On the night of July 5th I went merrily to a pub in Quinta Camacho to meet some friends. Little had I known that grave peril was waiting for me later that night, and that I was to encounter what everyone in Bogotá fears, and prepares for: a mugging.
After a couple of pints near the Calle 72, my husband and I decided to walk home because the recent stabbing of a U.S citizen in a Bogotá cab seemed to imply that it’s safer to walk than to randomly jump into a car. We took the Novena (Carrera 9) passing the Gimnasio Moderno until we arrived at Bagatelle, a café-restaurant near the Calle 82.
Two men came heralding from across the street looking tense and ready for action. They walked briskly, purposefully, hands in their jacket pockets. Having arrived in the city 9 months ago, I received some “safety training”: how to behave on streets and on public transport; and what to do with strangers. So, I was well aware of the need to try to avoid crossing paths with persons unknown. My strategy was very clear: if I come across anyone suspicious, I should immediately change course or walk to the other side of the street.
As the suspects closed in on us, I pushed my companion towards the crossing. But before we could inch away, the thugs had already revealed their blades and bawled: ‘MOBILE!’. It all happened quickly and there was no time to react. In my sangfroid pretense I decided to run, an instinct that later proved flawed. A streetlight was just behind me so ‘BOOM!’ I bashed my head hard when I backed off and the next thing I knew I was on the floor leaning against the post while one of the felons brushed my pockets hissing “mobile, mobile”. The other delinquent got up close and nailed his knife against Mario’s chest menacing “Give me your mobile or I kill you!”. Mario tried to take control of the situation and muttered, “She doesn’t speak Spanish, please don’t hurt her.”
Trying to “reason” with the one unarmed thief, he reached calmly for the phone in his jacket, while at the same time, trying to avoid provoking the attackers. Just after they had finished-off with their loot and ran away, a taxi pulled up asking if we were okay. The hoodlums heard us and bellowed profanities from afar. Deciding that the streets were still not safe, we toppled into a nearby eatery to get some much needed breath. Per- haps someone had witnessed the inci- dent, as before we even managed to notify anyone, two police officers arrived on a motorbike asking us details of the attack, while we tried to track the assailants using the iPhone’s GPS. After a few more dramatic thief-chasing sessions with the cops, we called off the night and they drove us home.
In retrospect, we can consider ourselves lucky because we were mugged on a relatively busy street. If this had hap- pened somewhere quieter, they probably could have taken much more, and that which has no value – our lives.
As I tell this episode to friends, instead of surprise or empathy, I receive blank stares that affirm the banality of an event as common as selling avocados on a street corner. The conversation of shock that I would expect turns into an exchange of personal experiences. I am congratulated that I have a “light” antigen which will prevent more misfortunes from happening to me now that I’m a true Bogotána. They give me the impression of a consensus among city residents that the security here is deteriorating.
As a foreigner I have an assured sense of confidence that armed mugging doesn’t exist in the countries I’ve lived in, and that the worst encounter that can strike are pickpockets or the more orchestrated robberies on the met- ros of Barcelona and Rome. You may absent-mindedly have left your phone at the shop counter, changing room, in the taxi or the restaurant sofa in the past; the beauty is, you found it where it was, unmoved, untouched. Whereas in Bogotá, there’s no certainty that you’re safe at any particular time or place. So foreign- ers who don’t wish or need to combat the hassles of a Bogotá lifestyle will just leave if they want to. As a cosmopolitan city where you never know what’s going happen next, or whether you can let your children roam freely, Bogotá has to work a lot harder on safety for all.
Jessica writes at: onechineseincolombia.com