My First Mugging
October 30 – Salvador, Brazil
It was a pleasant mugging. After 293 days traveling, and 10 in Brazil, it was due to happen anyway, so it’s nice that it was pleasant.
John and I were walking up the hill from our hostel into the Pelourinho for a Friday night drink when a young boy started walking along side me. I glanced down at the 8 year old and then someone grabbed my wrists and shouted some Portuguese at me. “Okay, okay,” I said to the dark skinned teen of about my height who bound my wrists as two or three youngens riffled through my pockets. He was lean but muscular and wore a red tank top with white stripes.
John told me later that he was shouting “Emergency, emergency” in Portuguese while this was happening but no one heard him, not even me. It was all less eventful and worrisome than it sounds and it was only later in the evening as it all sunk in that a small catalogue of images took root and replayed themselves in my mind as they would in a movie:
The little boy on my right as we walked up the hill, then the same boy pulling my pocket out of my shorts, spilling 11 Reais, some change, and my keys onto the ground; the guy in the red shirt appearing from nowhere, the kids briskly walking away after finding my passport and 50 Reais stashed in a lower cargo pocket; the little kid straggling for a couple seconds to rip the watch off my wrist but failing. Then me walking after them, shouting “passaporte, passaporte,” and then the one kid pulling the money out of the pages of the passport and flinging it against a cobblestone wall.
I retrieved the passport and John said, “So, should we go back to the hostel now?” And then we walked back down the hill and I felt a little embarrassed to be looked at by the locals the way I’d feel embarrassed if I had tripped and fallen. Then I remembered my keys falling to the ground and went back to find them. The keys unlock the wire-mesh bag that the computer and camera live in. I have backup keys hidden somewhere but my main set is attached to a keychain I bought in Paris and would prefer to lose later.
Always looking for the silver lining, I thought we could make a scene for the documentary out of all this so John and I went back to the hostel and I got the camera out. I figured we’d go back to where the robbery took place and I’d explain what just happened. The woman at the hostel didn’t think this was a good idea.
“I know a guy who has 12 people down there tonight, just waiting to rob people,” she said. “If you go, they’ll stab you for your camera. You’re crazy. It’s better in the morning.”
So we went in the morning and quickly whipped out the camera and shot a little explanation. Then we got out of Dodge all together, and found a quiet street three miles south in Barra, a suburb of Salvador. I couldn’t help but think of the jeweler in Copenhagen who rummaged through a box of spare parts in mid-July and found the piece I needed to repair the strap on my watch. It was hard to know if the improvised repair would hold up and each time I accidentally pulled on the watch I worried it would break. But the crafty little eight-year old who earned his cut of the $25 heist couldn’t wrangle the watch free. So now I know the watchband is secure, and that’s another silver lining. So I thank the jeweler for his professional work, and the band of banditos for returning my passport, and the laws of probability for suggesting the remaining seven weeks will be uneventful.