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Notes from Underneath: Ack!!

Notes from Underneath

A California girl in Chilsters (that's Chile to you)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009



Do you want to know what I miss? I miss that feeling of security I had when I walked out the door living in the U.S. In fact, that feeling of security even living in your own home, which is provided most of the time living in the States.

Not a day goes by in Chile that I don't hear about some tragic thing that happened to someone as they went along their way living their lives, minding their own business. Today, from two separate sources, I heard a version of the following:

Some woman was driving along a nice neighborhood in Santiago with her window opened only slightly, when from her side mirror she sees a young-ish woman running frantically towards her, crying. The woman running reaches the car and says to the woman driving "Please help me! My husband is after me and he's going to beat me! He found me with another man, please help me, he's going to kill me." The woman is crying real tears, freaking out and upon closer inspection, yes, there really was a man behind the young woman, running down the street after her with a lead type thing in his hand.

My devout blog reader, what do you do in this scenario? Do you turn the other way and say "sorry" or do you help this poor woman who is obviously frantic and who could potentially be in real danger of getting killed? My inclination if faced with this is to obviously HELP the woman... but here in Chile it could get YOU beaten and robbed!

If this story is true, here's what happened: the woman in the car DID stop for the young woman crying but it turns out that she was part of a group of people who had robbed a local store and were looking for a getaway car. They spotted this woman driving who, apparently, had the face of a "dumb ass" and so they chose her for this ill- fated encounter and it turns out that this woman driving was beaten and maybe robbed (though that part of the story is unclear to me - if they stole her purse too). The man running after the young, frantic girl wasn't after her to beat her but part of a scheme in search of 1) a robbery and 2) a getaway car.

And should this story be true (and it very well may be since it apparently appeared in "El Mercurio" - Chile's leading newspaper) the WORST part of all this is that the woman driving claims that there were many, many witnesses that she cried out to for help and NO ONE HELPED HER.

My mother told me this story (she's my source for all things 'worst-case-scenario') and I read it yet again in a forum of a group I belong to ... and the person who posted this story in the forum asks a very interesting question: is this story legitimate or is this a way into cornering us into our own little world where we don't help our fellow neighbors who are in need, for fear that we will be taken advantage or or even hurt?

The more I live here, the more I read, the more I speak to others, I reiterate that not a day goes by that I don't hear a story like this one I just wrote about or hear about these said "Spidermen" who scale 24 story buildings to rob an apartment on the 24th floor. The person who lives there gets home and realizes all his/her things are gone!
Or the story of how a person will call and frantically say "OMG your mother/brother/sister/husband/child has been hurt. You need to get down here fast/send money/meet me at such and such place/ in order to avoid delays in hospitalization/going to jail/answering to the authorities." And so the person receiving the call FREAKS THE F OUT because who wouldn't when receiving such a call?? But here in Chile it may very well be a tactic to rob/hurt you. So should this call come in, what does one do?

Since one can't be sure, I've decided that for now I won't answer to anyone or help anyone that crosses my path who is in need - of ANYTHING. I know this is not humanitarian nor is it neighborly of me and I am sorry to see this part of me fade to black. But I'm in a different jungle here in South America and while I realize and appreciate that it's not the fiercest of the jungles out there (such as Mexico City and Sao Paulo) I'm certainly not in pleasant San Francisco, California. One adapts and this is, for now, part of my adaptation.

What do you think? Do I have a point? Or am I surrendering a part of my humanity and a part of my generosity in taking such a stance?

I think you are smart enough to tell the difference when the time comes! But I don't envy you having to polish your BS detection skills just to feel somewhat safe everyday. Great post Andrea.
i think when you are new to living somewhere, it seems worse than it is. maybe the crimes are different than one is used to where they come from, but crime is everywhere. my pololo was extremely upset by crimes that happened when we were in the states for a few months....he would say, yeah lots of people get robbed in Chile, but a random man doesnt bust into a party and shoot up a room full of hispanic people in a hate crime. that stuff doesnt happen in Chile. i guess my point is that although it seems like useless advice, i guess we all just have to get used to it (whatever that may mean. taking more precautions with our purses, putting an extra lock on the door, not helping those strangers that come up to the car...etc)
I agree with emilyta that it's in large part about getting used to new dangers. Santiago is objectively more dangerous than my small home town, but I no longer find the dangers surprising. I've had things stolen from a backpack I left in a classroom (naive, but at home it would have been fine) as well as having my apartment broken into, neither of which was fun but both of which have made me more aware/paranoid so that I feel like now those things would be less likely to happen to me. And of course although theft is much higher here, the odds of getting raped or killed are less than in most major US cities!

What you brought up here though is I think a slightly different topic: not whether a place is objectively safe but whether you can count on your neighbor. Unfortunately Santiago has some problems on that front (a lot of people, myself included, relate it back to the dictatorship when you really could not trust people to help you or not to turn you in as a leftist). Although once you're "in" people will do anything for you, if it's a stranger you can't be sure they have your best intentions at heart. I hope that once you settle in a bit more you get comfortable enough to feel like you can tell when someone really is in need and help them out, but sadly your saftey comes first, and if there's a chance it might be threatened you have to consider that fact.
i think that if you're smart about it- and i'm sure you are after having lived in a major city for your entire life - you can feel safe here. i agree w/what emily said about how strangers might not be as open and friendly but that once you are in people's hearts, they'll do anything for you. that's why i think it's a really good idea to get to know you're neighbors and people around you in shops and stores. i have lived here for a little over 1.5 years and - in my entire life- for a total of about 2.5 years - and in that time i have had very, very few problems. then again, i never had any problems in NYC or St Louis either. maybe i just don't look like someone you want to steal from. either cuz i dont look rich or bc i'm a bad ass. i'd like to think it's the latter.

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