Safety in Quito: Learning to live in a big cityQuito, Spring 2012

We all got the student coordinator’s email about a month ago. Someone had been robbed at a taxi on the way home from a club most of us were at for a birthday party. We started talking, and found out who it was and what happened. I was told by the person who was robbed that his taxi stopped and two guys jumped in. Shortly later, he felt something cold against his throat and was told to give the guys either money or everything with him -- not sure which. They somehow sprayed a sort of gas in his eyes, he was thrown out of the taxi, and a security guard found him trying to walk home. This story is by far one of the scariest of anything that’s happened. But I could’ve opened this blog post with any one of at least a dozen stories of crime incidents that have occurred here. The American Embassy’s head of security talked with us in orientation about the kinds of crimes in Quito – pick pocketing, taxi robberies, ATM robberies, drugging drinks – and said Quito’s crime level is “critical”, the highest level an embassy can assign a city. He was careful to qualify this rating. “This isn’t Colombia, but it’s getting there,” the head of security told us. Quito is by far NOT the most dangerous city in Latin America. Every time I freak out, I think about how much more dangerous living in Rio de Janeiro, Honduras or El Salvador would be. While almost no one here has armored cars, nearly every apartment building and professional business building have armed guards. My host family lives in a house, and there are three separate doors with a total of four locks. Crime obviously occurs in the U.S. I grew up less than an hour from the south side of Chicago and Gary and had the pleasure of reading about grisly murders almost daily in the news. But there are two key differences: there is no such thing as a safe neighborhood in Quito, and there is no such thing as a safe way to get anywhere. Quito is a beautiful city surrounded by mountains with plenty of public parks to enjoy. There’s a ton of stuff to do and enjoy here, especially outdoor stuff, and public transportation to get you almost anywhere. I’ve been robbed only once of my house keys. I’ve been with friends while they were robbed. There’s a look of disbelief, then tears, then anger. I feel horrible. They’re helpless, and they’ll never see their stuff again. If nothing else, I’ve learned how to keep myself fairly safe and survive one of the most treacherous parts of living in a big city.
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