Monday, March 9, 2015

The Truth About Karl

Want to know the truth about Karl Ostrand? He is a kind husband and tender-hearted father - but there is another side to Karl. 

The side of Karl most of you know...even if you’ve only met him once, is that he's cool.

“Cool” is such an over-used, over-rated word these days– but it really applies here. Karl is the kind of cool that you just want to be around.  He is comfortable in his own skin…which translates to someone who does not have control-issues or gotta-prove-it-to-you issue or over-compensating issues.

He is kind and will do anything for you.  Need to be picked up at the airport at mid-night? No problem!  Need to confess your deepest, darkest secret? No judgment!  Need to feel valued? He’s on it!

He often says…”I’m just a big teddy bear.” And this is true.

But the other thing that is very, very true about Karl – is that you should not mess with him…especially if you are a “bad guy” – as Jensen says (if you are a shady criminal reading this right now…please take note…you should probably run and hide now – Karl is most certainly watching you).

Two stories have made Karl a bit of a super-hero in this house (names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty).

The Tale of the Stolen Bike and African Mafia

Last year I was standing outside our home….saying goodbye to a friend one morning when I noticed someone blazing past me on a bicycle.  The bike was teetering side to side at record speeds, seemingly controlled by an inexperienced rider.

About a minute later our neighbor’s housekeeper Fannie runs out of the house yelling hysterically, “Julie…they stole Mike’s bikes!  They stole Mike’s bikes!”

So now I am yelling from our street at the top of my lungs, “Karl!! Karl!!! Someone took Mike’s bikes. Karl come QUICK! Come NOW!” (picture me hysterical with arms flailing).

Apparently she was cleaning the living room while the thieves slipped inside the house and stole two bikes being stored in their guest bedroom.

Spurred into action…Karl rushes out, jumps in our car and heads in the direction of the thief.

He doesn’t see the bikes but on a hunch heads into Masi (a near-by township).  In South Africa, most white people have never set foot in a township and would not dream of going there alone in search of a criminal.

Keep in mind…  “South Africa is now the most violent country outside a war zone. The country,” writes Scott Baldauf of the Christian Science Monitor, has “the highest recorded per capita murder rate in the world”

But this is Karl.

Driving around Masi he notices two bike riders that keep turning around looking at him suspiciously.  I’m sure they are wondering, “Who is this crazy white guy?”  As he continues to follow them, they speed up and turn into a small alley way – losing him in the swampy wet-lands of tightly packed housing.

With no way to follow them further…Karl returns home.  Mike arrives home about an hour later and a plan is hatched to return to Masi in search of the bikes again, accompanied by Sifiso, who lives in Masi and is well-connected there.

Fannie offers to go with them, as she knows what the thieves look like.

With little hope of finding them amongst the 30,000 – 40,000 people who live in Masi, Karl decides to show the other passengers where he originally spotted the thieves. As they near the area, Mike glances over and notices HIS TWO STOLEN BIKES (with the aforementioned riders) next to their car.  What are the chances??

Mike jumps out of the car and starts chasing one on foot. The other bike driver heads in the opposite direction and Karl and Fannie follow them in the car. 

Fannie is screaming at the hordes of people in the streets to move out of the way as she is yelling “Right!! Right!” but pointing left and “Left! Left!” but frantically pointing to the right (Karl decides to go with the hand gestures…which proves to be the more reliable method).

A high-speed “Fast and the Furious” chase ensues, with Karl staying right on his tail.  Much to Karl’s shock, at some random point the driver gives up…hopping off the bike and running away.

As Karl gets out to load up the bike into the car, a crowd of 40-50 locals gather around.  It can be a bit scary to feel a crowd closing in on you!  Quickly Fannie explains in Xhosa that the bikes were stolen and the group becomes angry at the fleeing thief.

Afterwards Karl reflected, “I am not sure what I was thinking – what was I going to do if I caught up to him?? Fight him for the bike? Invite him to one of our Bible studies? Calmly explain in English that we would please like it back?”

