|Exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Santiago, Chile|
It happened. After 6 months of travelling and listening to other people's stories of muggings, it happened to me.
On the afternoon of the incident, I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago, Chile. I had a fun time walking through exhibitions of light and sound, as well as getting inspired for my own creative endeavours. After an hour in the museum, I came outside to a sunny staircase where I had seen a girl sitting earlier. I thought to myself "why not have a seat and soak up some sun" and took a seat on the stairs. There were others around, sitting on the grass nearby; couples kissing, friends eating, people biking. I felt so relaxed and happy, and warmed by the light of the sun on my skin.
After a few moments of quiet relaxation, it occurred to me that I should confirm the location of the hostel of my friend whom I was meeting that evening. Without much thought, I pulled out my phone and swiped through my pictures to find the map. Happy to be seeing this old friend again, (who I first met in Peru, then again in Argentina, who I would now see in Chile!), I was in my own world.
As fast as a gust of wind, a guy ran up behind me, grabbed my phone, and ran down the stairs. What was in my hand a moment ago as a tool was not in my hand anymore.
All action, not thought.
I yelled "No! No!" and ran down the stairs after him. "Stop! Help me! He stole my phone! Stop!" I yelled as I ran after him. Someone got up from the grass and chased after him. I chased after the both of them, still yelling for help. They ran around the block to the front of the Museum of Fine Arts, and when I turned the corner after them, they were both gone. Onlookers wide-eyed and stunned stared at me, and I yelled "Where are they!?" and I was pointed onwards. I kept running, and realized my shirt had come unbuttoned during the chase. Holding my shirt closed with one hand, I kept running to find the man who was helping me standing next to a parked car. I ran up to him, coming to the realization that the thief was gone, along with my phone. All the photos, videos, and memories of South America, gone in a second.
As I reached him, out of breath and panting, I asked "where is he?" and the man pointed down at the car. I walked around to the other side of the car to see the thief crouched down by the front wheel. He looked like a little mouse who had stolen a piece of cheese. The man then said, "Give her back her phone!" in a fantastic display of heroism. The thief pulled the phone from his pocket, and handed it up to me while saying "I'm sorry, I'm sorry" repeatedly.
My phone was in my hands again.
Instinctively, I hugged the man who helped me, and still catching my breath, thanked him. "I don't speak much Spanish, but thank you" I uttered through coughs, in broken Spanish. He replied that it was nothing, and we walked away from the parked car to the front of the museum. Deer-in-headlights stares from onlookers continued, and I realized again in that moment that my shirt was still undone. I buttoned it up as two friends walked up to the man who helped me. Spoken in rapid Spanish, I heard a re-cap of events which ended with "You got it back!?"
I made more attempts at a Spanish thank you:
"Without your help, I wouldn't have a phone anymore." + "I can't run fast." + "I want to buy you a present."
"A present?" He laughed, and I gave him another hug and a kiss on the cheek. I said to his friends "Keep him, he's a gentleman."
"Well, he's my brother, so yes I will keep him." His sister replied, and we laughed.
With that, we parted ways, and I sat on a bench in front of the museum counting my lucky stars. Or my four leaf clovers. Or my guardian angels.
I also contemplated my stupidity to chase after a potentially dangerous person. He could have had a knife, or a group of friends waiting for him, or a car... anything could have happened. I was just so lucky that the thief was alone, and that we were able to stop him.
As a female traveller, I am obligated to think about the worst situations that can occur on the road, both as a foreign person, and as a female. I also think about what I would do if in one of those situations. I've always maintained that if I was in a position to do so, I would draw attention to myself by yelling.
I realized my strategy was a good one in this situation. Yelling for help brought help to me. People looked, and they knew something was wrong. Despite the fact that only one person actually got up and chased him with me, it only took the two of us stop the thief.
I had been in Chile for two weeks prior to this incident, and in those two weeks I felt a great increase in quality of living compared to the other major cities of South America. Santiago has big shiny buildings, people using iphones on the subway, and it felt very world class to me. For this reason, I acted in ways I hadn't acted in place like Peru or Ecuador, where I felt less personal security. I never would have sat in a public park in Lima with my iphone out, and I let my guard down in Santiago.
After this mugging, I was reminded again that I'm not invincible. No matter how comfortable I feel in a place, I have to remember that an iphone is a very attractive piece of technology for someone in the market to steal. I never should have sat in public with my phone out, especially so nonchalantly on the stairs of a museum in a park.
I wish all of the other stories of muggings that I heard about while on this trip had happy endings like mine.
Thanks to you, gentleman stranger.