How do you respond when you are a victim of armed robbery?
I keep asking myself this ever since it happened yesterday, and I have come up with a few answers, but none of the answers are things I want to hear.
So let me describe what happened, and maybe the WWW can help me out.
How I ended up with a gun pointed at my face:
I taught my after school activity which was a dance workout. I was wearing my favorite baggy t-shirt that says, “I’m a Teacher, what’s your super power?” and some yoga pants.
Around 4:15 or so I drove the 15 minutes (should have been 6 but I got lost) from my school to the Embassy Suites (owned by Hilton).
I parked my car in front of the main entrance to the hotel and went inside for 5-10 minutes to pay for my room for tomorrow night’s Parent Teacher Social.
I started to drive back home, and a block away from the hotel (next to the Beverly Shopping Center) at a GIANT intersection, I tried to make a left turn. Because by this point it was the beginning of rush hour traffic I was stopped at the very center of the intersection as I waited for cars to let me turn.
Just as the cars slow down and I begin to pull forward, a guy on a motorcycle races up from behind me, stops right in front of my left headlight, and refuses to move. I am just yelling at him in English to “Please move!”, with my windows rolled up, and my nearly black tinted windows so he probably can’t see me. Then I notice he is pointing a gun right at me.
Because the cars are now impatient with me not making my left turn the other cars just drive around us as the guy is pointing his gun at me. I remember thinking that everyone told me to give the bad guys what they want, but how could I get out of the car in the middle of a GIANT intersection during rush hour traffic! So instead I try to run into the motorcycle’s back tire.
The motorcycle goes forward just enough for me to not do him any harm. He then leans his motorcycle into my door so he can make a giant scrap from my headlight to my driver’s door handle. Then he bangs on my window with his fist and points his gun at me.
I don’t want to look at it so I swerve around another car in the intersection and try to speed up to get away.
ONLY TO BE STOPPED BECAUSE TRAFFIC ISN’T MOVING.
I’m breathing fast at this point thinking that the guy might have gone in a different direction, but I start yelling out loud to myself in my car once I realize that he has followed me on the two lane highway and he is now pounding on my driver’s side window again.
I refuse to look at him because I AM DRIVING IN RUSH HOUR TRAFFIC and I can’t do anything but go forward. I am so frustrated that the cars aren’t going faster that I start blasting my car horn.
Then I realize that he is starting to back off so I keep honking the horn until I notice that he and another guy on a motorcycle riding next to him take a right immediately after the bridge I was trying to cross.
I hear him yell something that sounds like “despues” that makes me think he will come looking for me later.
I then blindly drive toward the hills near my house while calling my friend.
She tells me not to go home, but every time I see another motorcycle drive past I freak out again and I just want to get off the street. So against her advice and my better judgment, I go to the apartment, park in our gated parking garage and wait for my friend to meet me to go over to her house.
We hash it out and go over all the little details and this is all that I can come up with to explain why I was a target:
- I was driving by myself.
- I am a female.
- I look like a gringa
- I was just at one of the nicest hotels around so maybe they followed me.
- I was driving an average car that is easy to find parts for so maybe they wanted to sell it for parts.
- I have really dark tinted windows so maybe they thought I actually have money.
- They just wanted the car
So my question is what do I do now?
I have a giant scratch down the side of my car. I feel unsafe driving. It was only a few minutes from my apartment. I am returning to the same area tomorrow for a school event.
The only thing I can do is not drive for a couple weeks, try to not go out by myself, get my car fixed, and try to just live my life without fear. I even asked my school if they thought I could file a report with the police, but because the guy had a helmet that covered half his face, was wearing a black jacket so I couldn’t see any tattoos, just had a crappy old motorcycle, and I can’t remember his license plate there is nothing for me to report.
Does anyone have any answers?! How likely is it that this will happen to me again in the same city? How do people get over the fear of driving again? How do people get over the fear of motorcycles? How do people live in the same community where violent acts have been committed against them? What can I do to avoid this happening again?
I’m really sorry that this happened to you. I wish I had advice, but all I can send you are good thoughts.
Thank you for your thoughts Stephanie.
I talked a bit with another teacher who has had similar experiences in the past and it helped give me some perspective.
I think no situations are ever the same. You made decisions based on all the facts going on around you and you got out of the situation unharmed. These guys most likely will be going for easy targets and will have moved onto other things by now. Advice wise: you did do the right thing. Allow yourself time to build up your confidence again by taking things slow, try to have someone with you at night to start with. Maybe put stickers in your car and over the scratch to change the look of it? Do these things happen that often? What is the chance of it happening again?
I’m already asking around to see where I can get the scratch on my car fixed. There were some stickers on the car that I have since taken off. It is not very common to see stickers on cars here unless they are political. I’m not even going to think about doing that!
Sadly, robberies are becoming more and more common here. I’m looking for statistics now to help inform my decisions.
How absolutely terrifying. I think you handled yourself really well. I doubt they will go to the trouble of hunting you down – they’ll just move on to the next ‘easy’ target. Glad you’re OK.
Thanks Linda. I hope you are right. One of my friends told me that when she worked in Maracaibo she had friends who were victimized by the same people. NOT what I wanted to hear at the time! I think it would be hard to find a single car in a city with a population of nearly 2 million (according to Wikipedia 2010 data).
