This is a tale of two missing iPhones. And a dead dog. You’ve been warned.

Fletch and I are working at a dive shop based out of a secluded, little resort on Viti Levu in Fiji (that’s the main island). The resort is 4 kilometers (that’s 2.5 miles for you Americans) down a windy, hilly, dirt road from the main road. There is one main road that runs around the entirety of Viti Levu and busses that run constantly in either direction (I’ve estimated that it would probably take around eight hours to drive the entire loop). The bus system here is fantastic. Just stand on the main road and wave down the next bus going in your direction. From our road it is about two hours to Suva (the capital) going counter-clockwise, an hour to Sigatoka (the nearest city) going clockwise, and an hour beyond that to Nadi (where the airport is located). So even though the bus system is great, that also means that the nearest grocery store is an hour away. Grocery shopping requires planning and a good deal of coordination. 

Viti Levu, Fiji. Fletch and I work about where the scuba diver girl is on the south coast. (Image source: Google) 

A few weeks back, Fletch accidentally left his iPhone sitting at the bus stop. We knew that one of the other guys from the resort was headed that way soon, so we immediately called him on my phone and asked him to pick it up on his way. Then we opened the ‘Find iPhone’ app to make sure no one else beat him to it. The little dot on the map started moving in our direction a little too soon, and sure enough, it wasn’t our friend who had the phone.

Apple has done a brilliant job of making iPhones more and more difficult to steal. From my phone, we were able to set Fletch’s phone into ‘lost' mode, so that whoever picked it up couldn’t use it. Furthermore, we set a message to display, with my phone number to call. Hopefully an honest person had picked it up, and would return it. Apple has also made their phones impossible to hack into (much to the dismay of the US government), so whoever picked it up would soon find it completely useless.

The phone followed us, about thirty minutes behind, to Sigatoka. When we arrived, we hopped off the bus and stood at the taxi cab line, ready to hop in a cab and follow the phone wherever it went. It turned off a side road just before Sigatoka, and we jumped into the nearest cab and told him where to go. We tracked it all the way to a local school, where Fletch jumped out of the car and started remotely sounding his own phone’s alarm. Of course a white guy walking around a school alone (I was sitting in the cab) is bound to attract some suspicion. A moment later a retired cop came over to see what was happening. Fletch explained the situation and the cop helped with the search. They followed the signal back to the bus stop on the corner, where Fletch started asking the whole group of people waiting there if anyone had just come on the bus from the Suva direction. One little girl, eager to offer help, raised her hand sweetly and said ‘We did!’ Fletch walked their way and was met with a blank stare from the mom.

“Did you happen to find a phone at the bus stop?” Fletch asked very politely.

The woman gave him the same blank stare that had been on her face the entire time.

“You mean this one?!” said the little girl excitedly, and then reached into her mom’s bag and pulled out the phone.

“Thank you so much,” said Fletch.

The woman was still staring at him blankly.

And that’s how we joyously recovered the first iPhone. Thank you Apple for making a product that is nearly impossible to steal. Of course, had the lady turned the phone off, none of this would have worked. So thank you lady for keeping the phone on with the SIM card in (she wasn’t the brightest bulb on the planet).

Yes, I did say that’s how we recovered the first iPhone. Just a few short weeks later it was my turn.

There was nothing going on at the dive shop and so Fletch and I went with one of the guys from the resort on their weekly run to Sigatoka for supplies (too many guests were complaining about no vegetables). When we arrived in the small city center, Fletch went off in one direction to get a mixer fixed for the village, and I headed over to the grocery store to do some shopping. Sometime between standing at the checkout counter, and going to the second grocery store just a few blocks away, my own iPhone disappeared. When I returned to the first grocery store where the car had been parked, it was to find an empty parking spot. Naturally, I went for my phone, knowing that Fletch would have texted me where they had gone. Only my phone was nowhere to be found. Maybe I had left it with the first batch of groceries which Fletch had already loaded into the car. So there I was with no phone and not knowing where anyone was. Luckily, I had grabbed my iPad and brought it with me for the bus ride. Usually it sits in the room. I texted Fletch on Facebook messenger to ask if he had my phone. (Thank goodness for cheap data plans in this country and SIM cards in all of our devices - something that would not be possible in some of the places we have lived). 

