as my Canadian friend later pointed out, my arms looked freakishly veiny – because of the double straps of my two backpacks cutting off the circulation. In my eyes flamed an expression of pure rage.

As soon as they saw me they froze in their tracks. I charged directly at the woman and stopped about 2 inches in front of her face. Our eyes locked, and I very calmly said to her, “You’d better give back my fucking cellphone…or we’re gonna have a problem.

Neither her nor her boys seemed to understand a word of English, yet they clearly knew why I was there. The kids looked terrified, but their lovely role model of a mother kept her cool. She played dumb. I mimed a telephone to her, and she responded by showing me her own – as if to say “Here’s my phone! This is the only one I have.”

“No, my phone. You know exactly why I’m here, and I want it back, now.” Again I mimed, pointing at me, my pocket, a pickpocket motion, then at her and her purse.

She opened her purse to show me its contents. I immediately grabbed it and started sifting through. Inside were at least five different passports. “What the fuck is this?” I said.

“No phone. Documents. Documents.”

She’d clearly had a busy day ripping off travelers…But still, no smartphone.

I continued to search in her pockets and the pockets of her two boys – none of them offered even a hint of resistance. Yet I turned up nothing. Eventually she threw up her arms in exasperation before turning and starting to walk away. It was her way of saying “I’m done with you – you’re not getting anything back.”

I followed. I was desperate. “Help me, I don’t know what to do – I cannot lose that phone, and I know they have it” I said to the Canadian who’d now come across the street to join us. I decided that all I could do was follow them, for as long as it took. Hopefully we’d happen by a police officer who I could summon to do a more thorough search of his own.

“…Look at that boy’s back pocket…” said the Canadian.

A small square object roughly the size of a pack of cigarettes. Or a $500 smartphone. Somehow I’d missed it; perhaps while I was searching they’d managed to shuffle it back and forth between them. I thrust my hand into his pocket, and sure enough, there it was.

None of them looked even remotely surprised.

I was absolutely fuming.

WHAT PHONE? WHAT PHONE, YOU LITTLE PIECE OF SHIT?? YOU KNEW EXACTLY WHAT I WAS AFTER!” I yelled, my nose one centimeter from his. I was so close to smashing his teeth in I can’t even tell you, but I ended it by placing my middle finger right between his eyes, spinning him around by the shoulders, shoving him away from me, turning, and walking back towards the tram stop.

It was the first time I’d ever been pickpocketed, and I truly don’t know how they did it. I had a huge backpack on my back, normal backpack on my front, and there was virtually no access to my pockets. I didn’t feel a thing. Not even the slightest brush.

You’ve got to hand it to them, that gypsy trash sure is good at what they do.

As I took a deep breath and walked away, I realized that a whole crowd of people had been waiting to see what would happen. The woman who first pointed out the gypsies was standing in the exact same spot as when I turned and sprinted away from her. “You are so lucky” she told me. “Nobody gets anything back from the gypsys. Nobody.”

I really was lucky. I’d hate to think what could’ve happened had I caught up with them down some dark alley, where I didn’t have the safety offered by twenty pairs of curious eyes.

With the address in-hand, the Canadian and I made our way to the hostel just three blocks away.

It wasn’t until the following morning that I opened my guidebook and realized that the whole encounter had taken place less than ten feet from the very spot on which Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914, ultimately leading to the start of World War 1.

Would you’ve gone to war for me if those Gypsies had taken it a step farther? 😉

  21 Responses to “Gypsy Scum”

  1. You reminded me of John getting camera pickpocket in Xian

  2. bubbi would have

  3. your gypsy didn’t happen to look like this, did she?

  4. @Olga: And did he get it back?

    @Christiaanity: Haha not by a LONG shot! 😉

  5. Nope, totally gone. Our hotel forced us to report it to the local police (which is another story) so we got police report in Chinese to make claim with American Express. The best part we got our $ back to buy a new camera. The worst part I broke the camera a week later.

  6. Shit, that sucks…sounds like me when I travel, I break cameras like no other! that’s why I started buying ultradurables, haha 😛

  7. holy crap dude…..INTENSE.

