The setting is the beautiful beach town of Santa Marta, Colombia. My friend and Peace Corps Volunteer, Lexi, and I were just sitting watching the cotton candy sunset disappear beneath the ocean thinking wow, ‘Colombia isn’t so dangerous; what is all the fuss about?’
Fast forward ten minutes to three men following us in the dark, and one running behind us with a knife in his pocket, ripping Lexi’s purse off her shoulder so hard it breaks, and they are off running with the stolen purse. Then it comes; the gut wrenching, frozen feeling, the near black-out state. I can’t remember why I acted the way I did, why I ran screaming a butchered mixture of Spanglish down the street to try and stop him. In these situations, the adrenaline just goes and it takes you wherever it wants. It is absolutely terrifying, and strangely thrilling all at once. But, after chasing him about two or three blocks we realized he was gone. Then, we caught our breath, attempted to calm ourselves down, thought about what was in the purse, and started making moves to cancel cards, call people, etc.
We didn’t even think of going to the police because things like this don’t usually get resolved in police hands, especially in countries like Colombia. To be honest, we were mad; justifiably or unjustifiably mad at Colombia in general. We were mad at putting trust in a place, putting trust in people, and trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. But, like everyday traveling in Colombia, it surprises you, it surprises the hell out of you.
Surprising things like the local police answering Lexi’s Colombian phone, stating they have the phone, the purse, and the punk who robbed us. Wait, WHAT? We are in Colombia, we just got robbed (which sadly, is very common) but they actually caught him and have the purse? We did a little dance in Lexi’s room, composed ourselves, and walked to the police station to find about ten cops awaiting our arrival on a porch which looked a lot more like a frat house than a police station. We proceeded to identify the man on the front porch – not your average interrogation. We proceed to get our own cab to go to another police station which is surrounded by otherside of town to make another statement. I wait in the dimly lit room listening to static T.V. and wondering what the hell is taking an hour. Meanwhile Lexi proceeds to give her statement and get hit on by all the cops during the process. An hour later we are heading home with the purse, a thief behind bars, and a new sense of gratitude for being unharmed. It was one of those nights that just doesn’t seem real until it is over, and then it still doesn’t seem real.
Getting robbed is numbing, it leaves you feeling exposed and vulnerable. But, there are two options when it’s over: to live in fear, or to come out of the situation with an enlightened perspective on how to never let it happen again. We chose the latter and also developed a new appreciation for life in Colombia. We realized that through all the gritty crime, there is still hope for justice, or something like it.