As the young man waves his gun in my face, one odd and recurring thought continues to run through my mind. It’s not about what the young man wants. He wants our backpack, that much is clear. It’s also not about the young man or why he targeted us or what we might have done to avoid having a young man pull a gun on us.
There was probably nothing we did to attract the attack nor could we have done anything differently to avoid this situation. Indeed, when I look back at all the countries where I expected to encounter gun violence – South Africa, Colombia and even, at times, some parts of southern Italy – the streets of Mendoza, Argentina was certainly really low on my list. But here we are, gun in our faces in broad daylight on the streets of Mendoza, being asked to hand over our stuff. But the one thought that is running through my head most is this.
I don’t think he’s going to shoot us.
That’s my thought overriding all others. I’m not afraid. I’m not even particularly angry (although I should be). Nope. The only really strong thought I have as I look at the young man and his gun is that he’s not going to seriously shoot us in broad daylight in the middle of the streets of Mendoza for our bag. So I keep walking.
I don’t bother to acknowledge his weapon or his request. If anything I become a bit beligerent in English and start demanding “What do you want?” even though it’s clear what he’s after. As I push past the gun holder and stare down the second of the three robbers, I hear Sue yell “No!” and watch as she darts around him, bag still firmly on her back.
Apparently she has made the same assessment of the situation. Lucky for us, we are close to our hostel and as Sue knocks on the door, I watch the young man with the gun slowly walk past us, always pointing his weapon in our direction, until he finally turns and runs with his other two assailants. And thus ends our first attempted robbery.
Sue and Peter: 1. Robbers: 0.
Looking back now, this was pretty clearly the wrong thing to do. Every piece of advice on handling robbers tells you to do the opposite; hand over your belongings and don’t be a hero. While I didn’t fight back, I certainly didn’t hand over a thing and waited for the robber to make a more aggressive move which, ultimately, he never did. Would I recommend this to anyone else? No. But at the time, it was the only behaviour that felt right. In fact, I think, had he taken a swing at me, I would have fought back. I really do. But it never came to that and it seems that our assessment of the situation was spot on. He was not going to shoot us. The lessons I take away from our first attempted robbery are the following:
- Robberies can happen anywhere and likely where you least expect them. Throughout our 5 months in South America, Argentina had been held up in our minds as the final, “safe” destination as in “Colombia might be crazy so watch out but when we finally get to Argentina, we can let our guard down and relax.” As it turns out, the exact opposite was true. Colombia ended up being a beautiful and peaceful place while we ended up having our first and only armed robbery attempt in Argentina. Bottom line: your expectations for violence are likely wrong.
- Robbers aren’t always big guys with big guns. The young man that tried to rob us was probably around 17. Same with his friends. My image of being held at gun point usually amounts to a large man with a large gun. In this case, again, the reality was the exact opposite.
- Your initial reaction may be the wrong one. We have read a lot of safety advice and take it seriously. But my first reaction to having a gun pointed at me was not to follow any advice. I reacted on instinct and that instinct told me that I was not going to be shot. That’s the wrong action for sure but it was my natural reaction. You may experience the same and I can’t say that it’s very logical to follow your instincts at all times. We were lucky but that won’t always be the case.
- If you want to rob someone, be convincing. Stupid as it sounds, the robber didn’t “sell me” on his robbery. I just didn’t believe him. If you plan on robbing someone, you have to “sell them” on it. Make them believe you are serious. Hit them. Push them. Something.
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