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As mentioned in our previous post, you can never drop your guard in Colombia. It’s up to you, naturally enough really, to be responsible for yourself and your belongings. Be that as it may, it still doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, make it more acceptable if you do happen to have something stolen while having ‘a moment of weakness’.

Oma Café, Torre Bicentenario, Bogotá D.C.

‘Sure no one would steal from you in here.’ Oh dear. Having a moment of ‘security weakness’ in Colombia can prove costly.

That such things happen, as they do across the globe, doesn’t mean that we should just shrug and accept them. Disappointingly, this is often the reaction of many people in these parts.

It’s the whole ‘dar papaya’ mentality, that it’s the victims’ fault for allowing themselves to be robbed. ‘Silly you.’ This is linked in with the ‘que pena con usted’  expression, ‘isn’t that awful for you, but I don’t really care.’ ‘Eh, thanks, guys.’

Personally, having been based in Bogotá for three years now, I feel relatively comfortable in my environs and I am usually clued-in to any potential threats. Yet there is always the risk that you can become too relaxed. My excuse for the latest incident where I let the city’s ladrones (thieves) get one over me was that I’d just donated blood (for the first time in my life it must be said) and perhaps I wasn’t my usual shrewd self (don’t laugh).

The overly-spotted Colombian security guard.

Top-class security. Erm, perhaps not …

Now this time around the scene wasn’t your typical Wrong Way working-class venue, but rather a much more upmarket Oma café (the newly opened one in Torre Bicentenario on Carrera 4 with Avenida Jiménez), equipped with a security guard and cameras.

However, therein lies the danger; the feeling that you and your possessions are a little safer in such a place. In fact, it could be argued that due to the sheer volume of security guards employed in this country, it dilutes each individual one’s impact. I certainly wouldn’t be relying on many of them to have my back in a tight corner.

The ‘fatal’ errors on my part were not having my bag in eyeshot nor tied around something secure and not taking notice of the movements around me; the intense conversation I was having with an old friend was occupying my mind.

Whatever the case, the relatively well-dressed ladrones saw their opportunity and seized it. Thankfully, it was far from spectacular the booty they got. Basically, there was the bag itself, a few USB sticks, an old jacket (of sentimental value albeit) and a pocket-book of Spanish grammar along with an English-Spanish dictionary – at least those latter items might help our pilferers overcome their illiteracy problems.

Shannonside jacket

‘So long Shannonside jacket; we shared some great moments together!’

Predictably, when we reported the robbery to the building’s administrator, her initial reaction fell firmly into the ‘dar papaya’ mindset. To her credit, though, she eventually showed some morsels of taking affirmative action, agreeing to set in train the process of reviewing the premise’s security cameras.* Perhaps next time she’ll realise that this should be her first response.

You see, as ‘official’ Colombia grapples with a potential peace agreement with the Farc guerrillas, real peace and security must come from the people, ‘el pueblo Colombiano’, each and every part of it. Taking a strong stand against all who jeopardise this is what’s needed.

There are positive signs in this regard, but by its very nature, it’s a never-ending process, consisting of many different, overlapping strands. This country, however, has too many decent people to let a thuggish minority dominate the landscape.

Yet, turn a blind eye to that minority’s behaviour and the vicious cycle will continue.
*That process is still ongoing. Hopefully, if and when the cameras are reviewed, we’ll have a good picture of the thieves, something that we can publish.

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La vida en Colombia desde la perspectiva de un periodista y locutor irlandés, quien ha vivido en el país desde 2011. El blog explora temas sociales y culturales, interacción con los nativos, viajes, actualidades y mucho más. Escucha su podcast acá: https://anchor.fm/brendan-corrigan.

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  1. The thieving Catholics - Wrong Way Corrigan | Blogs El Tiempo

    […] We’ve written here before that you can never become too relaxed going about your daily business in Colombia. Let the guard […]

  2. A criminal's perfect drug? - Wrong Way Corrigan | Blogs El Tiempo

    […] in Bogotá, something sinister has been, and continues to be, lurking in the air. More reasons to always have the guard up around here. __________________________________________ Facebook: Wrong Way Corrigan – The […]

  3. alejandrofran0514

    I am also Colombian, from Bogotá, and completely understand where you are coming from. I do hate that saying of “dar papaya” and it goes along with others like “ser vivo” which is not more that being a cheater and deceiving. Our attitude and the way to view certain things in life must change. It can’t be possible that people in my country think that if you are robbed it is your own fault for being “huevón”. Non sense ( sorry for the word). We are experts in blaming everyone for our misfortunes, but take no responsibility for our own actions.
    I really hope that we are heading in the right direction and I do thank you for expressing your opinion, perhaps this will help, even if written in English. A lot of the so called educated people who can read this, think that way, when they should set the example.
    Having said all this, I do love my country and like you said, most people are good people. Let’s hope and have faith that things will keep getting better.
    I am very sorry for what happened to you.

  4. “Que pena que lo hayan robado” and yet “Que Pena” in Colombia is a way of being sympathetic to the other person, although there is no much one can do.

    As a difference from almost every other spanish speaking country where “Pena” usually refers to a sorrow, in Colombia relates to being embarrased, it will translate in english as I´m so sorry. (so it doesn´t mean we don´t care)

    Besides that, you are right and it shouldnt be like that. We Colombians grew used to be alert everywhere and you realize that when u are abroad and see it really shouldn´t be like that, because it makes a huge diference in your quality of life.

    By the way, So sorry you got robbed.

    • I understand the ‘lighter’, apologetic significance of ‘que pena’, but as I wrote before in a piece about that phrase (one of the hyperlinks above), at times I’ve seen it used when the actions of the person suggest anything but being sorry!

      Anyway, there’s no doubt things are better here than they were just 10 years ago, so we’re going in the right direction.

      Unfortunately the people at Torre Bicentenario still haven’t come good as regards looking at the security cameras. It should be a priority for them, but without me pressurising them, I think they’ll do nothing. That’s not a great attitude.

      Thanks for the sympathy anyway! Another lesson learnt. But as the saying goes, ‘whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’

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