Monday 31 August 2009

Where are the troops when you need them?


Main avenue of Santiago in Chile, the curiously named Avenida General Bernardo O'Higgins. Three-thirty in the the afternoon. Four blocks away, there is a small and well-behaved demonstration of people of all ages remembering the Disappeared, watched by umpteen soldiers in boots, helmets, visors, bullet-proof jackets and guns, several armoured cars and a phalanx of mounted troops.

Further down, near the Sta Lucia hill, I'm walking along the footpath amongst all the people with my two friends, talking about the crime rate in South Auckland when at that very instant, I stagger as someone thumps into me from behind. I think, 'Careless youths playing the fool', then 'This is Santiago, they're going to grab my bag'. I feel a hand wrench at my collar and then they are gone, three of them, legging it round the corner and disappearing within seconds.

I stand there in disbelief, hand at my neck, feeling for the antique gold chain that I've worn constantly for the last twenty years since my husband gave it to me for my birthday. It's gone, of course, in some felon's pocket, probably broken, probably to be sold for a couple of dollars.

I thought I would be safe, in a group; I thought bossy Letitia was being alarmist when she told me, back in Guayaquil, that I should cover it; I thought Santiago was sophisticated and civilised. I was wrong.

It's nothing of course, compared with what the people along the avenue lost: but it's a lesson learnt.


the queen said...

I put the gypsy curse on that chain. It will bring ill on who ever wears it. Unless you found it in your bra.

Vaughan said...

If that hadn't been so obviously frightening, I would have made a joke and said:

"Travel writers of the world unite: we have nothing to lose but our chains." (after Karl Marx).

But it was, and I won't.

Oh, ok, I will.


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