Life is filled with them. We learn, or sometimes swear we will never learn when we repeat the same stupid one. They are fertilized by: haste, laziness, naivite, fog, distractions, and are woven into our lives. I’ve made mistakes while thinking myself smart. I have a hunch that happens to everyone. Spoiler alert: mistakes also have surprises, twists, and alternate interpretations.
Trading dollars for Naira via the “grey market” in Nigeria in the early 80’s, I made a legal exchange on the side of on a wind-swept hill; where I knew I could get a distinctly favorable rate. I had worn around $500 American cash in a money belt, flown into the country, and now needed Nigerian money to go to market. If I’d have used an official bank, I’d get 360 Naira per dollar, but on the “gray” (as contrasted with the black) market, I’d get 490. Very smart to do it this way suggested my Nigerian colleagues. On my first foray to the “gray market,” I brought half of my cash. This resulted in 122,500 Naira. I was cash rich as never before. The huge amount had me with five or six stacks of 100’s, 1,000’s, and more common denominations of 20’s, 10’s, 5’s, and singles. It was a grocery bag full of cash.
My housing there was as assigned to visiting professors, in that I was given a sparsely furnished half-duplex in a remote part of the huge campus. (I was at Obafemi Owolowo Univeristy in Ile Ife in southern Nigeria). Their furnished bed had impossible springs, so I decided to sleep on the mattress on the floor. Next to it was a low bookcase. Perfect spot I figured to store the multiple stacks of Naira till I would use them.
I had learned that electricity would predictably black-out every night, and my mattress on the floor was then lit by a low gas lantern. In my fitful sleep I registered the sound of rain. (Not unlikely in the “rainy season”). Slowly coming awake next to my glowing lantern, I realized that where my stacks of Naira had been stacked was now an empty shelf. I got up, and realized that my back door was standing wide open to the dark African night. When My flashlight spilled out of the door it’s beam revealed that the rain was a hand pump in back of my house dripping slowly. (I was later told that the “bad guys” probably had used this sound to help cover the noise created by unpinning my back door from its hinges. Thinking this bookcase a safe place to stack money had obviously been the mistake. But wait.
As the sun rose, and the rain began to fall in earnest, it dawned on me that I had been totally naive to believe this house secure. The choice to leave the stacks of money in plain sight turned out to not really be a mistake. Having them out in plain sight made this “snatch and grab” so obvious and easy. No need to bash me over the head. Blissfully asleep next to stacks of Nigerian “Naira” money was out for the taking.
How to identify the mistake? Exchanging $300 in a grey open market? Flaunting easy cash in a third world country? Assuming a simple door lock to be secure? Hearing running water, and mistaking it for rain?