There are good times and fun to be had in South America. Come along and discover How to Get Raped, Robbed and Screwed Over in Colombia.
Where I am actually going to lay out the facts which will help foreign residents live a quiet peaceful life in Colombia. Hello critics – get ready to take some notes!
How to Get Raped, Robbed and Screwed Over in Colombia
Let’s be real. South America has an incredible wealth of resources, natural wonders and strange, fun and interesting cultures. At the same time, despite their incredible opportunities to grow and develop, many of these countries are still suffering massive amounts of poverty and lack of education. The two go hand in hand.
What they aren’t suffering from, is a lack of creativity. In fact, Colombians especially, tend to be extremely creative.
They can take a length of grass, a piece of pipe and a few chicken eggs and turn it into something to sell, something to make arepas, and something to feed their families. That same creativity that has made so many foreign residents fall in love with these places, is also simultaneously being used against us. And, it’s time to really call it for what it is…OUR OWN STUPIDITY.
There is absolutely nothing that can prepare an American for life abroad. In general, we tend to be very open about personal information, money and lifestyle. And, that right there is what gets us in a LOT of trouble. Don’t believe me?
Stop reading and go back to what you were doing previously, nothing to see here.
#1 | Drink With Strangers
I’m not saying that you can’t share a few beers with someone you meet at the corner “tienda,” or convenience store. I myself have had some extremely pleasurable moments simply relaxing at the end of the day with a Poker michelada (a little lemon juice and some salt) in hand, at a little tienda. It’s nice.
What I am saying here, is don’t turn it into an all-nighter with people you just met and then proceed to get 3-sheets-to-the-wind-drunk. You might get Raped, Robbed and Screwed Over, or worse…yes there are worse things.
#2 | Talk About Money
Classy people like you know better…right? On the other hand, Americans (dare I say many first-worldians) tend to be very vocal about the ups and downs of our money. Even the most broke joke, can usually find something to do for favorable gain, and then go out and celebrate later. It’s ok! But don’t talk about it.
In fact, I will take it a step further. Be careful who you “invite,” or buy things for, give handouts to, or try to “help.”
We tend to have the soul and spirit of a Good Samaritan, and that’s ok!
All I am saying, is to carefully analyze the situation before you begin what could turn into a slow drain of resources. Enabling a drunk to be drunk, or a druggie to be drugged is completely different than genuinely helping someone in need. Help others, but make careful decisions about who, how and when. Discretion is advised. People are watching you. No dar papaya = don’t give advantage.
#3 | Brag To Your Friends
One-upmanship is as old as the earth itself, and isn’t going away soon. We have all told slightly tall tales, and given slight exaggerations to people we want to impress. Especially when you want to date someone, it’s easy to look for ways to catch their attention.
And to be fair, the person you are with may or may not be “copiando,” or paying close attention. But someone else might. And that someone usually has friends who are organized and extremely skilled with a knife, gun or fist.
I have met brash, bold and braggardly expats who LOVE to invite their friends, talk about their successes and enjoy their lives abroad. They also tend to wonder why people keep robbing them, even in “safe” areas.
Crime in South America is organized to the point that one time a friend told me how his sister was “Scoped” (scopolamine attack), and vaguely remembered being taken to some back room in what appeared to be a bank. They then proceeded to “allow” her to empty her account.
The kicker, is that they knew ahead of time how much she had to lose.
#4 | Invite Everyone Over For a Party
In our home countries we like to have barbecues, house parties and private dinners with people we are interested in. In South America, I have noticed that the locals tend to be extremely reserved and protective of their private spaces. To be invited into the home of a friend (especially an upper-class friend), is a rare treat and not to be taken for granted.
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They probably cleaned and maybe even put their valuables away prior to your arrival. Why? Because they have learned better at some point. Sticky fingers are attached to all kinds of professions and personality types.
#5 | Don’t Use Contracts for Business Deals
I can personally attest to this. Over and over and over again. When you offer a service, you MUST charge 50% ahead of time and 50% prior to delivery – AT ALL COSTS. In fact, use a simple payment contract. It’s not convenient. I am as guilty of this as the next person. I have been screwed over several times by well-meaning clients who will say “Oh, que pena, I will pay you later, I PROMISE!”
There is no later when it comes to business. It comes back down to CYA – Cover Your Ass! In fact, it can help keep your friendships happy and healthy. If it doesn’t, then they weren’t your friend to begin with. Don’t get Raped, Robbed and Screwed Over!
#6 | Talk Loudly…Wherever, Whenever
I have a cousin who is a total screw-up. He horn-swaggled me into thinking he was a better person than he was. What arrived at my doorstep was a swaggering drunk.
When we would go out in public, he would talk.so.loud. It drove me nuts and made me feel like a walking target. OMG! I can’t even begin to express how irritating it was, after 5 years in Colombia, to listen to his loud American voice. He was SO LOUD. It grated on my ears. And, he got robbed…multiple times, within only a month.
TIP: DON’T TALK LOUDLY. In fact, use your indoor voice as much as possible. Learn to lower your volume so that it only reaches the ears you want to hear it. This will give you a peace and tranquility you won’t find anywhere else.
It is a hard lesson to learn, especially for Americans where we are used to wide open spaces. Discretion is the key to everything. I’m not perfect. After a night out dancing or listening to a band my volume tends to rise inadvertently. Work on your listening skills and learn to speak very quietly.
