It’s unsavory, but it’s not a defining feature of my South American experience. It was the first time something dangerous had happened to me in almost four months in Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru.
Hustling into my reality in Lima’s outer city suburb of Chorrillos, I looked around to see a hooded male figure running towards me but my good nature told me he was running past and I was therefore slow to react. He caught me off guard. He kind of confronted me there on the clifftop, beach-side boardwalk, in the shadowy mid-evening glow, and we danced a strange dance. My mind tugged in opposite directions of giving up everything I had, attacking or running, rendering me useless.
He started grabbing at me. I was taller but he had a stronger build and clearly had a different moral compass and therefore different limits. I pushed his arms away, once, twice, but didn’t escape. His hand went into his baggy, shapeless pocket and he tried to negate me front on. This is where my mind really said that the situation was getting beyond what I could handle. Eventually when I saw the chance to run I fell over, on my back like a flipped six foot turtle.
“Por favour, senor!” I managed to say, as this hooded Dementor crowded my vision.
This was followed by my ‘get off me already’ line: “I can give money, por favour!”
Nothing had come out of his unfathomable pocket but I was ready to give it up.
Then another chance to get away presented itself as my assailant’s attention was fixed elsewhere. Some unknowns in a taxi had driven up alongside us on the Circuito de Playas, the road we bordered. I think the people in the taxi were helping me but I didn’t know and just wanted to get out of there, which I did by finally putting my long legs into motion and running from the clifftop boardwalk towards the main roads of Chorrillos. There I would find more safety in a moto taxi which could take me directly to my accommodation.
Why me? In this particular case, I can use a few stereotypes to initially respond. Even at night, with my profile, I am undoubtedly easily recognizable as a massive, dopey gringo. My height does me no favors, nor the headphones which remain perpetually fixed to my ears or lie dormant around my neck. My tormentor could easily be pigeonholed as a ‘homey’ – someone similar to the stereotype of a skater/rapper with baggy clothes, hoody and silent disposition, the kind of person you expect to try and rob you. Therefore, a giant gringo innocently getting out of a taxi in an inadvisable and desolate place at 9.30 at night is a bad idea, especially when the exact stereotype of a petty thief is lurking.
In addition, the night before my friend had her bag stolen by some youths on the street we were staying on. It should have been a reminder to me to be safer. I’d gotten too comfortable and complacent in South America. In retrospect, I was at best naive and at worst negligent. I was lucky that my assailant bailed out and let me get away without losing anything — or worse, getting hurt. It’s a reminder not to be careless with your safety, no matter where you are or how long you’ve been there.