(Not the board game)
Risk has been a constant companion ever since I first went abroad to live in Lima, Peru in the summer of 1972. Whether it was from health threats like dengue, parasitic worms, malaria, yellow fever, rabies, unpronounceable illnesses unknown to most US doctors and/or the paucity of 3rd world healthcare; or from security threats, with and without weapons, including robbery, carjacking, kidnapping and/or teenagers who don’t listen to safety rules and disappear in the middle of the night only to reappear before morning; I’ve learned to live with risk.
The pandemic is just another version of it.
While living in Mexico City in the 1990s, I taught a monthly, 4-hour Welcome & Orientation Class to a group of about a baker’s dozen English-speaking expatriates. Working from an outline to cover the basics, I’d cover the same information and serve the same coffee for each and every class.
Or so I thought until the month when two attendees reacted in diametrically opposing ways. After class, one burbled that now she felt that she could go anywhere and do anything in Mexico; whereas another woman was so frightened by what she’d heard me say- declared that she was going back to her rented home, locking the doors and never, ever going out again. Having never seen her again, I bet she left.
I also met foreigners in Mexico City like Ellen*. The first time her husband was held up by gunpoint in broad daylight while stopped at traffic lights on a major thoroughfare on his way to work, the pair took it in their stride. It’s a large city, they philosophized, these things happen.
Even on the day of the double header when robbers accosted her husband twice as he sat in his locked, but open-window car, they stayed. Both just shrugged it off, like it was no big deal.
They did resolve to keep their car windows shut tight everafter.
The bankers arrived late one night into the Mexico City International Airport and having been well cautioned, opted to take the safer official taxis from the airport. The safer taxi proved no safer, being robbed itself en route to the bankers’ hotel.
When the well-known boxing promoter with a wild hairdo and a Rolex watch on his arm was reported as having been a victim to the same schtick robbery, no expats I spoke with had much sympathy. After all, who the hell wears a Rolex in Mexico? Everyone knows you only wear the fake Rolex there.
With only one legal gun seller in the country, the government store in Mexico City, robbers developed more creative methodologies. For a while it was fashionable for robbers to toss a live rat into an open car window, at which point when the occupants jumped out of the vehicle the robbers would steal the vehicle.
In the Mexico City upscale neighbourhoods of Polanco and Zona Rosa there was constant vehicle and pedestrian traffic, nevertheless even in the daytime things happened. Car windows might be blown out by gunfire, people kidnapped in front of their apartments or US embassy employees coshed on the head at 3 PM.
The video was shown over and over in Mexico City in the late 1990s. A couple of dozen policemen being chased by a few knife wielding bad guys. The public chuckled at the Keystone Cops antics, while at the same time sadly recognizing these very same poorly trained and underpaid police were a large part of the crime problem in the city. After all, when the police have to pay off other police, things never go well for the people.
The Sri Lanka business man returned late one night from a bar prowl with clients in his chauffeur-driven SUV. Pulled over by the police, he and his Mexican chauffeur were robbed and tossed in the trunk of the vehicle unhurt. The question among the expatriates was, what does a man who speaks no Spanish do in a trunk with a man who only spoke Spanish for the four hours before they were rescued?
Ever practical expat wives began to recommend their husbands buy cars with backseat pass-throughs to the trunk. Just in case.
My husband’s last office was in a quiet neighborhood of mostly low rise middle-class apartments and houses. Hesitantly he finally told me about the two gun battles he had heard not far from his office, located on a ground floor of a modest office building behind nothing more protective than large glass windows covered with 3M film.
I asked him if his life insurance was paid up, not unfeelingly but in the realization that we weren’t leaving Mexico just because of that. Wasn’t it true that these things happen in Gringolandia too?
Of course they did, as they remembered the young man from his midtown Manhattan New York office who was robbed of the slide projector he was schlepping down the street to another building in the early 1980s. These things happen.
While living abroad in the 1980s and 90s, the visuals available on Ecuadorian and Mexican cable and satellite television reinforced the belief in those countries that the United States was a violent land. Friends would ask me if it was as bad as they’d seen on the television. What could I say?
Well sometimes, adding that the US was also a country of absurdities where a kid in North Carolina could not buy a music CD due to the parental advisory rating–but could buy a gun in a nearby WalMart.
In 2021 the absurdities that continue to today, a young Georgia man allegedly (and admittedly) bought a gun to kill people on the same day, though he couldn’t have registered on the same day to vote.
*All names always are pseudonyms.