Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Don't be scared...

I have been hearing a lot about violence in Guatemala. The funny thing is, I have heard about it not from Guatemalans, not from the News, not even from fellow Peace Corps colleagues. I have been hearing about the increase in violent crime that is apparently happening in the country I am living in from...well...people who don't live in it.

Between Google Alerts, my Mom, and Google Alerts forwarded to me by my Mom, I have heard about quite a few instances in the recent past where foreigners have been targets of violent crime in Guatemalan. One involved a bus of people including a Canadian aid worker who were tied up and robbed on their way to Mexico. Another involved a pastor who was killed. There was also a group of University of Michigan students who were robbed on their spring break trip to Guate.
Ok, so I know I have probably scared you by now.

I am here to tell you: DON'T BE SCARED. Cancel the plane ticket you are buying in order to come here and drag me home to safety. I'm not going.

The truth is, there is crime in Guatemala. There is violent crime and often foreigners can be targeted. The truth is, thieves think that we have money and a lot of times they are right.

Most violent crime as far as statistics you might hear is concentrated in the capital city, which Peace Corps volunteers have almost no occasion to visit. As far as these stories you hear about buses of tourists getting robbed, there are things you can do to easily avoid these kind of situations:

1. Leave your laptop at home. In an article I read about the University of Michigan students that were robbed, they listed among the items taken were iPods, cameras, and phones. Thieves know we (foreigners) carry that kind of stuff. They see the luggage rack full and the girl in front roaming for a wireless signal on her laptop and they know we are a good target.

2. Stay on the highway. There are certain routes that are common targets of burglary. They are usually shortcuts that are more isolated ways to get to where you are going. The Peace Corps has a list of roads we aren't supposed to take. I know it seems like it gets you there quicker, but a robbery slows you down a lot.

3. Give it up. Most robbers don't want to hurt you. If they ask for your diamond earrings or your wallet, give it up. Totally not worth your life.

4. Don't worry about it. Ok, I know you see it on the news and it seems like it is happening all the time, but it's not. Lot's of people come to Guatemala and have a good time without ever being a victim of any crime. The crime most likely to hit you is pickpocketing. Big deal.

It makes me sad that a lot of people might not want to come here because of what is happening. It is a beautiful country with lots of great things to see. Crime happens a lot in New York and there are neighborhoods you should definitely avoid, but there are also a lot of cool things you should go there and see.

I have a friend that had a trip planned to come here to Guatemala and cancelled at the last minute because he was worried about safety. I don't think anyone should do something they aren't comfortable with. However, there are a lot of things you can do here to avoid unsafe situations and these kind of instances aren't that common.

Guatemala relies a lot on tourism to boost its economy. So don't be afraid. Leave your iPhone at home and get down here!