Friday, May 22, 2009

On Getting Robbed in Argentina

Apparently it's a rite of passage. Apparently you have not lived in Argentina until you've been robbed. In that case, consider me initiated.

I was saving the first part of this story for a rainy day, so to speak, but after tonight's events I think I'll just spill. About a month ago I was bird watching with my South American Birds class, and we were sitting in a field on a nature reserve drinking mate when two young guys walked up to us, pulled out a gun, and robbed all 12 of us sitting there in the grass. I was pissed. It's a horrible feeling, to watch someone take something from you and know there's nothing you can do about it. We were by all logic absolutely safe. A large group of people, daylight, not carrying much, dressed in our grubs because we were sludging through mud. We were not flashy, we were not making a scene, but we still got robbed.

When someone puts a gun to your face your body sort of takes over (and if it doesn't, you should let it.) While in your head you obviously don't want this person taking your stuff, the fact that there's a gun in your face makes you give it up because honestly, it's probably not loaded and it might not even be real, but you've only got one brain, and you can buy another pair of binoculars. Until now I was able to find humor in the irony of our getting robbed, while in a nature reserve watching birds. It's humorous. It doesn't erase the fact that I'm jumpy as all hell as a result.

I have hardly left the house since then. Yes, I've been sick, but mostly I've been tired and afraid. I'm tired of jumping out of my skin every time someone looks at me funny or approaches me too quickly. I'm tired of clinging to my backpack, of leaving my camera at home, of exiting the ATM with my heart in my throat and my money in my bra.

This evening I went out for the first time in 5 weeks. I went to meet my friends at a jazz concert in a university. I walked 15 blocks down well lit avenues, didn't meet anyone's eye, just looked straight ahead. I had examined the map before I left so I would know where I was going. I had only a small purse, with the money I might need for the evening, a scarf, tissues and a cell phone (my new one, since the other was stolen.) I turned the final corner, off the main avenue, and I could see my friends standing outside the music hall. I walked past a young woman sitting on a step, and two steps later another woman stepped out in front of me and asked for money. I was late. I said "No, I'm sorry" and tried to pass. She stepped in front of me again and tried to grab my purse. I turned around to cross the street away from her and the other woman was behind me. They backed me into a corner and started grabbing at my purse again, yelling at me. One had her hand in her pocket. I gave them my money, $100 pesos. I gave them my Metro card with another $20 pesos in it. They tried to take my other cards but I showed them my student ID and said that was all I had. I insisted I still hadn't bought another cell phone since the last time I got robbed. I insisted I didn't have anything left. I was pissed. They were my size. I should have hit them. I should have refused to give them my money. I work hard for what I have, they don't deserve it any more than I do. Why should they have my money? Why should they be able to tell me what to do?

I crossed the street and joined my friends. I told them, through tears of embarrassment and frustration, what had happened. One told me that her profesora had been robbed on the same corner by two women, likely the same, and that when she refused to give them money they pulled knives on her. They told me I had done the right thing. They told me it was better to give up the money than to fight.

They have never been robbed. It's about dignity. It's about faith in human kind. It's about not being afraid to go to the grocery store, to cross the street, to leave the house. Why didn't I make a scene, draw attention to myself, try and scare them away? Why can't I defend myself? The fact of the matter is they have the power. It's easy to think what I might have done, now that it's over, but if you find yourself backed into a dark corner by two people desperate enough to rob someone in public, your instinct is to find the path of least resistance. If you're living in someone else's country, under someone else's laws, that means giving it up. They say getting robbed is a right of passage, that you've truly been here once you've experienced it. If this is how I'm supposed to feel living here, I want nothing of it.


Tina M. said...

*hugs* Poor honey. I'd lend you my dad, he'd keep you safe for sure 'cause he's one dangerously trained and intimidating guy when he wants to be. I'm so sorry that you've been terrorized, and I'm really glad that you're safe.

It's easier to steal than it is to be honest. It's thrilling and empowering for precisely the reason you stated, you are made to feel powerless. It never ceases to amaze me how some countries become so inured to negative behavior. How can people not care? How can they be so blase` when innocent people are being abused? It's NOT cool, it's NOT ok.

You're right, this is no place that you'd want to live. I'm proud of the fact that in almost any part of the country, aside from hot-spots, here in the US you can go anywhere you want, and you will almost always be safe. I've travelled to cities and small towns up and down the coast, never have I felt unsafe.

Shame on those countries and cultures that dismiss and accept violence as the cost of daily living. I have friends and family who live in larger cities and they've never once told me it's 'just the way things are here, you get used to it'. Maybe they're holding back. I don't kknow.

I'm with you, I don't WANT to get used to it, and I'll live in a cave before I do.

Ok, rant over. Can't wait till you come home. *hugs*

BetteJo said...

Oh my God that's horrible! It gives me such a sick feeling. It's just so wrong and I am SO sorry that happened to you. I think being in another country has to make you feel even more vulnerable than if it happened at home, I don't know how you WOULDN'T be scared now. I will never understand.

The mom in me wants to say - come home NOW! But I know you have to do what you feel in your heart is the right thing to do. If you do decide to leave - nobody would blame you for goodness sakes. If you stay - you are far more brave than I am.

Take care, I wish I knew how to tell you to be safe.

Jack said...

Robin, you are not alone. I have been there - gun and all! Take heart that you have lost only replaceable things and not your fabulous potential. With a big hug - jack

Knittin' Diva said...

How awfully scary, and maddening!! It's such a shame that with such crimes running rampant, there are more security officials on the street to protect.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Search This Blog

Design by Amanda @ Blogger Buster Edited by Robin Marie