At orientation, a big muscular guy from the American Embassy came in to tell us that Ecuador was just as unsafe as Baghdad, that rape and killings were common, and that there wasn’t all that much we could do about it. It was at that moment that I wanted to run home screaming, “Why did I come here?!?”
However, they promptly placed a hilarious ex-pat on stage next. The guy’s lived here for thirteen years. Does he take precautions? Absolutely. Do those precautions consist of hiding in his home every night? Absolutely not. The ex-pat was able to give us a much more realistic image of what life is like here, and what we need to be aware of.
Let me put it this way. You’re not gonna die in Ecuador. At least not from a criminal who’s intention is to kill you. You’re far more likely to get killed in a car accident. (The drivers are crazy here.)
However, the chances ARE very likely that you will get robbed. Especially if you’re a gringo. You stand out. The robber thinks, “I can take advantage of this clueless person! And he surely has more money on him than your normal Ecuadorian…” – the typical “rich American” assumption.
Even worse? A gringo in shorts (no one wears those here), or a fancy camera around his neck, or texting mindlessly on his high-tech cellphone. My goal here is to blend in as much as possible. I wear very ordinary clothes to school every day. I always keep some cash in my bra. I only bring my credit card, camera, etc. when I really need it.
Also, I constantly scan my surroundings for anyone who might look suspicious. I make myself aware of the nearest escape zones (a store, a bus, etc.) in case I feel like I’m being followed. The only place I allow myself to walk alone is the short walk to the bus station every morning at rush hour. The streets are pretty busy with people at that time, so I feel fairly safe. Plus, a girl needs to go to school…right?
I have also been warned about this drug that they put underneath pamphlets, and as soon as it seeps into your skin, you fall into a drowsiness that makes you cooperate with the kidnapper. So I never, EVER take pamphlets. Nor do I take maps from people who are “lost”. Shouldn’t it strike me as weird that a local would be asking ME where something is?
So basically, I can never let my game down. Why? Well, technically that scary embassy guy was right to some extent. Apparently Ecuador falls under the same crime rate level as Baghdad and Nairobi. Of course, there aren’t enough ratings for this kind of thing to really tell you anything, and I’m sure Ecuador only barely reaches the cusp of critical. But it’s definitely something to keep in mind!
However, I must remember that there is also a balance to how meticulous one is. I have to remain aware at all times – absolutely. Robberies often happen under the cover of darkness, but they are also likely to happen at 1 in the afternoon. And yet, if all I can think about is the fact that every person around me could be a criminal (and nothing else), I would never want to leave my house!
So I am aware. AND I enjoy.