You know those people who over-think everything, assessing and planning and sorting and worrying about problems that may never happen?
Yes, I’m guilty as charged. One dim and drizzly evening in Bogotá, as the darkness drifted towards 9pm, I was being typically indecisive. Should I spend a fortune on a taxi or jump on a bus that would leave me having to walk two minutes on a street that was a little too dark for my liking?
I opted for the bus (mostly on the basis that I was wearing chunky black boots, we’ll get to that later) but, of course, just as I started to stride home I noticed a dodgy looking man in the distance, fiddling with the waist band of his jeans in what was no doubt a desperate hunt for his foreign-girl-robbing weapon.
Bloody brilliant, I thought. I make one dicey decision and now I’m going to get mugged. Still, at least I had the time to mentally prepare. It was too late to avoid him but, equally, I decided that if I was going to be robbed it was going to be on my terms. There would be no panicking nor hiding in a doorway for me.
And so I strode purposefully at the man. I was so purposeful I was practically on top of him before I realised the poor sod was simply trying to take a piss against a tree. He was no doubt as horrified as I was to find a strange woman marching at him.
It should be funny and I guess it was, but it shows how jumpy and hyper-alert I am to city street crime, particularly here where I am a) foreign and b) reliant on public transport to move around.
I recently went to a ridiculously fancy coffee shop (think 15,000 pesos a cup) and, even though I greeted the security man and his dog on the way in, I couldn’t distangle myself from my bag. Eventually I forced myself to relax and put it on the chair next to me, but it still felt wrong and awkward. My bag and I are always attached.
When crime happens to you, it happens. I would never blame anyone, least of all myself. We live in an eight-million strong city in a country where 45% of people fall below the poverty line and where natural blonde, rich-looking tourists are about as scarce as a bar of Dairy Milk.
But I do have my own, possibly weird, defence mechanisms and I want to share them. I think when it comes to safety, we can all help one another. If we can’t beat the odds, we can minimise them.
(So go with your instincts and if you think I’m loca, please tell me. Similarly, I can’t take responsibility for anyone but myself (and I regularly mess that up) so if you adopt my street survival tactics and still get robbed well, I’m sorry and I do understand if you un-subscribe. If I get robbed, I promise to do the same.)
1) I like to look as scary as possible.
Life-changing decisions are made in a minute and I assume would-be robbers have a split second to pick out their victims. I walk purposefully, both faking and harnessing an ill-concealed fury and working every inch of my six-foot frame. I want them to think I am just too much hassle.
2) I often wear boots.
Boots are scary – that’s why policemen and soldiers wear them even though there is not so much as a drop of mud on the streets of Bogotá. When I am feeling a little vulnerable I stamp my feet as I walk. I know it’s weird. It must be something to do with the above.
3) I hide my face and hair.
On the rare occasions when I find myself alone on a bus at night, I put my hood up and don’t look out the window. I figure this is my best chance of a) looking like a slightly scary male Colombian or b) looking like a robber myself – which should cancel out any other ones about.
4) I have cash but nothing else.
I rarely carry a bank card, have minimum cash and always debate about my camera. One Sunday I walked to see a friend in brilliant sunshine. Before I left, I weighed up taking my little camera and decided to play it safe – chucking it on my bed as I walked out. Of course I walked past a beautiful pink church, gently warmed by the sun’s fading rays, with a rainbow framing the scene nicely in the background. You can’t win ’em all, people, you can’t win ’em all.
5) I don’t trust anyone.
Mothers with prams, comotose junkies, businessmen and street performers. I suspect everyone of potential pick-pocketry and leave nothing to chance, my bag is permanently attached to me and I have often crossed the street to avoid someone dodgy. It is probably rude to clutch your bag if a stranger approaches you in a smart cafe, but I can’t help it. I am the definition of paranoid.
Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.