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It’s nice to feel part of a community. Indeed, for the most part we’re social beings, thus to associate with a group is usually good for the body and soul. The majority of us are born into communities, some of which are more tightly knit than others. But regardless of the strength of the bonds we generally come to feel more at home in one place over another.
When you move outside of that ‘comfort zone’, there is always the risk you’ll become some sort of a lost sheep. This is what faces expats across the globe. It’s one of the reasons why similar ‘tribes’, miles from their original home, tend to find each other: ‘Birds of a feather’ and all that.
From a personal perspective in Bogotá, the few close Westerners I rate as true friends apart, I’ve found that sense of community, as written about before, in certain working-class barrios.
Yet as much as I feel ‘at home’ there, my slowly improving Spanish apart, every now and again something happens to remind me that this isn’t small-town, west-of-Ireland country.
So a few weeks back, while enjoying some ‘beer garden’ Sunday drinks outside one of my favourite tienda bars La Perseverancia, a not-too-shabby looking jeep passed by. Nothing out of the ordinary in that, of course.
Slightly more unusual, however, – or at least it was something I’d been largely shielded from over the last while – was the sight of four men sprinting after it. Now this wasn’t a bunch of lads out for some healthy, innocent Sunday afternoon exercise. No, these were, well, ‘men at work’. Their gig, if you haven’t guessed by now, was to, um, ‘acquire’ the vehicle by force.
As infuriating as I find such a modus operandi, a little more personally disconcerting is the fact that the main protagonist of this group of thieves, Felipe, is an acquaintance. Indeed he usually goes out of his way to salute me whenever he sees me.
Unfortunately — for Felipe that is — this robbery attempt not only failed but he also got nabbed by the police who, accidentally and strangely enough, appeared on the scene instantly. What’s seldom was wonderful for the jeep owners in this episode.
A little bit of physical abuse from the police and a night in a cell was the about the extent of my ‘friend’s’ booty from this raid. (For the record, the other three guys involved weren’t caught.)
Typically, rather than disown one of their own for the attempted criminal act, he received a little bit of sympathy from some quarters; in fact the police seemed to get more abuse for their slightly heavy-handed arrest tactics.
It is, in a way, understandable that sympathy for such types is forthcoming. We’re talking about an impoverished neighbourhood left pretty much to its own devices, largely neglected by officialdom. Survival is by any means.
Yes, as noted, I find the idea of robbing another, especially when force and violence is used as opposed to opportunism, repugnant.
Yet in a city with enormous inequality, that those on the bottom rung resort to these acts isn’t surprising.
So while I disagree with what Felipe did, the truth is I’ve never found myself in such desperation to seriously consider doing it myself. The last thing he needs is a lecture from a northern European on his unacceptable behaviour.
The solace I take is that by socialising in barrios such as La Perse, I am helping their micro economies and perhaps in some small way lessening the need and desire to rob.
Plus, by maintaining acquaintances with the likes of Felipe, it might help me – might that is – from becoming a future victim (again).
Keeping potential enemies close at hand and in favour you might say.
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