You think this is a story about fear, but it isn’t.
It is a story I hid for a while. A story I didn’t tell on purpose. Mostly because I knew it would send the worrying minds of my beloved parents into overdrive. And not only them. Anyone who scans the news for the dangers of travel, or the dangers of Mexico specifically. Well, here is some feed for your fear stores, use it as you please.
It was our first day in Mexico city, and we were visiting a state park. It was bustling with activity. Locals riding ATVs, eating treats, horseback riding, paint-balling, you name it. Up above the park grounds, a sharp rock protruded from the mountain side and a trail climbed through the forest up to the top. It was an easy route, though steep in places, but the vast views of the surrounding landscape were well worth the climb.
I was traveling with my roommate and another friend, and we were being hosted by my roommate’s extended family: Aunt, Uncle, and two cousins of 9 and 10 years old. The mountain top was prime for photos and laughs. We felt alone at the top of the world with only the fresh air and each other for company. As we loudly made our way back down the mountain, we passed a fellow hiker, gave him a nod and a smile and continued chattering away— me practicing my Spanish, Aunt and Uncle obliging my efforts.
In a hot instant, everything changed.
Halfway down the mountain the light hearted mood melted and confusion dropped it’s veil. The hiker. There he was again standing on the trail in front of us, far from where we’d originally passed him.
I felt the rest of the group stiffen. Aunt’s voice was rapid, high pitched. What was the hiker asking? Was he lost? He moved a bandana from his neck up around his face to cover his mouth, still I was in disbelief. Uncle’s voice grew loud, beseeching. I looked down and saw the heavy screwdriver gripped tightly in the hiker’s right hand. It was then I knew I knew.
The world became strange.
My face went slack and I felt my legs tremble. Tremble! and on their own accord- pillars of jello supporting my torso. But < I > suddenly disconnected. I floated away from my body, and I dropped a veil of my own. My heart beat forcefully, but my jaw was firm; I felt protected.
Somehow the hiker made the decision to chase after the children and my two frightened friends at the front of the pack— in an instant he was gone. I was left standing behind Aunt and Uncle and focused on making my way down the mountainside swiftly. CALM, said my mind, STEADY, it repeated.
I felt the armor around me thicken.
Foot in front of foot I neared the bottom, and there he was again coming back my way.
I shifted to the opposite side of the trail and pulled my purse around behind me. That was when I noticed the my friend’s crocheted bag clutched in the hand opposite the screwdriver.
Dame tu bolsa. I don’t understand. NO.
I can’t explain why, but he stayed away from me. It seems shocking now, but he believed me when I said NO.
Later on down the mountain, there were the others. Trembling. My roommate had wet eyes and the corners of her mouth pulled back and down as if by hooks. Our friend. The one without the purse. Her slim, milky shoulders hunched and a trail of saliva carved a stream through her makeup from the corner of her lip down to her chin.
It’s easy to say we were shaken up, and for a good while. That’s natural I think, but what’s surprising… is our resilience.
Why did this happen?
I could not answer for them, and I know my response was weak to their ears, but for me.. for me I realized how protected I am. My resilience. That an hour later I was galloping down the street commanding a horse at my leisure, feeling the freedom that drives me to places like Mexico. I sampled the physicality of fear, and found that what remains, is strength.
It’s almost embarrassing to share this minor anecdote, knowing that others have faced far worse. Horrors that I won’t imagine. But this is my own experience.
All I can say is this:
Getting robbed sucks.
Getting over the fear of getting robbed, is liberating.
I am powerful. I am resilient. I am protected.