Friday afternoon at 4pm I (Jimmy) was supposed to meet with the entire town that has been stealing wood from the Institute's property. They have been becoming more and more abusive and this week started showing up with pickup trucks and guns so that they could haul more wood and the guard would not approach. By the time the police would finally arrive, the wood had been hidden. Through all of this, you would think they would have been ashamed or felt guilty, but instead they turned angry at us for trying to stop them. So the mayor came to ask me to a meeting so that the town could tell me why they were going to keep stealing my wood.
Naturally, I wanted the authorities to be there with me. I have been on good terms with the police department through all of this, so I knew they would go with me, but because of the new administrations in the various levels of government that will be taking office over the next couple of days, that was the only support I got. Elías and I went together, followed by a police truck with 8 officers inside. As we were loading up at the station for them to follow me, the officer in charge asked me again what village we were going to. I told her and she told everybody to go back inside and get the machine guns, just in case. That's not something you want to hear.
We arrived early and the mayor got on the loud speaker to tell everybody to hurry up and get to the school. The police officers pulled me aside again and told me that I needed to be very careful about what I said because these people were very hard-headed and very unified. They told me that things could quickly get out of hand and they may not be able to stop it. I told them that I knew things might get out of hand and that's why I had invited them in the first place. She assured me that they were there to back me up, but as we were having this conversation they were turning their truck around so that it pointed to the exit...
While this is going on the mayor is announcing on the loud speaker that "the gringo is here and he must be more important than the president to have all of these body guards and ha ha ha does he think we're going to kill somebody ha ha ha everybody hurry up and get here..." He was intentionally inciting the people against me for about 15 minutes.
Therefore when everybody was there and gathered on the basketball court (in the sun they said where I would have to sweat like them instead of hiding in the shadows where the mayor knew I wanted to be), instead of letting them start the conversation, I started right in telling everybody how thankful I was that they had come. I apologized for taking so long to call this meeting and that I felt because of my delay there had been a lot of confusion and misinterpretation. I then told them that what they had been used to had changed concerning the property, that I was now the legal owner and had full rights to the property, but that I would be the best neighbor they could have. I explained the purpose of the Institute and that it was not for personal gain. I explained the benefits to the community concerning our future improvements to their schools (so that our student's children would have a good place to study) and our collaboration with the water supply and the jobs the various construction projects would create.
Then I explained our need to save the wood on the property for our use, but that I understood their needs as well. Therefore in order to get along we would allow only the people from their village to cut firewood from our land, but only after they reported themselves to our guard so that he could verify they were from the village. If somebody was on the property without permission that would be trespassing and we would call the police. They can take firewood for personal use, but not haul off truckloads to sell. They also have to enter only through our approved entrance and not cut the fence in addition to only cutting firewood during the day.
It seemed they were all in agreement with this. The large trees will not be cut down anymore. If people from the village do try to steal wood, we will cut off the firewood supply from everybody, so in that way they are responsible for policing their own people. I explained our desire for everybody to get along and that if they would forgive me for not having called the meeting sooner then I would forgive them their actions over the last month and we could now all move forward with a better relationship.
After translation and dealing with a few interruptions it took about an hour, but I believe almost everybody was happy and in agreement. The ones not happy will have to answer to the rest of the community and our goal is to not get the police involved any more.
There was a large hoard of people (around 450) during all of this and Elías and I were surrounded on all sides with the police about 50 yards away. The benefit of speaking first kept them from getting all riled up. After all was said and done the mayor became my biggest supporter.
My original plan was to sit in the woods with night vision goggles and a paint ball gun... But as we were sitting there waiting on everybody to arrive and I was steaming thinking about all of these thieves and how blatantly abusive they have been over the past few weeks, Elías whispered to me, "Just think, some day all of these people will be part of the church we start here." It's good to surround yourself with people more spiritual than you so you can keep things in perspective.