#7 | Trust People
This is a fine line to walk. Some of the most incredible experiences I have ever had came from trusting strangers. If you have something to lose, like money or “things,” this is for you. Be open and friendly, but don’t trust people. Enjoy your life, spend time with “friends.” Don’t give them anything you can’t afford to lose. Trust is a precious commodity in South America. Don’t spend it carelessly.
After so many years abroad, I will openly admit, I have bigger trust issues than ever. And I have learned to be this way from experience.
Colombia is kinda like the Wild Wild West of Hollywood, things are a bit freewheeling, opportunity abounds, and the person with the biggest stick wins. Whether it is a police officer, your personal accountant, or the priest at church – don’t trust. I was raped in Brazil because I trusted an off-duty cop to come in and use my bathroom and then leave. He came in, used my bathroom, raped me…then left. True story. Sad, wretched, shameful, but completely true. Don’t be like Erin. Make wise decisions and don’t trust people who you don’t know really well.
#8 | Use Cocaine
As one friend described the experience, “it causes me to make bad decisions.” This same friend can be found snorting white powder most weekends, chasing skirts and crashing out in his apartment. He has very little to lose. In fact, he lives out of a suitcase, enjoys his lack of “things,” and generally lives pretty chill. But seriously…
Another friend and I were talking about going out, and I said to her, “you like to dance, let’s go dancing!!!” To which she replied, “Uh, I don’t know. If I don’t use a little bit of cocaine it feels lame, boring and slow.” I was gobsmacked. She was younger than me.
This is a flash-point which I am certain will earn me lots of criticism. Some people will say, “please don’t talk about this, bad people will come after you.” The point isn’t to be critical of narcotrafficantes, or drug pushers, only to point out the sad reality of backpacker tourists and the middle class travelers.
Cocaine not only causes you to make bad decisions, but it can also ruin your ability to enjoy normal activities without that “high.” Why do that to yourself? Colombia has so much more to offer you than that, choose positive tourism – leave your drugs at the door.
#9 | Avoid Dealing With Addiction
I will take the previous topic one step further, and say that, I have an addiction problem. Since the age of 14, I have smoked. At first it was recreational. In fact, I didn’t even become a daily dose type until I was 23, and I wanted to stop using tobacco. But from 23 to 32, I became a lifestyle user. I was a functional stoner, extremely so. In fact, some of my best work has been produced while I was higher than a kite. Until reality slapped me in the face.
It was affecting my athletic potential, in a big way. During karate practice my energy would fail unexpectedly, or faster than normal. When hiking in the city, I was too out of breath. And when I would get sick, I would often catch a cough I couldn’t get rid of. I am not a critic of Mary Jane, but I needed to get healthy, and learn to be me, without that little extra push.
Colombia especially, is heaven and hell for addicts. Our favorite substances are easy to obtain and ridiculously cheap. Sugar, Alcohol, Cigarettes, Cocaine and Marijuana are everywhere. There are also really cheap addition treatment programs too.
The decision is yours…try to find the right one for you.
#10 | Get Raped, Robbed and Screwed Over
To be fair, no one sets out with the intention of “Gee, I hope someone rapes my shit today!” But it happens. I remember in high school, how the Latina girls were always the toughest and most feared either in a fight or argument. Today, I totally understand why. Latin men, in general, are aggressive and pushy. In Colombia, to most men, “No” means “go.”
If you are dating a guy, but you don’t have the self-confidence or courage to say no, don’t be alone with him. In fact, if the guy is pushy and aggressive, while attractive to some of us, it is a bad sign. The way things work here, is you go out with a group of people and in that group you are still mostly safe.
Editors Note: While my rape happened in Brazil, I have seen and heard many similar stories of cases here in Colombia, including some very violent rapes which left the victim hospitalized for several days. Unfortunately, there are no victim counseling services unless you are willing to pay a private counselor. If anyone does know of victim services, please leave the information in the comments so I can post it in this article.
Especially if you are a woman, you may have to suck it up and put on your big girl panties. Say that no means no, and really mean it. If you are generally a bit of a pushover, then Latin America may not be for you. Once you start drinking, and talking to a hot guy with this amazing charm with an edge of aggression, it will be on you, and probably in you. Men here only respect strength and character. Giving it up on the first date implies that you have neither.
Are you really that kind of guy/girl?
#11 | Don’t Use Any Situational Awareness
People who study criminal justice, join the military and who study self-defense all touch on this theme at some point. Situational awareness is the ability to pay attention to your surroundings regardless of where you are and what you are doing. It’s a slightly elevated level of awareness which is put into practice by constantly scanning and being aware of your surroundings.
Whether you are walking in the street, having coffee in a cafe or enjoying a beer after work, you are always paying attention to what is happening around you. It means you are NOT walking down the street while texting or talking on the phone. You should never get so drunk or be so self-involved that you fail to take note of who is doing what in your environment.
This list may seem like common sense, and it is. Yet I still see Gringos getting Robbed, Raped and Screwed Over in Colombia. I’m not here to judge you, criticize you or tell you what to do. But, peace of mind is a treasure that is easily lost here. A little bit of discretion can take you a long ways.
If you feel like this list is a bit daunting…stay home. Life abroad isn’t for the weak minded. It’s a lot like the early pioneers of the American west. You have to see the adventure, seek new horizons and not be afraid to call the bullshit for what it is. On the other hand, since guns are illegal, try to be tactful about it.
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It is now up to you to determine whether I am right. But, as someone who has been Raped, Robbed and Screwed Over…I speak from experience. Go get em’ tiger!