Hey, friends, it has been a while since I’ve posted! For three weeks I didn’t have internet in my apartment, nor a phone line. Now that I do have internet, it is so slow in the evenings that I can rarely even load a normal website. This makes it hard to post on this blog!
I have included this note on a post about security because I think it is very important that expats be able to check in with their families while living abroad. We pay for a land line in our apartments in case cell service goes down and we need to get in touch. There is even a phone tree in case there is an emergency and the school needs to get ahold of us. It is very important that there are multiple ways for someone to contact you- especially when you are an expat living alone.
In fact, because Venezuela is so dangerous, our school even brought in a special security advisor to talk to us about ways to increase our safety while living here. It would have been great to have internet and a phone line while there was a gunfight going on just outside of my apartment building and five men were killed.
They were very clear that most of the crime in Venezuela has economic motives, because of the terrible economic situation here. While many thieves would let you go after robbing you, violent crime is very prevalent. Here are some tips that anyone can use to help keep themselves safe:
Don’t take public transportation. I’m told that in many places public transportation is safer, not here! Both security advisors I’ve spoken with in Venezuela said to never get on a public bus and to avoid using unfamiliar taxis if at all possible. My local friends say that they keep low denomination bills handy because it is really common to get robbed on the bus.
Don’t display your cash or any other inviting targets such as cell phones, hand-held electronic games, or expensive jewelry and clothing.
Parking: Try to park in well-lighted areas with good visibility and close to walkways, stores, and people. In Venezuela, they specifically say that we should park in the fenced-in, paid, parking garages because there are security guards supposedly keeping your car and belongings safe.
Be careful with taxis. Get a phone number of a taxi driver that you like to use and call them when you need them rather than using a service. Even better, ask your friends for taxi phone number recommendations so you can have a list of drivers to use if necessary.
Be careful when you walk. Don’t walk or jog early in the morning or late at night when the streets are deserted. My friend was robbed just outside of his house at 7 AM as he walked his dog.
Lock Up: Always lock your car, even if it’s in your own driveway; never leave your motor running when you are not in the car. After entering your car immediately lock the doors and keep them locked until you are about to step out of the car.
Windows up: you better have good AC in your car, because you should never have your windows down (unless you need to lower them for the police/guards at a security checkpoint). This way thieves cannot see your belongings or hear you speaking English.
Be careful when you go out. Whenever you go out try to always have someone with you or someone that you are meeting- especially when you go out at night.
Watch out for your money. Carry only the money you’ll need on a particular day. The security advisor recommended only having a small amount of money in your banking account too. This way if someone is holding you up at an ATM they will only see a reasonable amount. He also recommends setting a daily limit so they don’t make you withdraw all of your money.
Move out of the way. If you think someone is following you, switch directions or cross the street. If the person continues to follow you, move quickly toward an open store or restaurant or a lighted house.
Be fast: Make sure you have your key out as you approach your door. This way you can get into your car or into your building as fast as possible.
During a Robbery:
Above all else, stay calm, stay quiet, repeat whatever the thief is saying and dictate your movements (“I’m handing you my cell phone”), don’t make eye contact, and give them whatever they want.
Do NOT in any way try to anger or bring attention to the thief. Many of them are armed and desperately dangerous. My first year in Venezuela another security advisor showed us quite a few videos of people being shot dead over a cell phone because they tried to fight back.
Again: if someone tries to rob you, give up your property—don’t give up your life. That twenty dollars/new cell phone/car is not worth your life!
Carry two cell phones. Have a “dummy” phone that you don’t care about easily accessible to hand over in a robbery. Keep your important phone out of sight, hidden away in a secret pocket.
Carry two wallets. Make a “dummy” wallet with expired credit cards, low denomination bills, expired ID, for the thief to take. Keep your real wallet small in size, hidden away, with as few items in it as possible. Do put some money in there because you want to be able to give something to the thief to placate them.
Give up your car. We all know that I was very lucky when I was held up at gunpoint in my car, but please don’t be stupid like I was! In Venezuela it is much safer to have a car so that you don’t have to walk on the street, but if you are about to enter your car after shopping and a thief comes up and demands your car keys give them the keys and back quickly away toward the tail end of your car (so they don’t try to shove you into the car). Then try to book it to safety!
Live your life!
Despite all of the warnings listed above, even those of us living in a dangerous city should still do our best to live our lives to the fullest. So I bring my friends with me when I go to the gym. I only go out at night if I have a car full of people. I don’t drive places that are unfamiliar to me when I’m alone. I still keep busy, though!
Please comment below: Do you have other tips for people who live in dangerous places?