  8. By the way, I want to hear your stories about Ukraine. What did you think?

  9. GREAT story…..glad you managed to sort things out in the end….I would have probably been more violent tho

  10. @Jeff: It was…

    @Olga: Well, pluses and minuses. Kiev was one of my favorite stops on the entire trip, and lots of the people we met were insanely awesome. However, the corruptness of the police became REALLY tedious…we got shaken down for bribes no less than eight times, and by the time we left the country were literally afraid to speak English within earshot of a “law enforcer.” Like, as soon as they realize you’re a foreigner they try to find any excuse they can to extract money from you.

  11. Ouch. Sorry to hear that. Yeah I can totally see that. They were trying to rip me off when they saw John (since he really does stand out as American – wearing shorts and flip flops). I would ask for a price and as soon as John opened his mouth all of the sudden the price would triple.

    We were shopping at the lingerie store. While John was looking at something, one of the girls who worked there asked him if he wanted one of the girls at the store to model it for him. I heard it across the store and was all “ohhh no it’s ok”. Then we left the store, I told John what she said he was all bummed that I robbed him of that experience. Come to think of it we should have asked for the demo.

    Next time you should check out Crimea. It’s like Greece but 10 times cheaper… but corrupt.

  12. Ironically enough, a similar encounter happened to me on Friday. I don’t wanna sound full of prejudice, but we do have a lot of trouble with them here in Norway too. Just open the newspaper and you’ll see.

    Anyway, I was fully loaded with luggage and on the tram downtown to catch a bus to south Norway. As I was getting close to my station, the tram slowed down a little too abrubtly and a dodgy looking character with brown-reddish skin and full of scars clumsily “fell” into me from behind.

    I’m usually super-ultra-aware of pickpockets, so I spun around. The character rolled his eyes, gobbled something, held his arms up in an apology, and gestured that the tram had breaked to hard. But to me, that was as transparent as a glass of water. As soon as I got off the crowded tram, I put my bags down and checked them quickly. Sure enough, the outer pocket on my daypack, where I keep all my valuables, was wiiiide open! My heart pounded. House keys? Check! Camera? Check! Wallet? WALLET?! Ah, puh, buried under the ziplock bag of origami paper. Check! In retrospect I can only hope to guess that my Chuck Norris reaction saved me from getting robbed. He probably needed to close the gap between us to not attract attention while he did his thing, and the breaking of the tram was the excuse he needed. Luckily my head was screwed on at the correct time. The dodgy character then got off at the same stop as I did, but the five seconds I looked down to check my bags was all he needed to become air. I have honestly no idea how he managed to disappear right in front of my eyes. Luckily my wallet wasn’t with a new owner…

  13. @Andy: Well…u have to be careful in other parts of the world. Shove a local too hard and right or wrong, you could be in for some hefty bribe fees, should they choose to make a big fuss out of it and bring in the local…*ahem*…”law”…

    @Peder: That’s BS…and pretty damn lucky too.

  14. @Olga:

    Still, “since he stands out as American” should definitely not be a reason to try to rip people off 😛 I’ve been to loads and loads of 3rd world countries (as has Peder) but neither of us have ever experienced anything remotely like that. It’s just such a shame because other than that one thing, it really was an incredibly awesome/fun/interesting country. But the corrupt police just so ruin it for tourists – to the point that you have to be afraid of the people who are supposed to be protecting you.

    Re: Crimea – I’m DYING to go to Kazantip! 😉

  15. Yup, totally agree. And they wonder why they don’t get any tourists.

  16. I’ll be back, though. I WILL go to Kazantip one day…and I definitely felt like I needed more time to get to know Kiev. Seriously loved that city 🙂

  17. It would have been great to keep the passports. Dropped them off at the police. If they belonged to someone else, they might have gotten it back. If it belonged to the gypsies – you could report the crime.

  18. Not sure how willing they would’ve been to give up all their day’s exploits, though…

  19. I probably wouldn’t have been violent enough either. You should have been vulgar and just whip it out. That might have scared them?

  20. LOL – such a Herb answer 😉

    Whoa, weird…your comment has an American flag by it now. ăȘă‚“ă‹ă€é•ć’Œæ„Ÿ 😛

  21. You are brave and lucky!:)

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