Sunday, March 4, 2012

Dangerous? I'll convince myself otherwise...

In Chile, everybody who doesn't live in Valparaiso tends to claim that Valpo is "dirty and dangerous."   I will usually give them that first point, but not the second.  I tend to believe that people exaggerate and that bad things can happen anywhere.

I lived in Minneapolis for a while before I moved to Chile.  Minneapolis is a fairly big city.  It has a downtown area with sky scrapers, a good sense of culture, people of diverse backgrounds and religion, and a crime rate that makes the charts nationwide... especially in some categories such as forcible rape (where it unfortunately leaves most other cities in the dust).  While the amount of violence one is exposed to varies depending on where you spend your time and what type of people you hang out with, that's not a rule, and one should always be careful and alert, especially at night.   When I lived there, I rarely felt unsafe during the day, but I was never very fond of walking alone at night in some areas.  I would always have my phone close in case I needed to call for help.  I'm not entirely sure how true it is, but I was usually under the impression that if you called 911 upon entering a dangerous situation, there was a chance that the police would get there quickly and in time to help you and/or catch the offender.  This idea is probably supported by Hollywood movies, where the police surround the house just as someone is about ready to pull the trigger... but honestly I feel that response time is pretty good, as I have noted it when calling for things as little as a neighbor's loud party.

The other thing in Minneapolis is that it felt safe walking in places where there were other people.  I felt less likely that something would happen to me with witnesses around, and if it did, I felt fairly confident that other people would step up to help.  This might not be the case if I were being held up at gunpoint, but especially if others weren't putting themselves in danger, I feel they would be more than likely to help a victim, call an ambulance, possibly even go after a criminal.  Luckily I never tested this out personally, but at multiple times I saw this process in action.

In Chile, my hope of being helped in a dangerous situation is non-existent, as numerous events have formed this outlook.

But if I'm going to find myself comparing places, its good to live somewhere where I am not in constant risk and fear of physical danger.  My worries in Chile, in general, are limited to getting robbed, groped, or my house being broken into- not getting shot or raped. However, to some extent, I feel my perception of security is just a myth I hold on to.   In reality, I have been followed home and attacked by a man from behind a car.  Just last month, on the way home from seeing the giant puppets, I overheard two sketchy individuals planning to attack me.  According to them, my pants would be ripped off in the process. Friends who have been robbed have also been beaten or worse.  Tourists have their cameras ripped off at gunpoint. I am uncomfortable sitting next to men on public transportation.  Despite convincing myself I should feel safe, I have felt unsafe in many other situations, whether with cause or just on a hunch.

My boyfriend has a friend who has been living with us while he saves some money and looks for a place to live.  Friday on the way to our house when he was getting off the micro, the chofer heard a lot of change in his pocket and accused him of having stolen it from the micro.  He denied stealing anything and tried to push by the driver to get off, though the driver jumped up and stabbed him in the neck with a knife.

As he grabbed his neck to put pressure on, he started asking everyone on the busy street for help, that they call an ambulance.  But nobody would.  He was already bleeding all over his clothes, and said people literally ran away from him.  He made his way to some police at the gas station, who rushed him to the emergency room and got him attended to immediately.  The doctors said if the knife would've gone a little big deeper or sideways, he would've been dead.  Instead he's already back home with us, neck stitched up, ignoring his doctor-instructed rest.

The driver got away.  Given how often I recognize stickers and trinkets hanging from the rearview mirrors inside the busses I take, I will probably unknowingly ride in his micro within the next couple months.

I try to convince myself this was an exception, one crazy isolated occurrence.  Maybe I need to tell myself that in order to feel safe, and I support it with the fact that I've been relatively lucky so far. But objectively, this is our third friend/acquaintance to be stabbed within the past year.  Is that number really able to coexist with my perception of safety?


  1. Very true. Once I was lost in Minneapolis and my GPS died, so my friend and I stopped to asked some "nice" people for directions. We got out of the car and heard gunshots. We never got those directions.

    To me, Valpo is definitely not as dangerous or dirty as many Chileans claim. There are lots of things I really like about Valpo (like how it actually has a soul, instead of where I live in Santiago). Yet, in comparison it is dirtier. To be fair, I think it's always easy to pick on the port cities of any country because they see much more traffic and thus are bound to be a bit rougher.

  2. I have heard "dangerous" claims about Valpo too, but your friend's experience is incredible. A demented bus driver is truly frightening and the fact that no one would help.......unconscionable.

    I often walk home in Santiago through LaStarria because there are so many people out on the street. I figure that there's safety in numbers, but your story makes me wonder if my perception that "more people = more security" is only an illusion.

  3. Valpo does have a soul! I love that.

    I feel like everyone is always saying Valpo is so dangerous, and its always a huge exaggeration based on a stereotype.

    I feel like nobody sticks their neck out for anybody when in danger, but it surprises me that nobody helped him in this case because the bus driver had left, so it wasn't like a good samaritan was risking anything. I wasn't there, i'll never know if i see the guy... but frankly i've got numerous other worries when im on the busses here in valpo.. i'll jsut add this to my list.

    No, i mean i still do feel this is an exception. though, like i kinda hinted at, i seem to rationalize that almost all of these events exceptions.

  4. What a scary story! I think I forget how lucky I am where I live. La Serena is known for being quiet and "tranquilo" and living out of town it is very quiet. We have been robbed, but only livestock, not in our house.

    However saying that, my mother-in-law's house was robbed repeatedly while everyone was home, (they even came back when the police left!) And almost all houses here have bars on their windows. There is also a lot of trash on the side of the roads which is sad.

    Maybe I watch too much Criminal Minds, but I think I feel safer here rather than the USA. I have lived in London, but only in the USA have I seen shot bodies or known people who later killed, (and I grew up in a nice area). Guns always scared me, and I think I feel abit safer knowing not every criminal here has one.

    Chile is changing very quickly, I hope not for the worst.