This is a stock image of what I have, a pink iPhone 5c in a Lifeproof case. 

Fletch did not have my phone. Step two was to open the ‘Find iPhone’ app. I knew something was wrong when the phone appeared as offline. Someone had switched it off already. Crap.

I retraced my stops, going first into the Shop n Save where I knew I had been looking at it at the checkout counter. I asked the lady if I had left a phone sitting there. She had not seen it. I ran back to the second store, MH, and made the same inquiries, with the same results. No one had seen it. Someone led me upstairs to the security camera screens and found the spot on the video where I was paying at the checkout. I couldn’t distinguish on the blurry picture if the phone was on me or not. I thanked the security guy and left.

Back at Shop n Save, security footage was reviewed as well, and I exchanged numbers with the people there should they find anything.

The ‘Find iPhone’ app will let you mark any connected device as lost and display a message on the screen. I wrote: “This phone has been lost. Please call Fletch at 8xx 8xxx. $100 REWARD. Please return."

There was nothing to do but go about our errands, which we did. I ran into Vodafone, one of the main cell phone service providers in Fiji. I asked the guy working there to please be on the lookout for a pink iPhone in a white case. There are very few Apple products in Fiji, everything is Nokia. A pink iPhone would stand out. The guy had no idea what I was trying to ask him, despite speaking perfectly good English, and looked at me expectantly, thinking I was about to write something down on the iPad in my hand.

I tried again.

“Could YOU please write down MY info so that you can contact me if a pink iPhone shows up.”

At that he walked back to the counter and pulled out a slip of paper, upon which he wrote down his own phone number. I looked at him for a moment, wondering if I should tell him he was still misunderstanding me, before deciding to just thank him and walk away.

As I was walking out of the store, a message popped up on my iPad that my iPhone had been found. It was only a couple blocks away. I took off at a sprint and started following the signal, straight through the center of the little town, and onto a quiet side road. At that point I stopped dead in my tracks. What was I going to do if I found the guy? This could be someone over twice my size and there was no one else in sight on this road. If someone was willing to steal, who knew what else they were willing to do. In Fiji, the people are some of the nicest I have met in the world, but their culture has still caused me to become overly self-aware of the fact that I am just a little white girl. Best to wait til Fletch was with me. So I turned around and ran back to the place where the car was parked.

Of course once again, the car was not there. I had been texting Fletch that the phone was turned on and he had logged into my account on to his phone to track it as well. So he was driving with the guy from the resort to the location my phone was sending signal from.

I looked at the signal again. It was now just around the corner, having made a circle from the direction in which I had been chasing it, back on a busy street. I followed it and found myself standing in front of a butcher shop, eying everyone suspiciously. Then I heard Fletch’s voice, over on the next block. My signal was very broad, telling me that the phone was somewhere on this block. Fletch had been able to get a more precise location, down to a little corner store that offered Vodafone top-ups. We asked all the ladies at the store if they had seen a pink iPhone in a white case. No one knew what an iPhone was, but confirmed that someone had just been by with a white phone. After further questions, we realized they were talking about a common Nokia phone.

My phone was offline again and this was the last location it had given us. We’d reached a dead end.

There was a cop standing on the corner there who listened to the story, and then urged us to go file a report with the police. We thanked him and agreed to, before the guy from the resort got an idea that it might have been one of the delivery guys for the grocery store, and he knew where they worked.

We went to the delivery business, and just at that moment Fletch’s phone rang. A voice that was difficult to understand on the other line told us to go to the police station. Excited by the anonymous tip, we raced over to the police station, thinking that someone had turned my phone in.

