Strike 3?

Look at me using a baseball metaphor. A sign of how disturbed I truly am.

I’m only in Buenos Aires for four more days before a short break back to Asia. And I am, frankly, in low spirits. Yesterday morning, in my favorite café, and a nice part of town, about 1130 in the morning, I was the target of a robbery attempt. I have spent three months in Buenos Aires, and this is third time I have either been the victim or the target of criminal behavior.

In this particular case, I was one of very few customers in the café, sitting at the table working on my laptop, when I felt a spray of liquid hit me in the back. It was not a lot of liquid at all. Probably less than a couple of tablespoons. And when I looked up I saw a well-dressed man some meters off, on his phone, looking completely disconnected from whatever had happened. And we (and the wait staff) were the only people in that end of the café. A few seconds of looking verified that I had been sprayed somehow with coffee. I was utterly at a loss. Logic told me that since the ceiling wasn’t leaking coffee, and there was no one else around, that it must’ve been the man who had for some reason thrown coffee on me. Looking back, as I write this, I am amused at how my brain simply refused to grasp what must have happened. The waitress, who had not seen what happened, came over though when she saw me looking around and she was as puzzled as I was. I am a regular at that café and at this point I had three waitresses kind of looking at me and the table, genuinely perplexed. I mean, they could see the coffee sprayed on the table and on the back of my shirt and up on my head -- but no obvious source. Finally, I went to the bathroom to use a damp cloth to wipe off the back of my head and neck. When I came out the man was hastily exiting from the café. As it turned out, my visit to el baño is exactly what he had been waiting for. His plan was to snatch my backpack from the table as he exited the café. Two things seemed to have stopped him. One was (as readers may remember from an earlier post) the carabiner and strap that I had used on my backpack which secured it to the chair and the other was the presence of the waitresses who as far as I can understand, when they saw what he was trying to do, made a move towards him. The wait staff in combination with the fact that the backpack was chained to the chair is what stopped him. I did not in fact actually figure this out until later that evening when I went back and with an English-speaking friend and got the story from the waitress.

At this point, I again started to feel incredibly stupid that I had not realized what was going on. But who the hell expects to have a complete stranger throw the dregs of a coffee cup at him?
My low spirits and disappointment come from the fact that I have been made to feel that Buenos Aires is an extremely unsafe city. I truly feel like every time I walk out the door of my apartment I am in a danger zone. I have to watch everybody, I have to watch everything. I thought I was being overly paranoid buying that strap with the carabiner that I clipped to my belt and to furniture when I was in a restaurant. I am grievously disappointed that in fact I was doing exactly the right thing. It is only been 24 hours and even now my behavior has changed. When I sit in a coffee shop, I look for the corner, I want my back to a wall, I want to be able to observe the entire space around me. Anytime I see somebody come in, I evaluate them. A threat assessment if you will. It is absolutely disgusting that I have to do that. I know how to do this of course, I was trained for it. But it is an exhausting way to live.

I have to wonder if I have just been extraordinarily lucky most of my life overseas. I have been in so many countries and so many cities and I have never had anything happen to me such as has occurred in Buenos Aires the three months that I’ve been here. Never. Not even a hint of this kind of behavior.

And, in my own defense, I try to maintain a very low profile. That is my nature. I’m not ostentatious, I don’t wear flashy clothing, I don’t wear any jewelry, I don’t speak in a loud voice indicating to all and sundry that I am a gringo from outside the country, nothing like that whatsoever. And yet somehow, I now have to go back into a mode of being hyper vigilant at all times. And my behavior of working on my laptop in a café with my backpack? Very common sight here.

As those of you who read this blog know, I generally try to be upbeat and positive about everything. I’m not blind to the faults of the world, but I try not to dwell on them. I have repeatedly said that I don’t hold anything against Buenos Aires and its inhabitants, that this kind of thing can happen anywhere. But still, three times in three months? Is it accumulated bad luck all delivering itself in a very short period of time? I’m at a loss. I will, of course, do my best not to let this affect me too much. But I would be lying if I said that my enthusiasm for being in South America in general, and Argentina in particular has not suffered a serious blow. It won’t stop my plans of course, but any enjoyment factor there might have been is gone. This is just a process to be gone through at this point.

All I can do is say that I’m glad that my foresight helped prevent another theft, and that from now on I will just have to be hypervigilant. Now I understand why most of the restaurants at night in Buenos Aires, at least the ones that I go to, have their doors locked. You have to be buzzed in and buzzed out at most of the upper end restaurants. I used to think that was paranoia. Now…

Well … I will just make the best of it. But I don’t want to stay cooped up in my apartment. I like going out and watching the world. But today, back in the same café, I sat in a sofa tucked into a corner, and there is no doubt that it made me feel better. Hope my next visit to BA later in the year is much better.

My apologies for a somewhat downbeat post. And thank you to everybody who reads me. :-)