Meanwhile, Mike is chasing the other biker on foot when someone stops him and says, “Wait…wait. I’ll help you. What’s going on?”  Soon Mike realizes this guy is in cahoots with the thief, and this small delay causes him to lose the shady character completely.

At this point Karl catches up to a dejected Mike and both swap stories. Sifiso suggests that they return home and that he will follow-up with the thief, who he recognized as a local trouble-maker.

In the end Sifiso tracks down the thief and explains that he expects him to return the bikes without a hassle or he will get the police involved.

 When the bike is not returned the next day, Sifiso goes to the Masi Elders (the Bamanadi – kind of like the mafia), and, for a small fee, they will have the bike returned.  The fee is paid and the bike is returned shortly thereafter in perfect condition. African justice….ahhh.

The best part about the story is that months later Karl was patrolling our neighborhood with the head of our neighborhood watch.  The man starts to tell him a story about how some crazy white guy was insane enough to follow some criminals into Masi and actually got the merchandise returned.

So Karl’s a legend ‘round these parts.

Dreadlocks, Tattoos and Indian Tracking Methods

The second story happened a few weeks ago.  Three of “my girls from Ocean View” came to see baby Colton.  When they arrived at our house Rebecca was very upset.

They had taken a taxi to my house, and she had left her smart phone on the seat of the taxi.  Now the taxies here are more like a cargo van that seat 15-20 people.  

If you leave something of any value in a taxi…there is pretty much a 0% chance of retrieval. In fact, you NEVER leave anything lying around anywhere here.

Of course they tried to call the missing phone, but no one answered.

They asked Karl to take them to the next scheduled stop on the taxi route – which is the main taxi hub in Fish Hoek, a nearby small town.  They say they know the taxi driver and wanted to ask him if, by some miracle, the phone was returned.

The three girls, along with Karl, go the taxi stand and incredibly find the taxi driver.  He says he thinks he knows who took it – a large man with tattoos and dreadlocks – who was sitting by Rebecca in the taxi.  The driver tells Karl, “I don’t know where he is now…but he works at a tattoo parlor in Simons Town” (another near-by sea side small town).

The four of them pile back in the car and head to the tattoo parlor.  Once there, the owner explains that the suspected man used to work there, but was fired for stealing. He offers to give Karl the man’s phone number.

Karl takes it and gives him a call.

At this point in the story – I have to stop and ask myself – if I were to call up someone who I only strongly suspected of stealing something, with no proof and no relationship with them – what could I possibly say to get the stolen items returned?

The man answers and Karl, in a stroke of pure genius says, “Hey man (calling him by his name) I just want to thank you for picking up my friend’s phone.  That was so nice of you!  We have tracked the phone and know you’re near-by.  Could you just tell me exactly where you are, and we will come pick it up?”

Now there is no GPS tracking on this phone…but let’s just say Karl is using the term loosely here – in the “Native American Sacagawea tracking sense.

After a long pause, the man says hesitantly “I’m at the Glen Karin train station.”

Karl says, “Great…we will be there in a minute.”

What??  This is crazy!?  I am sure the man is wondering how in the world this stranger with an American accent was able to call him on his own phone, using his name and referencing the stolen phone.

Karl pulls up to the train station to find a very large African with many tattoos and dreadlocks waiting for him.

Karl approaches him and says in a friendly tone…”Hey man…Thanks for keeping my friend’s phone for me.”

The man is hesitant and replies, “Where is she? I want to make sure it’s her.”

The girls are hanging back…a little afraid.  Karl points to her and he walks over and says, “Where were you sitting in the taxi?”

She confirms her place and he says, “And who were you with?”

At this point Karl realizes he’s stalling and says, “Hey man…do the right thing.”

He pauses and reluctantly gives the phone back.

What?!? This is unheard of here in South Africa.  I’m sure this man is still wondering how in the world Karl tracked him down, called him up, and talked him out of his life of crime for a day.
So there you go…that’s my man.            

So if your bike gets stolen, phone is misplaced or you need someone to have your back,  Karl is your guy.  Everyone needs a little super-hero to show up once in a while.

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