At the station, we asked the lady at the counter if a pink iPhone had been turned in. She just looked at us with a confused expression. A couple of the cops standing around seemed just as baffled. No one had turned in a phone. We redialed the number to ask who had been calling and why they wanted us to go to the police station. It was just the cop we had met on the corner, reminding us to file a report. Great. So Fletch left me to file the report while he and the guy from the resort went back to the delivery business.

Filing a police report in Fiji turned out to be one of the most frustrating experiences I have had here. The lady taking down the report asked me around a dozen times to repeat what had happened, and each time I restarted my story, I watched as her pen slowly came to a stand still and her attention started drifting to whatever conversation was being had in the corner. Then she would snap to and ask me for some piece of information I had already given her several times over. After repeating myself over and over again, she finally looked straight at me and said:

“What was the thing called again? The thing that you lost?”

“My phone.”

After several more failed attempts to write down my story, the lady excused herself and told me she would be back in ten minutes.

So I sat there and mulled over how in the world two people in one day could be so dimwitted. People who managed to find themselves descent jobs. The guy at the Vodafone store, and this lady at the police station. I know everyone preaches how important it is to stay in school. Is this what happens when you don’t? You can’t comprehend a request like taking down a phone number or filing a report for a lost phone? I get that my phone is at the bottom of everyone else’s priority lists. So not caring would be one thing. But neither of these people could comprehend what I was trying to ask of them. And they were both fluent English speakers so it was not the fault of a language barrier. How does that happen?

As I sat there I started to put together a mental list of the things I had lost. The phone I didn’t care about. Phones can be replaced. But the internet being as slow as it is here, I hadn't taken the time to backup my phone in ages. Pictures going back to Thailand might never be seen again. Notes for blogs I had yet to write. Losing a material possession was no big deal. Losing some of the only momentos I had bothered to keep from my travels was devastating.

Finally, another guy stepped in for the lady on break, and finished my report in just few minutes. We exchanged numbers, well I gave him Fletch’s number, and agreed to call each other if we learned anything.

I walked out of the police station into a mist of rain and texted Fletch from the iPad to see where he was. He was upstairs in the Shop n Save. I waved down the first cab I saw before realizing that it was already full. Not seeing another ‘Taxi’ sign on the road, I started walking in the direction I needed to go. A car pulled up asking if I needed a ride into town. I said 'yes, thank you,' and hopped in the car before realizing it wasn’t a cab. Not a smart move for a little white girl. The guy was smartly dressed in a dress shirt and tie, and I guess just offering rides along his way out of the kindness of his heart, because we dropped off another lady a block later. We made it as far as the side road where the thief had turned on my phone for those few, fleeting minutes, when the driver’s phone rang. He hung up a moment later, and apologized that he would have to drop me off here; he had forgotten something back at his office. Luckily I knew where I was at. The Shop n Save was just around the corner.

As I walked down the quiet street I nearly stepped on a dead puppy lying on the side of the road. Its eyes were closed and tongue hanging out. It looked like it might have grown up to resemble a German Shepherd. Poor little thing. The dead puppy was the icing on the cake for the day I had had. Seeing the decaying, lifeless body of something that had once clearly been adorable made me want to cry.

I walked into Shop n Save and someone led me up the stairs, through the warehouse, and to an office where Fletch was staring at a TV monitor. The security technician showed me the video footage of me leaving the store, with my pink phone clearly sticking out of the side pocket of my backpack. An all-to-easy target for a pickpocket. We switched over to the parking lot footage, where I could be seen walking away and around the corner. The phone was still in the side pocket of my backpack.

We thanked the security guy and walked back to MH to view their security footage again.

At 1:58 PM I was seen walking into the store, phone in my backpack. A skinny guy in a striped shirt was staring me down, and he turned to follow me out of the shot, but on the next camera he was no longer following me.

I watched myself walking down the toothpaste isle, phone still in pocket.

On the next camera, I waited for the moment when I would sling my backpack off to retrieve my shopping bag from inside. Maybe the phone fell out without me noticing. But I removed and replaced the backpack and the pink phone could still be seen sticking out of the pocket. I went to town on the vegetables, they had a beautiful section that day of butternut squash, zucchinis, asian pears, and kiwis; red, orange, and green bell peppers… I was way too delighted by the produce to notice anyone wanting to steal a phone.

