Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Today I Had a Gun Pointed at My Head

When we first began telling people we were moving to Brazil many friends and family came out of the woodwork to tell us how dangerous it was, especially in Sao Paulo. I did some research and was convinced that, despite the elevated crime rate, if you weren't involved in drugs, gangs, or alcoholism then you were relatively safe. If you are sure to not wave cash around, avoid shady places, and not be an obvious tourist (OK, that one's almost impossible for me with my red hair) then you were even more safe.

Despite the people having bars over their windows, tall cement fences, and bullet proof glass in their cars I have never felt that it has been dangerous here. Bridget and I often take walks in the late evening after dark. I jog a fair amount and am often alone running through areas where youth hang out. None of this has ever given me an uneasy feeling. Because everybody we have met here has been so friendly, I was beginning to think that the crime problems really weren't problems for most people. They were mostly just problems for people that put themselves in dangerous situations. Until today.

Caleb and I were driving home from a business meeting. We were about to enter our neighborhood and were only a couple of blocks from where Caleb's children go to school. As we made our way around the curve in the road we could see a car parked in the on-coming lane with its doors open and a few people around it. One person was standing in our lane so Caleb slowed down. As the person in our lane pulled a gun out my first thought was that there was an accident and this was a police officer. It didn't take long to realize this was not an accident. It was a mugging. The realization mostly came when the guy, probably between 16 and 18 years old, lifted the gun and pointed it at our windshield and started yelling at us.

My Portuguese isn't very good, but I knew he wasn't being very friendly. Caleb lifted his hands in the air and I followed suit. As the guy came over to the driver's side door I shoved my phone under my leg so he wouldn't steal it. Our door was opened and the gun was pointed directly at Caleb's head. Caleb grabbed his wallet out of his pocket and handed it over. Then the gun was on me. I guess I was supposed to be getting my wallet out at the same time so I got an extra yelling at. I pulled my wallet out and handed it over. I really wanted to ask if I could keep the wallet and just give him my cash (I think I had about R$200 (USD $50), but I decided just cooperating would probably be the better course of action.

This happened about 1:30 p.m. Broad daylight on a street that has security guards in little stations at both ends. I didn't see much of what was going on with the on-coming car, but Caleb believes it was being hijacked when we came upon the scene. As we were handing over our wallets traffic was actually driving between the car being hijacked and our car. One guy in a van even honked his horn for an extended time as he drove between the cars. I wondered if the gun man was going to shoot at him.

Once he had our wallets he backed up with the gun still aimed at us. Caleb's hands went back up until the guy yelled at us to get going. We drove off.

While we were being mugged I didn't feel nervous. I didn't have the adrenaline rush I would have expected to have. I mostly felt like it was surreal. Is this really happening? At no point during the event did I feel like my life was in danger, though I knew enough not to push my luck. Oddly enough, on the drive from the incident to our house about 1/2 mile away I had a very hard time remembering the name of the app I use to text Bridget (she is currently away on a business trip). I did finally find it, but found after the first text of, "Just got robbed at gun point" that I had a bit more to say than I felt like texting. I must have been nervous because I had trouble getting the texts out.

A couple hours after we got home and worked to get our credit cards cancelled and other wallety matters taken care of, we went back out to see if maybe they took the money from our wallets and just threw the wallets on the ground nearby. Because we were now a bit more on edge, we stopped by the guard shack to ask for an escort. They mentioned this kind of things happens all the time on this street. There's a favela (shanty town) on the other side of the street so they mug people in the nice neighborhoods and then run across a small bridge and hideout in their neighborhood. Caleb asked if by all the time he meant once a week or so. No, pretty much every day. This, by the way, is a road that Bridget and I have driven on twice a day almost every day for the past few weeks as we've gone off in search for a new home to live in. Things definitely could have been worse.

Throughout the day I have felt a range of emotions from anger to embarrassment to frustration to disappointment. I have actually felt like crying a couple of times which is actually a bit inexplicable to me as I can't associate an emotion with it. It's definitely not sadness.

What bothers me the most about the event is that now I have to be all cautious about stuff. I know now to avoid that street, but are there other streets nearby I have to worry about? Should I go jogging anymore despite not bringing anything but my phone and garage door opener? Do we need to find a place to live with super tight security getting in and out of the neighborhood/apartment building? I liked thinking that I was able to go places without problem or not give a second thought in having Bridget run to the store for something. That has changed now which may have been the lesson I needed to receive today. My guard was down. Now it's up and I have to adjust to my new life of being wary of where I go and where my family goes. There are still plenty of great things about this country, but that was a bit of reality that has dampened my spirit. At least today.

If you're interested, this is about where it happened.


Staci Tuck said...

Thank heavens the two of you weren't hurt. What an ordeal!!

Linda Tunnell said...

oh, my goodness! Yes, I can see how that might ruin things. My question is why don't they crack down on these muggers? They know it's going on.
Glad your all safe and sound, and yes be vigilant.

Tymon said...

I've thought the same thing Linda. Why not put some guards near the area it happens, or remove the bridge between the neighborhoods, or put up a fence. I mean, everyday? That's ridiculous.

Kristal Andersen said...

I'm so sorry Tymon. If there's a bright side to all of this it's that the kids weren't with you when it happened as that would have been worse.