Dear readers, I posted this yesterday (Wednesday), and when I came back today, I found that the last part of the story was missing. Not quite sure how that happened, but it is fixed now. If you have been dying of suspense–waiting to find out what happens, wait no more.
Two-and-a-half weeks ago I was in the middle of conducting an awesome group from the US through a week-long missions trip here in the Cariri Valley.  We were running full tilt, seeing the sights, and preparing for a weekend ministry to English students.  On Thursday of that week I took two of the guys from the team downtown to get some supplies.

We spent a pleasant afternoon shopping for the various items we needed, and then made our way in a leisurely fashion back toward where my truck was parked.

Or where it had been parked.  As we turned the corner of the block, my truck was “conspicuous by its absence”.  My heart sank to the bottom of my stomach as I remembered all the tales other missionaries had told me of stolen vehicles.  Doing everything possible to maintain calm in front of my guests–who by now had noticed the empty parking space–I turned to them and cocked my head to one side.

“Well that’s interesting.”  I said.  As they were concurring with my observation, my mind raced ahead to see what my options were.  Just then, I noticed two officers of DEMUTRAN–the department of municipal transit–standing on the corning.

I casually sauntered up to them and asked, “You didn’t happen to see a gray Hilux parked here a little while ago, did you?”

“Oh yes” they replied.  “We had it towed.”

The conflicting emotions that flooded over me are hard to describe.  First, I wanted to hug them, because that meant my vehicle had not been stolen.  Then, I felt like grabbing the nearest one by the collar, lifting him up, and hollering “What do you mean you had it towed!!!!”

Instead, I raised my eyebrow.

“Oh really.” I said, trying to effect an air of mild interest.  “Any particular reason for that?”

“That’s a no parking zone.” was the reply.

“That’s interesting.  There is no sign there stating that it is a no parking zone.” I observed.  At that point the other official stepped in.

“We towed your car because it was parked too close to the corner.” 

“Ah, I see.”  I replied.  I was beginning to enjoy this.  “And where is the yellow line that is supposed to indicate how close to the corner I can park.”

Uncomfortable pause. 

Then the second DEMUTRAN cop offered lamely, “Well, you can definitely mention that in your defense when you contest the ticket.”

I could see that this conversation–fun as it was–was fruitless.  I got from them the address where I would find my truck (three blocks away), and we set off on foot to get it. 

Arriving at the impound–an old building with a large, run-down court-yard that looked as if it might have at one time garrisoned Dom Pedro’s troops–I saw no sign of my truck.  I walked up to the first official-looking guy I saw and stuck out my hand. 

“Hello!”  I said, affecting all the congeniality I could muster.  “I believe you have something of mine, and I would sure like to have it back.”

He looked at me and gave me a wan, dentally challenged smile.

“That’s going to be hard.” he informed me.  “Your Hilux is not supposed to be released until tomorrow.”

Vaguely confused as to how he knew I was the owner of the Hilux, I was much more concerned with the prospect of spending the evening without a car. 

It was then that I had an epiphany of sorts.  I had just finished reading the book Cross Cultural Conflict by Duane Elmer–and I remembered examples he had given of how missionaries to “two-thirds world” countries had resolved conflicts by appealing to the nationals’ sense of shame.  I decided it was worth a shot.

“Oh that’s not good.” I replied to the tooth-deficient official. “You see those Americans over there? They are part of a group of fourteen that are visiting this city, and it would be very embarrassing to tell them that the truck is caught up in red tape.
The official thought about this for a moment, and then–telling me to wait right there–turned around and entered the main building, shutting the door behind him. A few minutes later he re-appeared at a small window.
“Meet me around back,” he said.
Circling to the back of the building, I saw (oh the joy!) my truck. I also discovered why it was not hard for the official to tell I was the owner of the Hilux. It was the only vehicle in the lot.
After he had run a check to make sure that all my documents were in order (they were), and after he had charged me R$70 for the tow truck (to haul my truck three blocks!), I drove off in my truck–very thankful to be doing so, and very grateful for Duane Elmer and Cross Cultural Conflict.