I’ve lived in Latin America for six months now.
I was about due an armed robbery.
I mean that with no prejudice – loads of my friends have been robbed in London – but here, I’m in the minority with my blonde hair and blue eyes.
If anyone in this city, country or continent is going to own an expensive iPod, camera or mobile phone, it’s going to be me.
I was even clustered around a pub table with some friends on Friday, admitting how easy it was to feel safe in Bogota. It’s just such a gorgeous place to live.
I now habitually ignore my Colombian friends’ advice – I use my iPod all the time and I think nothing of taking a telephone call in the street.
What an idiot.
In a typical rush to university yesterday, I grabbed my coat and slung it over my left arm, balancing my Spanish folder and iPod in the same hand.
I slung my bag over my right shoulder and stepped out into the sunshine.
I was enjoying Juanes (a Colombian singer) at full volume when I paused to cross a road near the campus entrance and noticed a man trying to speak to me.
“Excuse me?” I said politely in Spanish, removing my earphones.
“Do you speak Spanish?” the man replied conversationally.
“Only a little,” I smiled again and gestured towards campus.
“I study at the university.”
(“Poor sod,” I thought. He has picked completely the wrong person to ask for directions.)
He started an intense stream of Spanish and I concentrated as hard as I could.
But I was tired and I had been daydreaming.
I missed everything except his last three words, which were: “Do you understand?”
I felt sorry for the man, so I decided to put him out of his misery.
“I’m sorry,” I said, switching to English and smiling apologetically.
“I don’t understand.”
“Pass me your phone,” the man replied in Spanish, eyes flickering towards my iPod.
Eh? That’s not a phone, I thought vaguely.
There was a brief pause.
“Do you understand?” the man repeated.
“No, sorry,” I replied, still bemused.
I had obviously understood the Spanish, but I was being completely thick and still failing to grasp what was unfolding.
Anyone who knows me, of course, knows that not only am I soft-hearted and fear-ridden, I also loathe confrontation.
Not only would I give a robber everything I owned to avoid so much as a scratch on my wrist, I also wouldn’t feel too bad about it.
I’m left wing after all. I know I’m privileged and can buy new toys.
No, my reaction to the man was based purely on the fact that a) I am incredibly dense sometimes and b) the situation was just too bizarre.
It was a sunny day. It was 3.45pm. The man didn’t threaten me. He didn’t stand too close to me and he made no attempt to grab my iPod or my bag.
He didn’t even frighten me.
I just felt guilty because I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.
“Look,” he said finally, unzipping his pocket.
He showed me a closed Swiss Army knife.
It was like a child on the beach, presenting his mother with a sandcastle.
That’s a Swiss Army knife, I thought dimly.
“Do you understand?” the would-be robber asked reasonably, once again interrupting my thoughts.
“I don’t understand,” I replied automatically, shaking my head. My eyes were wide like Bambi and I was still obviously confused.
The man sighed. I am convinced he rolled his eyes before finally turning on his heel and walking casually in the opposite direction.
I took two steps across the road before my brain, finally, remembered how to function.
“FUCK,” my inner voice screamed, impolitely, in my ear.
“That guy was trying to rob me.”