Yeah, I think so too. Why would they go to the trouble? I’m sure there are plenty of rich foreigners they could target. I think you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and that will be the end of it. You didn’t do anything that they’d want to come after you for. If you’d trashed his bike or hurt him or something, then maybe. As it is, I don’t think so. Plus you’re on the alert now – they want the element of surprise on their side. Cowards.
I just wonder how long it will be before I feel safe driving here. Even when I am in the car when someone else is driving I still feel ultra paranoid. Is it paranoia when something bad happened to you and it is a common occurrence? haha
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Ha ha, no, I don’t think that’s paranoia! Just common sense! It will probably take a while to get over it, but you’ll get there. 🙂
We live in South Africa and have had a tough time in our three years here, so this is our last year. We were robbed in a home invasion last year just before our contract was due, and we didn’t want that to be the deciding factor, so we stayed the extra year, but I find myself soured on the country now, especially because the reaction from EVERYONE was that we should just accept the occasional theft. Weigh your options and remember that a second occurrence is unlikely, especially now that you are more aware of what can happen, but don’t stay for the pride or the money.
Did you move houses at that point? I can’t imagine how you must feel to have your home invaded! At least I can walk away from my car and try to forget about it.
Earlier this year in September I had my old personal laptop stolen from my classroom at school. School is one place you would expect to be safe with the multiple security guards, tall fences and security cameras. Thankfully I still feel safe in my apartment.
People here tell me to accept it too. “Well, robberies are just really common, at least you are unhurt.”
Now I am simply afraid every time I get in a car.
In Thailand, it’s common for drivers to install a camera on their dashboard so they can record accidents or incidents. If that is not available, I’d keep your phone or camera charged so you can remember to start recording if need be. I realize that is a lot to ask under duress, but I think a camera or recording device would help to deter any criminal.
If you think they followed you from the hotel, then you should be safe. Try varying your route (always a good habit). Unfortunately, South Am is known for these kinds of things. One of the big reasons why I left. Perhaps you can find pepper spray, too.
I think if you can find a way to defend yourself and protect yourself, you will feel better. Good luck, and I hope you continue to stay safe.
Thank you for your reply Lani.
I will ask around about getting a dashboard camera. My phone always seems to be just about to die when school gets out. Maybe I should start by finding a car charger.
I definitely felt much safer when I lived in Asia. I just love that there is a good work-life balance here. Are there schools in Asia where there is good balance?
I think working at a language school, where I’m at, provides a good balance because we have classes after regular school gets out. In other words, I’m working in the evenings and weekends, so the rest of the time is mine. It’s not for everyone but I’m so used to it by now and I like having time to write and relax.
Hope you are able to find a camera that works. Take good care. Give us an update, too. Okay?
Hi, I love your blog and I read regularly. Nothing much helpful to add, but I am really sorry that is happened to you, and you are in my thoughts. Stay safe, and take whatever decision you feel is best (re: leaving versus staying).
Thanks for reading. It helps knowing that someone else is hearing what I have to say.
So sorry to hear this happened to you. I don’t have any advice, but feel you did the right thing based on the circumstances. I love the idea of getting a camera install on the car going forward. If possible, maybe take another route to your home.
I also like the idea of a dashboard camera. I hope I can find one.
The problem with moving to a new city is that you never know where anything is! I’m sure there is another bridge to get to the other side of the city, but I don’t know where it is yet. Instead, I’m just avoiding that part of the city for a while.
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I also have nothing constructive to add as far as advice goes but totally sympathize and understand how much this sucks. I loved Ecuador and mostly felt safe but the hotel in Cuenca left messages on the beds basically telling guests not to go out at night for safety concerns. While this is ridiculous as it is in a city renowned for being an “expat haven”, I don’t think the hotel industry quite understood that people were highly unlikely to recommend a place where even the hotels say it’s unsafe.
Frankly if someone chased us at gunpoint, it’s goodbye to that place for us. There are too many places to live in the world and although every place has problems, why risk it when you can work elsewhere? You have so many talents and such good experience I hope the experience left you yearning for the next place and hopefully it’s safer for women. We don’t plan on working anymore so maybe it’s different for us but still: as Lani said, South America is too crime ridden for my taste. Nice, but economically so different from Asia that there’s no comparison.
If I could get a job in Asia where I have as much disposable income as I do here, I could see myself moving. However, I think that would be a tough criteria to meet! My goal is to pay off the rest of my $53k in student loan debt over the course of the next 3.5 years while still saving for retirement and traveling. Hopefully, trouble will stay away from me during the rest of the time I plan on spending here.
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Understood. The opportunities are more limited for teaching in Asia and don’t as well. Kudos to your plan !! It’s so refreshing to see ambitious young people working hard to become debt-free !! Most in the USA just bitch about how my generation ruined it for them but waste their lives getting 6,500 followers on some useless blog where they tell everyone how to “earn online income”.
Your post struck up a conversation that almost ended in an argument last night because Diane has concerns in Malaysia. Since I have a Jewish name although I’m non-religious and I am much more talkative and willing to share information, she gets worried sometimes. Chinese are much more reserved and keep most things to themselves but I believe if you’re scared, you can’t be an expat so we’re looking for a happy medium.
Good luck and please keep sharing !!
why the hell did I call you Karin? Sorry for the brain fart
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