In the Peace Corps Uzbekistan, my safety and security officer was named Alijon. Alijon’s key phrase was always ‘Be vigilant.’ Always know your surroundings and watch the people around you for both guidance and warning signs.
My first night in Santiago, I totally failed Alijon. I was walking with a group of friends when a boy snatched my purse (attached to my wrist) and ran off with it. I just reacted out of instinct and ran after him shouting, ‘Help me’ in Spanish. I guess he got nervous, so he threw the purse under a bench and I was able to retrieve it.
I want to be clear that I don’t believe I was any physical danger at any time. What embarasses and angers me is that it was a crime of opportunity. The boy thought it would be safe and easy to take my purse from me. And, in a way, it was. I was with my friends, I was looking at everything around me and I wasn’t being vigilant. I didn’t notice that almost every woman on the street had a purse with a long strap hanging crosswise down across the body, or that we were in place that was seedy at best, or even that we were being too loud in a group – in English.
I don’t know why that is. Why, after seven years of traveling all over, did I get to be the easy mark? I think it was being a bit cocky and in the moment that did me in. But, I’ll tell you on thing: it reaffirmed all the things I do everyday that keep me safe. I’m going back to the long-strapped purses and the base level of paranoia I get in large groups or crowded, public spaces.
I promise from now on that my new watchword is vigilance.mba, peace corps, vacation