How I Reacted to Getting Robbed in Latin America–Twice

pink pangea foreign correspondentThings, both good and bad, will happen to you when you’re traveling. You may grow up a little or realize you’re still a bit immature while traveling. You will see things while traveling, from the cute sloths that can be found in trees in Panama City to really real sh*t like the underage prostitution you can also find in the city. You will have the opportunity to take humbly bragging photos of the interesting places you visit and may probably take at least one narcissistic volunteerism photo with local children.

You will have to make choices of small calibers and of substance while traveling. You may become sick while traveling with nobody to lean on for help, and you will have to muster the energy to get your strength and health back. You may feel extreme loneliness while traveling (especially if you’re traveling alone), and no amount of Facebook or Skype or WhatsApp will remedy this.

I don’t know what it was about me that day, but some chump decided that I was the person to rob in a walking overpass near the Cinco de Mayo neighborhood one Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t even richly dressed; I had my mud soaked hiking boots on for heaven’s sake and looked like I was heading into the field more than the market place. It wasn’t even dark; my watch read that it was just past midday when the incident happened. It does not matter that I was walking alone; nobody should fear for his or her safety because they’re not practicing the “buddy system.”

I don’t know what it was about me that day, but some chump decided that I was the person to rob in a walking overpass near the Cinco de Mayo neighborhood one Sunday afternoon.

It took a grand total of about eight seconds for me to get robbed at nearly gunpoint. The guy turned the corner of the staircase section above me, stood in front of me and flashed a gun in the waistband of his pants. He said something though I don’t remember what or even think I actually caught it. I just emptied my pockets. He took my cheap Panamanian cell phone and $50 from me, then scurried down the stairs. Unshaken, I finished climbing the staircase, crossed the bridge, made my way to the other side and found a stoop to sit on. I sighed deeply.

As I sat there, I reflected on how unmoved I was by this encounter. After all, it could have been a lot worse. I wasn’t take advantage of physically; I had no scars or scratches. Plus, when it comes down to it, it was only $50 — 30 of which was not even my money (a friend gave me money to buy something for her while in the city). Nonetheless, it did really suck and put a large damper on what was otherwise a good day.

Fast forward about a month. I had just moved from my apartment in my town, Gamboa, to a divided house closer to the town center. I left for work one day, without checking the locks. I had a really long “Oh [insert any/all four letter words you can think of here]” moment when I returned home later in the afternoon and found the backdoor gaping half-open. The feeling was like that horrible terror you felt as a kid when your parents arrived home and you broke whatever it was they explicitly told you not to touch in the house. Or like that god-awful drop in your throat down to your gut you instantly get when it sinks in that nothing good can come from a situation.

The odd thing about this incident, though, is that not much was taken. Yes, it sucks that my passport was taken, but it really could have been a lot worse. Considering my expensive camera lens and camera accessories, my 1 TB hard drive, prescription medications, and some chargers were all in plain sight, I’m thankful that not much else was taken than the ultimately replaceable things that went missing.

We’re not in Kansas anymore–this is the real world where real stuff happens. And as far as the world is ultimately concerned: toughen up or shut up, it’s time to be big girls.

We’re traveling to gain more worldly experiences, so expect things to happen and do throw a fuss when they don’t happen as you planned. I’ve matured so much from my first real time abroad alone; I remember promising myself to write in my journal everyday, and planning all of my fun activities, yaddah yaddah. Turns out, I wrote one journal entry lasting less than a page a week into my trip and never opened that journal again. And nothing I did that month went as planned. Regardless, that one-month in Honduras was the most memorable experience of my life at the time, and opened the floodgates to make way for the many experiences that have matched or topped that first one.

Sh*t happens. So what if you’re robbed? So what if you’re robbed again? We’re not in Kansas anymore–this is the real world where real stuff happens. And as far as the world is ultimately concerned: toughen up or shut up, it’s time to be big girls.

I still feel safer in Panama than I have felt while traveling through Latin America over the years (and I’ve traveled through some really jacked up places). Just because a really, really, really annoying but ultimately out-of-my-control incident happened doesn’t give me an excuse to demand a pity party from my family back home or my friends over here.

When you trip and fall, you don’t just stay down – you pick yourself up, curse what made you stumble in the first place, and be mindful of any other obstructions (clear or unclear) in your walking path. But the most important thing is to keep walking.

Que es lo que es is a saying in Spanish that means, “it is what it is.” This phrase has been repeated, recited, and reworded time and time again. Sh*t happens is one of my favorites. Dorris Day told us “Que será, que será” long ago.

Edward Murphy (of Murphy’s Law) told us even longer ago, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” I don’t know a lick of French but I know c’est la vie.

The most boring movie ever is the one without a plot twist, controversy, or plight to overcome. These things can be overcome, and all of my best stories have started off with a heavy sigh.

Fun Fact: American aerospace engineer Edward Murphy was actually born in the Panama Canal Zone. Though this is a tangent, it’s the little lessons you learn that make your days traveling worthwhile.

About Dara Wilson

Dara WilsonDara Wilson is currently living in Panama and working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI). This is her fourth time traveling to Latin America.

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