Thanks to cocaine and Pablo Escobar, Colombia has a reputation as a dangerous, mysterious country that is best avoided. Although this reputation has faded somewhat in the last few years, most people who find out I’m living in Colombia almost immediately ask me: But isn’t it really dangerous there??? A year ago, I would have defended Colombia and said it isn’t more dangerous than any other major city, but now I’m not so sure. I don’t know if the security situation here has actually gotten worse, or I’m just getting old and scared now.
I’ve actually been pretty lucky: During my on and off again time in Bogota over the last two years, I’ve only been robbed twice. The first time was by a crazy, piece-of-glass-wielding homeless woman in the city center, who demanded I turn over the COL$5,000 (US$2.00) I had in my hand. The second was a little scarier: The bus I was on was robbed at knife and gunpoint by four or five men in a nice part of town. The second incident has caused me to have a small panic attack every time a questionable looking guy jumps on the back of the bus. In fact, I’ve given up about $300 in income in order to avoid taking buses at night.
But lately, it seems like other things have been happening as well. A few days ago, my boyfriend and I went out around 7 or 7:30 and were told by a random guy not to go left because there were a bunch of guys robbing people at knifepoint. I didn’t see anything but the police soon zoomed by. And yesterday, on my way to dinner with my boyfriend, we saw three or four teenagers run up to a bus and rob the passengers’ cell phones. In addition, a friend of a friend recently woke up in an unknown part of town after a night of partying and had no idea how he got there.
Supposedly, Bogota is safer than Detroit, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. I’ve never lived in a city in the U.S., so I honestly have no idea how safe these cities feel in comparison to Bogota. It’s unfair to compare the suburbs I grew up in to a city of eight million, but I have to admit I miss things like leaving my car to warm up on winter mornings, knowing I can safely walk around at 8 or 9pm, and knowing that no one is going to jump on the metro and steal my cell phone at gunpoint. Whether or not security has actually gotten worse here, all I know is that I no longer go out at night by myself, only take taxis off the street during the day, and avoid buses at night at all costs. And that I have 4.5 months to go until I permanently, unquestionably, and definitively move back to the picturesque, tranquil, and safe – if somewhat boring – suburbs of western Fairfax. I can’t even imagine what it does to a person to grow up and live in a dangerous society.