Baptism by Fire

A MESSAGE TO THE READER: Since my last post, which was admittedly much too long ago, I have experienced a lot to share that will certainly take up more than one post. And although you deserve to read a story from the beginning of my adventures, I’m obligated to share this particular experience before moving onto the rest, which I assure you will also be available in the near future too.

A new country, new friends, and the promise of new experiences. A new start.

Universidad Veritas classes commenced in a flurry of numerous orientations, tours, and introductions. I had a nervous excitement for my Spanish classes, a curious interest to retry my hand at art, and hunger to develop photography skills. To top it all off, classes began on my 21st birthday, and what better way to celebrate another year of life than abroad? Since that first day time has only sped up. After my second day, however, time slowed down, plucking me from my blissful enjoyment of life abroad, and let me tell you why.

After my longer day at the “U” I finally finished at 8:00pm and met up with Trevor and Wes to enjoy Mama Tica’s delicious cooking. We learned about the shuttle that drops off students to the surrounding neighborhoods, and while we decided that was the more efficient and secure route, one thing led to another to where we were led to believe that final bus for the night had filled up. So we set out in a mass exodus of approximately 25 other misplaced students. Wes, Trevor, and I, along with a new friend David, decided it best to escort two other girls safely to their door before returning home to Barrio Cordoba. After wishing them a good night, we dashed across our highway into our neighborhood and continued on our journey.

On our walk we noticed an suspicious car passing us and returning. This continued for another four passes or so over the course of maybe four minutes. By the second time, our pace increased. In the last pass, it was inevitable that something was bound to happen, and before we could prepare ourselves, two figures turned a corner toward us and that was that. In the following confusion, they demanded mochillas (backpacks), colones (money), etc. and we had no choice but to release our belongings to the men, wielding a knife and a flat, black 9mm pistol. Not worth being shot over material possessions. So we complied. In a matter of seconds, they sprinted away out of nervousness, and we looked on as we watched our items disappear out of sight along with the criminals.

Within a matter of minutes police officers and Veritas security personnel arrived and begun taking our initial reports before escorting us home. We arrived later that night at the San Jose police station with our program director and remained there until 1:00am in the morning only to wake up to return the following day for more detailed reports and facial recognition. The whole process was exhausting, annoying, and hopeless, but I’m thankful, nonetheless, for the help I received.

Now, there are infinitely more details I excluded for lack of space, time, and attention span, but essentially, what I just shared is the shortened version that we shared with everyone else at the university the following week(s). Word spread instantaneously and we even heard exaggerated rumors like Wes being kidnapped by a drug cartel. We quickly became identified with that experience as “those guys that got robbed in the first week of school,” unfortunately, and although it wasn’t necessarily that I was embarrassed about it, it automatically brought the center of attention to myself and the need to repeat the story, when all I really wanted to talk about was how everyone else’s experience had been so far. I was missing out on awesome and hilarious stories, recommendations on places to go and things to do, all being trampled on by the need to repeat the story again and again.

By explaining our story so many times, though, I like to think we brought a tangible example to others, not to fear for their safety, but to simply remain aware of the possibilities of dangerous situations. I’ve certainly raised my awareness of my surroundings since the incident. But despite the impression those men left on me, I was absolutely not going to walk away with their generalization making my opinion of all Tico people as a whole. I’ve ingrained in my mind that there are good people and bad people in this world, no matter the city or country. I even think about the two men who robbed us, and I’m not even mad at them, really. I’m disgusted that this is the way they must make a living, and horrified that they were forced into this situation just as much as I was.

I felt helpless, powerless, untrained, and unskilled to defend myself. But even with any training, no matter what skill level, a 9mm pointed at your face hinders a great deal of power and strength. I think about my desire to be a United States Marine and a writer, and what’s more, my longing to help and protect other people in some way or another. My values are rooted in the philosophy that the strong must protect the weak, which parallels the marines’ purpose to protect those incapable of protecting themselves, or even one of my favorite passages: “Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor” (Proverbs 31: 8-9). But then my confidence is shaken with the nagging thought: “how am I supposed to protect others when I’m incapable of protecting myself?” I know this question is unfair, and the circumstances are incredibly different, but I consider this to be one of those moments in life that values are tested.

This experience now lives in the past, though, and I’ve moved on rather quickly. Hell, I even fist-bumped Trevor after I told him I ended up keeping my wallet and cell phone. But there’s nowhere to move but forward. I have more relationships to develop, adventures to experience, and sights to be discovered. But it’s not all for nothing. I will accomplish my goals with the knowledge and experience I’ve gained from this incident. But there’s no possible way to let this incident, or fear, to shape my decisions. If anything, it’s to help me use them to my advantage, both here in Costa Rica, and life hereafter.

I would like to take this opportunity to extend my dearest gratitude to Sandpiper of California (S.O.C.) for their generosity. It was their backpack that was stolen from me, and they were kind enough to donate a replacement out of goodwill so that I may continue my adventure. So, Sandpiper of California, here’s my eternal and humble gratitude to you and my highest recommendation to my new favorite company. Thank you.

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