I moved to Lima, Peru in February of 2015. In search of many things - including freedom from the comfort of the life I had always known. I graduated college in the Winter of 2010 and even before graduating I knew I wanted to get out of Florida. If I could get out of the country…even better. Lima was always an option because it’s where I was born, where I had visited the most, and a change that would be drastic but the easiest to transition into.
Of all of the things I was told to prepare for by family, friends, and the media - the number one was safety. The robberies here (whether it’s assaults on the street, motorcyclists pulling up to your car with guns, or pick pocketers) are not unlikely.
It took 1,384 days for me to experience a robbery here. And I’m grateful that the way it unfolded wasn’t violent. I wasn’t assaulted - I actually will go to the grave having no idea how it happened. Nobody pointed a gun at me, I wasn’t jumped, but rather pick pocketed at a bar.
It was a Thursday night and my friends and I decided to go out bar hopping. We met a Scottish girl who had just flown into town and welcomed her into our group. Later in the night she expressed her desire to go dancing, so I reluctantly followed everyone to another bar that had a more club-y vibe. My phone was in my tiny purse, crossed over my body, zipper closed - pretty much what everyone says are the basics of carrying your phone around safely in the city.
Around 2 am I took my phone out to call an Uber when my roommates asked me to wait because they wanted one more drink - and then we’d leave. For the sake of not going home alone I decided to wait for them to order another drink so we could go home together. I put my phone away and kept dancing. 30 minutes or so later, I open my purse, reach in, and my cell phone is missing. I pace back and forth, asking my friends to call me- straight to voicemail. I desperately ask the bartender if he’s found a phone and he says no, but if anyone has it would be upstairs. I’m directed to the office upstairs and once I get in there’s a group of 10 people huddled up in front of several tvs, checking security camera footage. Another girl was robbed in the same way minutes earlier. For some reason that girl was in a good, almost aloof mood, meanwhile all I could do was cry and try to control my shortness of breath.
We played the footage back for almost an hour. Slow motion. Fast forward. Normal speed. I found the part where I had last taken out my phone (to call an Uber) then put it back in my purse but after that nothing. I watched myself dance, having no idea I was being targeted, only concerned with the fact that I had to be up a few hours later to work.
My father owned a grocery store in the heart of Miami from the day I was born until 2002. In the span of those almost 15 years I have clear memories of him being robbed several times. Once a man tried to rob the store and my dad whipped his gun out and shot a warning shot toward the roof and the man ran out and into the parking lot of a nearby Mattress Giant before the cops found him. I don’t know why I’m comparing my barely-robbery-robbery to my fathers experiences with actual robbers who threatened his life - but my experience has left me feeling frustrated that I didn’t have the chance to fight back.
I always pictured my first robbery as one where I whip out my mace and attack the robber or somehow magically channel my inner Karate Kid and beat their ass in the attempt - but this was different. Having no idea it was happening while it happened and having no way of retaliating afterward has left me with a mixed bag of emotions that change, abruptly, back and forth between “I should be glad I wasn’t assaulted” and “I wish I could have seen it happen and kicked them in the face.” I guess it’s a feeling of weakness, of not having the chance to defend myself that’s left me in a state of not wanting to leave my house since it happened. It’s been a few days and I managed to peel myself off the bed and start living again, but I’m still upset.
The upset, however, is overpowered by the feeling of being glad I wasn’t physically attacked and that it could have ended much worse. It’s also been a full-circle moment because in my last session with my therapist he reminded me of the importance of defending myself. I have this unrealistic and self-damaging need to be nice all of the time and oftentimes it leads to me getting taken advantage of. I’m sure many empathetic people can relate.
I told my therapist about an incident I had with someone who has hurt me deeply that I, for the sake of not creating “drama”, recently and regretfully let into my space. He told me that it has nothing to do with being dramatic, but with knowing how to defend yourself and recognizing the importance of doing so. This cell phone debacle has only confirmed, to me, how vital it is to defend myself be it physically or emotionally.
The thing about robberies, whether someone is attempting to steal your physical property or your emotional property - is that you don’t always have the chance to defend yourself and that’s okay. But what I will take away from this experience is that when possible, I will defend myself to the death. I don’t owe anyone anything and what’s mine is mine.
Also, I should probably take some self-defense classes.