Before I begin to recount this story which excitedly unfolded right before my eyes, I must issue this disclaimer.
Before you make assumptions about safety in Colombia as a whole, please keep the following story within its context. This is not a tale of violence or crime – it is a tale of the spirit of a neighborhood. In my experience, Colombia is a very safe country for travelers.
Without further ado, let’s begin.
Late one afternoon, Giovanny and I stand outside of his dad’s shop, chatting with his parents and a few customers. Commotion outside catches our attention.
Siete de Agosto, bordering Chapinero to the west, is an industrial, working-class neighborhood thick with car repair shops and leather suppliers as far as the eye can see. The majority of its residents were born and raised here, with several families having been in the area for generations. The neighborhood feels more like a small town than just another random sector of the metropolis. It’s like Cheers, where everybody knows your name.
A distraught-looking man rides furiously past us on a bicycle. At first, the bystanders are confused as it appears the man is chasing someone. By sounds of the shouts coming from behind yelling, “Cógelo!” – Catch him! – it quickly becomes apparent that he is the thief and has stolen the bicycle.
With every block he passes, more and more men join the chase, yelling and raining blows when he comes within reach.
In just a couple of minutes, the street turns into a mob scene of sorts. The man’s glorious getaway has ended in just three blocks, where roughly 50 men have him surrounded.
Would this be my first time witnessing a murder?
– – –
Luckily for the poor bastard, a pair of police officers are patrolling a block away. They intervene quickly, returning the bike to the victim and whisking away the perpetrator, who now sports a shiny pair of handcuffs and a few bruises to match.
I’m sure the police are more worried about saving the man’s life than punishing a petty thief.
One of Bogotá’s dumbest criminals?
The man has either recently incurred a severe head blow or is off his face on basuca, a nasty drug popular with Bogota’s homeless population, as he stole the bike from a woman from the neighborhood during the day.
To make matters worse, he rides the stolen bike down the most densely packed street in the area, filled with men working outside.
After the mass adrenaline rush subsides, residents return to their respective businesses analyzing the scene, each individual replaying his or her part and what he or she would have done had the police not arrived.
Each of their faces hints at a deep pride. They are proud to be from a neighborhood that looks out for its own. Proud to have returned the stolen goods to the victim. Proud to have deterred future criminals from making the same mistake.
As I eavesdrop on conversations, I reflect on the unity of the barrio and compare it to other places I have lived. Would people have turned out in mass if someone stole my purse in Tampa? Would hordes of men in Wellington chase after the criminal? Would Melbournites drop everything to help?
I would be proud to be from here too.