So this post unfortunately isn’t as light-hearted as the others, but it’s something that needs to be written, as it reflects some of the real, less favorable, aspects of studying abroad in Buenos Aires…
One of the most heavily stressed components of the IFSA Orientation is safety–rules to live by, guidelines, etc. The problem is actually abiding by all of the rules; especially when they’re just a list of things that you just shove in the back of your mind in order to have a fun, uninhibited time. Anyway, so far in Buenos Aires, I have been part of crimes three times… as the victim (or witness), of course.
The first came in Mar del Plata when a friend and I made the wrong decision to follow some locals into a dimly lit park. The two guys sat us down, stuck their hands into our pockets to grab our money/phones/anything of value. Result: My loss of 90 pesos, a bruised neck. My friend’s loss of 10 pesos, a 120-dollar watch, and scratches. In my opinion, we were lucky not to have been hurt worse, as there was no one else around, and the guys were apparently unarmed.
The second situation, and by far the worst, occurred right here in Buenos Aires… actually in one of the most upscale neighborhoods in the country, none other than Recoleta. Three friends and I were sitting under a tree in Plaza Francia with some drinks as the sun went down. We were far too comfortable (sad to say, huh?), and were chatting in English. Although I had noticed that we were the only people still sitting in the grass, there were still people within 10 yards of us, so I hadn’t become too nervous by that point of the night. Then, a middle-aged guy came up to us trying to sell maps, which we refused, in Spanish, but he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. After trying to grab my friend’s beer, I gave up a few precious monedas, and it appeared as if he was going to leave us alone. Now flustered, I told my friends that we needed to get out of there, as it no longer felt safe. Before we could gather all of our things, out of the corner of my eye, a well-dressed man in a blazer and khakis approached us. I whispered to my friend that something felt wrong, but before we could even comprehend the situation, a gun was pulled on us. “Dame la plata, toda la plata!” (Give me your money. All of your money!). One of my girl friends began to back away and had enough courage to start screaming “AYUDA!” giving me the courage to do the same. As we backed away, our other two friends were frozen in place. We were able to attract enough attention that the ladrón left with 100 pesos and the credit card of one of my friends. Police were found AND called, but nothing was done. Far luckier than the Mar del Plata experience, all four of us were safe and unharmed (although incredibly shaken-up and in shock) after being gunned down and robbed.
The third experience with robbery occurred 6 days later, in the city as well. My friend and I left a disco in Montserrat around 3 am and were walking along 9 de Julio in search of a cab. After calling two of our other friends, the girl that I was with was texting on her blackberry as a boy (no more than 14 years old) pushed her down and swiped her several hundred-dollar phone. Sprinting after him to no avail, she fell on the street and was bleeding from her knees and elbows. Unfortunately, she was the same girl who had enough courage the week before to call for help as we were held up at gun point. The second terrifying situation in less than a week for both of us, but this time, she lost something of incredible value (her way to stay in communication with her mom, sister and boyfriend). We managed to get a cab home for her, and then I walked back to my apartment from her place (another unwise decision, as I was whistled at by 3 prostitutes and had to walk through an unsafe zone at 4 am), but I didn’t have enough money for a cab, and I only had enough monedas for one more bus ride, and intoxicated, I believed that it was more important to save them for later than to get home safely. Luckily for me, I had no problems and got home without a scratch. My friend was not so lucky, she has lost a lot of faith in the goodness of people here, and her view of this city has been tainted. It’s a real shame.
Now, what is to be learned from these situations:
1. Do not linger in parks at night, no matter which neighborhood you are in and how safe you think you are.
2. DON’T GET TOO COMFORATBLE. Letting your guard down is easy, especially when alcohol is involved. It’s not an easy task having to be alert 24/7, but when safety is involved (which is always), it’s imperative.
3. ENGLISH IS BAD. Speak in Castellano as much as possible; otherwise you become an obvious, foreign, BIG target for crime.
4. Unless completely necessary, don’t use phones/iPODs/electronics in the street.
5. When out at night, be EXTRA careful.. There are less people around, and you become a bigger target.
6. Safety > Saving a few extra bucks. It’s much better to take a taxi or colectivo home if it insures your safety. Monedas (as precious as they are to take a colectivo) are replaceable. YOUR LIFE IS NOT.
7. BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS!
It really pains me to write a post on robbery, mugging, and safety, but it’s something that really needs to be addressed, as it is a huge part of living in Buenos Aires. Caution has to be taken, and it’s really important to be aware of your surroundings and to be smart when it comes to ensuring your safety. I truly love this city, so it’s no fun to write about its ugly side. I hope that I will be able to take my own advice and make sure that my friends and I are safe from now on. SO, hopefully this will be the one and only post about safety that I have to write this semester. Fingers crossed.
‘Til next time, chau chau.