Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sometimes, It Can Really Get a Bit Too Real ...

It’s easy to understand people thinking the story we tell of how and where our tarp products are made is embellished, or exaggerated. Great PR, yada, yada, yada, but hardly real, no matter what our name might suggest.
But nope. It’s all real, all right. And sometimes, like right now, even a bit too real.
Right around two weeks ago, our pending shipment of hats and several bag styles had begun its journey out of the remote little equatorial town where Real Deal Brazil products are handmade. Our stuff was crammed onto a little bus that typically leaves town about every two weeks to take local craftspeople and traders to a bustling Friday-night market in one of the big cities along Brazil’s booming coast. And when we have hat orders leaving the town, the bus carries those, too.
By about 5 a.m. on the day in question, the small bus, with its total of 10 passengers, had already traveled about 30 miles out of town, along terrible roads. And then things went all to hell.
Bandits. Real live ones. Four of them. With guns.
Their car, coming seemingly from out of nowhere, pulled up alongside the bus, the armed men yelling at the driver to stop. Instead, the young driver, an off-duty policeman, sped up in an attempt to outrun his pursuers. At least one of the bandits began firing at the bus, and after a couple shotgun blasts hit a side door, the driver pulled over.
The thieves beat the young man severely, in front of his mother, who was a passenger on the bus.
In a frantic note, Sharon A., who helps coordinate transport for us in Brazil, filled in some of the blanks for us on what happened next. Her English is pretty solid, but not perfect.
“The driver's mother was terrified because her son is a policeman who makes these trips on his day off,” Sharon writes, “and if the thieves discovered [that he was a policeman, they would likely have killed] the boy, it is common this happens.”
The gunmen next forced the wounded driver to maneuver the little bus to a nearby gravel road where they again pulled the bus over, this time into the woods. Another car, with another gunman, was waiting for them there.
“Then,” Sharon writes us, “they began to torture and steal everything of the people with threats of death if they did not give everything they had.”
The thieves yanked open a number of the Real Deal Brazil shipping boxes, stealing what hats and bags they could carry off in their cars, and leaving many of our products strewn in the sand. They also took passengers’ cell phones, wallets, purses, credit cards, personal documents and luggage, plus some other products being transported to the market for sale or barter. Sharon puts the total value of stolen items at 50,000 real (the Brazilian currency), or roughly $20,000.
Keep in mind that in this remote part of Brazil, most people are barely making a living. This was surely a devastating loss.
“After the raid, they arrested all people inside the van and took the key,” Sharon writes, meaning the gunmen locked everyone inside the van and then left them there. Fortunately, the driver’s mother had a spare key tucked in her clothes, and after the passengers had waited a few hours to make sure their assailants weren’t coming back, the frightened group ventured back out onto the road, seeking help. They didn’t ever find any.
“The police is on strike in their State,” Sharon writes, “and everything [there] is slow and difficult.”
Since day one of getting into this business, we’d heard how unsafe the roads in that part of the country can be, and that bandits were out there, and something like this could always happen, at any time. But in the more than five years we've been doing this, it never had. And after a while, we perhaps stopped thinking it ever would.
It’s a horrible reminder for us of the kinds of problems that can spring up out of nowhere in getting our products from Brazil to you, made better in this case only in that no one got irreparably hurt, at least not physically. It’s shaken us all up a bit, as you’d guess. And it leaves our current Brazilian transport setup in a very uncertain position at the moment.
So if you buy a Real Deal Brazil hat or bag in the next week or two and discover a little sand in it, consider it perhaps a kind of trophy, showing that your new RDB product has lived an even more exciting life than our products usually do.
Beyond that, we thank you for your patience if we're again temporarily out of stock on what you were hoping to buy.