Things, as the old song says, ain't what they used to be.
When we first moved to Cyprus, at the end of 1997, it was considered a very safe country. Hardly anyone locked their cars; front doors would sit open all day long. A couple of times we went out, forgetting to close large windows in the bungalow we were renting. We did have a few unwelcome male cat visitors, who left their distinctive scent... but it never occurred to us that anyone might get inside and take something away.
Being British, we did tend to lock the car, and house when leaving them empty. We didn't leave computers or cameras visible in the car - no point leaving temptation in anyone's path - but we were pretty comfortable with the low level of crime around the island. Of course, there was corporate crime - failing businesses setting their offices on fire so as to get insurance money; tax-evasion; insurance claim fiddling. There were unpleasant crimes against animals, too. But it's a family-orientated culture, and it seemed that individuals and their homes were, on the whole, respected.
In 2004, Cyprus joined the EU. We looked forward to this - it meant that it was easier for Brits to live here, and it would mean higher standards of, for example, roads and sewage collection. Some older people were more cynical, telling us that joining Europe meant that we would also start to see European level crime rates. It was hard to believe at the time...
I don't know when it was that we started hearing about burglaries being on the increase. But within the last two years ,three families that we know well have been burgled. The police said that the culprits were Eastern European teenagers, probably working for someone else. Our friends lost laptops, money, jewellery... and the entry was, in each case, via a small, open bathroom window. We hoped we were safe, living upstairs in a three-storey house, with our bathroom on the top floor. But we started double-locking our front door at night, and taking laptops and purses upstairs rather than leaving them lying around in the living room.
I was a little anxious about keeping our kitchen window open for the cats to go in and out, but they had to jump on the outdoor part of an air conditioner to get in, and we didn't really think a person could manage it. And, indeed, we didn't have a problem.. other than the inevitable male cat visitors.
Earlier this year, two of the homes in our small street were burgled - again, through open windows, often not very accessible ones. So we started leaving our outside lights on all night. Richard installed a cat flap before leaving for the UK mid-April, too, and trained our cats to use that. It has the added bonus that fewer male cats have left their mark.
But despite these extra precautions, I've still felt pretty safe, on the whole. At this time of year I tend to throw open windows and doors around the house, and only close them if I go out, or at night.
At least, that was what happened until last Thursday.
Richard and his sailing buddy had flown to Italy for four days, to meet the people supplying their boat engine. I don't in the least mind a few days on my own, and was pottering around the house, doing various things, with my study door (onto a side balcony) wide open, as usual. I'd just had something to eat, and had gone back into the study to look at email when I became aware of someone outside. I thought at first that it was a friend come to call.. so I went out of the door...
.. and saw a young man, perhaps 16 or 17 years old. I don't know for sure if he was Eastern European, but that was my instant impression. He looked a bit startled to see me, so I said hello, raising my eyebrows in query.
He then said what sounded like 'Larnaka police'. Or, perhaps it was 'Larnaka polis' (town). He evidently didn't speak English, and the way he said 'Larnaka' was nothing like the way Cypriots say it.
Since I didn't know what he meant - and was feeling rather panicky anyway - I just shrugged.. and he turned and went away.
I went back inside and closed the door firmly. I saw that my handbag - with purse, camera, Kindle and more - was sitting on the sofa, just inside the room. If I had not been there, it would have been the work of about ten seconds for the young man to grab my bag and make off with it.
I peeked out of the front windows of our living room to see where he went, and saw him going up the stairs next-door. Their front door stood open. He went up to it, then backed away a little, Then he went closer, and started peeping inside. I wondered what on earth I would do if he went in, and emerged carrying something, but thankfully I didn't have to make a decision, since the man of the house appeared at the door, and they started talking. Perhaps the young man did, after all, speak Greek.
That night I was extra-careful to lock up the house and leave lights on. I put a box of Lego by the study door too, that would make a noise if anyone broke in and stepped in it in the dark. And I prayed for protection. Thankfully the house was still secure in the morning, and I haven't seen any sign of the young man returning. I was extremely pleased to see Richard home safely again last night!
Of course, I don't know for sure that the young man was an opportunistic thief. Perhaps he really did want to know where Larnaka town was, although it seems odd that he'd come upstairs and look so surprised to see me. However, I do totally believe that God was looking after me, ensuring that I was in my study when the young man appeared.
But I was freaked out sufficiently that I no longer leave my handbag on the sofa in full view of the door. Nor do I leave the door open any more. I really hope we won't reach the stage of needing security cameras and bars across the windows.. but, alas, gone are the days when Cyprus was considered a safe country to live in.