On Stolen Phones, Police Stations and Trouble

Eeshta Bhatt headshot
Eeshta Bhatt
January 3, 2024
A picture central square in Sol, Madrid

I’m afraid this one is a bit of a damper. I had quite an eventful Thanksgiving week here in Madrid, and unfortunately, not the good kind. Everyone’s heard the warnings before coming to Spain, and then heard them a million times after arriving. But it’s hard to put things into perspective unless it happens to you. And even when you imagine and ponder the hypotheticals, statistically, disaster is more prone to strike your first few weeks: you’re getting used to a new city, navigating new classes, and transportation, and finding your footing. In the weeks and months that follow, everything starts to feel more comfortable; you start to ease up, and let your guard down. Frankly speaking, if you had asked me my perspective on Madrid, a mere fortnight ago, my answer would have been immediate: I was in love with the city, loved my routine, and was quite devastated to be leaving. I think that’s the thing that’s so easy to forget when remembering a city: it’s all smooth sailing and glorious when things are going well, but it is when things take a turn for the worse, that the flaws start becoming glaringly obvious, and the homesickness starts to kick in in full gear. 

After a late night preparing for an interview, and a weekend of deadlines, I made the rather questionable decision of heading out to F**cking Mondays (Shoko Madrid), with some friends from my residence hall, a club, as you guessed, only open on Mondays. Rumored to be one of the best parties in town, and widely circulated among the study abroad community, I somehow concluded that I must go, and this was the only foreseeable weekend. Was this a wise decision? Most definitely not, especially in retrospect, but to honestly account for my feelings, it didn’t seem like a big deal, a couple of hours to serve as a break after a stressful day. Warned of potential theft, I was somewhat anxious and brought along my trusty purse, determined not to open it throughout the night, lest someone might grab it. A couple of hours in, as the crowd started to pick up, I felt myself caught in a whirlwind, as people surged alongside me on all sides, Struggling to find my footing amid the commotion, while attempting not to stray too far from my companions, when I regained my balance, I had a sinking feeling. You know that moment of cold that washes over you, a sense of foreboding unlike any other, and sure to be, my bag felt lighter, while my wallet was thankfully tucked in the inner pocket, and my phone was gone. 

We attempted to search the club, a flashlight shined at the floors, and contact my friend to track my phone’s location to no avail. At 4 am, I was persuaded to return. What followed was quite perhaps the longest night of my life; tracking my phone’s location on my Macbook, I watched it roam the streets of Gran Via, down alleyways and inner streets, sitting on my bed, feeling desperately alone, as the rest of the city slumbered on around me. I was desperate for any source of comfort, and while I’d all but given up on any of the friends I’d made in Spain, I knew I could always rely on my childhood friends. There are some people you can always count on, that simply know you best. And sure enough, she answered immediately. But nevertheless, I’ve always prided myself on being a woman of action, on recovering, and finally, as the sun slowly crept up the horizon, I made my way downstairs with a brief outline of a plan. Report to the police station (I had the phone’s location).

I do think there’s a deeper connection that runs underneath these dealings. After all, if your establishment is recording almost five stolen phones in a single hour, and your staff can do scarcely more than rudely gesture and bark orders at your guests, there’s something amiss. I have never ever encountered employees ruder, and if I’d had the emotional withal, I might have done more, but all I could get out was a few more sobs. There’s nothing quite as isolating and scary as wandering around a city not your own, with a foreign tongue all around you, too few signs, and the sharp, biting breeze, and virtually zero forms of communication. You only realize just how impossible the world can be to navigate without a working internet and cellular connection, unless you’re forced to reckon with it. The few signs scattered around were extremely unhelpful; there’s barely any maps, and all I needed to know was how to get to the nearest police station. While the officer had pointed me to a metro line 1, and a strange-sounding subway stop, I couldn’t even begin to identify his rather intelligible scrawl of directions. Was it Valedecerros? Or Valdeceres? I think every city needs to have better wifi. With only my iPad for support (useless without working internet), you’d think it would be able to pull up a basic city map with identifiers, but of course, this apparently needs an internet, thank you Apple Maps; I scrambled off the metro at Gran Via, I needed to get to internet to load directions to reach the police. If there’s ever a street with the highest number of shops and cafes providing internet to starved shoppers and tourists, it’s Gran Via; hastening to a Starbucks, I finally managed to get in touch with my mother via Instagram. We agreed the best thing would be for me to secure another device. Though at this point, I still harbored an insane hope that I somehow would manage to get my phone back. Not so much for the physical device, but the remnants and recollections of what I considered to be the three most instrumental years of my life- moving countries, going to college, and growing up. 

Honestly, if there’s one thing my study abroad experiences have taught me is a reckoning with a shocking self-reliance, I never knew I possessed. I’d never really seen the inside of a police station in Bombay, or in Durham for that matter, and little did I think that I would end up in one in Madrid, of all places. Thankfully, I’d purchased an older, reliable iPhone SE, freshly loaded with a data plan, so I no longer felt stranded. After a brief filing, I ended up spending what is the most absurd hour of my life, in a strange waiting room, which was fairly packed for a Tuesday evening. The sole sounds turned out to be a flat screen turned on to the Madrid police TikTok channel (which I am not sure I knew existed; sometimes social media spawns trends that really shouldn’t exist, namely bizarre clips of police routines to "Flowers" by Miley Cyrus and "Old Town Road". Nevertheless, I did eventually file my report (thank you, Google Translate), but it did feel oddly like giving a statement on "CSI" or "Law & Order". This was eventually to no avail, as I was quite bluntly but sympathetically told, that there was no way having my phone’s location would let them obtain search warrants for the building it was housed in, and hence, I would not be able to have it back. To be honest, I should have seen it coming, the moment I saw them circle the mild offense column on the incident report, but oh well.  Did this stop me from field-tripping to quite possibly one of the sketchiest neighborhoods on the outskirts of Madrid with my best friend (I was ever so fortunate to have her with me; sometimes all you ever need is someone who will always listen to you whine, complain and fret) the next day? It did turn out to be a little farewell to my old life, when I finally gave up on the idea of ever getting it back. I do tend to have a flair for the dramatics, if you haven’t noticed. 

I would be lying if I said, my ordeal didn't significantly put a damper on my study abroad experience. Just a week prior, I could raise no complaints, and was quite regretful to be leaving. 

But I guess it was bound to happen, and I might not have been so anguished had it not felt like three years of my life had been completely wiped from existence. Nevertheless, shared experiences form the bedrock of every study abroad experience; after all, misery AND joy love company. And being one of about ten people? I think I knew that having their phones stolen made it all feel much better. Also, my roommate and a close friend did get me wine mochi, and lot of sympathy.

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Eeshta Bhatt headshot

Eeshta Bhatt

My name is Eeshta Bhatt and I'm originally from Mumbai, India. An avid reader, writer, and dancer; you are most likely to find me sipping coffee with a fantasy fiction novel, watching a murder mystery or charting out new runnining trails.

2023 Fall
Home University:
Duke University
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