A mother walked behind me holding her little boy’s hand. The little boy was reaching his free hand out as far as he could reach. Kids like colorful things. Maybe the little toddler had innocently grabbed it. But it wasn’t him. Every person who walked behind me, I held my breath, waiting to see if they would take the bright pink glowing object that was practically falling out of my backpack by now. But the phone remained in the pocked as I turned and walked out of the shot. Just before I was out of the sight of the camera, a very large man in a bright blue shirt could be seen following me a little too closely.

The man in the blue tshirt could be seen following me down the biscuit isle, and then bingo, there he was standing in line behind me in the checkout isle, despite not having any groceries. I was standing directly behind large column, out of the sight of the camera, so I guess the only way we would know if he stole the phone or not would be if I reappeared with the phone no longer in my pocket.

Then I took a step forward, directly into the line of the camera. The large man in the blue tshirt behind me was pretending to look at his phone. He slowly started to reach for the pocket of my backpack, but I took a step forward to put groceries on the counter just in time. He took another moment to recoup, hand inches from my backpack, holding his own phone to appear as though he was looking at it. Then in the blink of an eye, my phone was in his hand and he was walking away.

The security footage technician switched views to a shot of the isle the guy walked down next. We could see a clear shot of his tshirt, easily distinguishable bright blue with the large, yellow letters ‘LA' printed across the front. And then for a split second he looked directly up at the camera. We had him.

The technician set about making copies of the video clips to give to the cops while Fletch and I ran down to the nearest cab and asked him to drive us around town. That tshirt would be easy to find if the guy was still out walking about. We rode around for twenty minutes and power walked through a small carnival with no luck.

Back at MH they informed us that they didn’t have the equipment to burn the disk with the security footage there, and would have to bring it to Suva. We were so close. Too close for this to become a project piled up waiting on a desk somewhere, at the bottom of a list of much more pressing matters.

We went back outside and asked the cab driver to find a police officer. We found one standing at the corner and pulled over to ask him to come take a look at the footage. He lazily replied that we would have to contact the officer in charge of the case, and if he wasn’t available, then we could find someone else.

We tried calling the officer who had completed the police report for me, but he was not answering his phone.

Our next option was to return to the police station. The cab driver brought us there and Fletch and I walked inside to find a group of bored cops standing around. We relayed the story and asked if anyone could please come view the footage. One officer eagerly agreed to come with us.

Back at MH I waited nervously while the cop calmly looked at the video footage.

“I know this guy”

He viewed the footage of the guy looking up at the camera again and then repeated the same statement. I looked at him expectancy, wondering what the next step would be. We left the security office and the cop turned to us and explained that he couldn’t go get the guy right that moment, but he would that night and give us a call in the morning. Numbers were exchanged, and then Fletch and I walked out of the grocery store as it was about to close at 7:00 PM.

It was dark outside. We were both tired and hungry. I felt a little lost, now we had done as much as we could do and the rest of the case rested in the cop’s hands. I hadn’t had a bite to eat all day. Fletch bought us some yogurts and we wandered around looking for someplace to buy a proper meal. Everything was closing down so we finally just got on the bus and headed home.

Half an hour later, as I was sitting on the bus, my iPad got the notification that my iPhone had been turned on. I pulled up the map to see where it was now and Fletch called the police officer to update him with the current location. A moment later Fletch thanked the cop and hung up the phone. He explained that the cop already had my phone in his possession and he was the one who had turned it on. Hallelujah. The next day Fletch returned to Sigatoka to retrieve my phone. And that is how we successfully recovered the second iPhone.

Don’t steal iPhones, people. Technology is making it harder and harder to not get caught. Plus without the code, an iPhone cannot be hacked, rendering it useless to the thief. Thank you Apple for a great product. And thank you Fiji for having security cameras everywhere.