Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ecuador Archives: An Armed Robbery Story.

Quito is dangerous.

Quito is really dangerous.

I knew that.

In fact, that very week the entire Ecuador cohort and I had received safety training from the US Embassy.

It was dark, but not late at night. Maybe 8 pm or 9? My host mom is a nurse and she was giving a patient their medication. My sister was rummaging through bags of the new school supplies; my host dad had just picked us up from the mall. He was sitting in the driver's seat. My mom's seat was empty. My host sister was to my left.

We weren't sitting there for more than five minutes.


A man wearing all black and a mask appears at my dad's car door. He is holding a gun.

It all happens very fast after that.

Man holding gun aims at Dad. I can't speak Spanish well yet, but I know he has just told him to unlock the doors.

The doors are unlocked.

Man One stays in place with gun pointed at Dad.

Second Man sits in passenger seat next to Dad. He is shaking Dad down. He is demanding Dad's wallet, which Dad willingly hands over. He is rummaging through the glove compartment. 

Dad is always so calm, but right now his eyes are bug eyed and his hands are up on the air in surrender. He keeps saying the same words over and over again. I don't understand them, but I am sure he is telling them to take whatever they want and not to hurt us.

Man Three opens the door on my side and forces his way in. He scoots me to the middle to make room for himself. This man is holding a long screw driver. He points it at me while he yells instructions. Or maybe he isn't yelling. I cannot tell you. All I hear is words I don't understand. Dad's eyes are so big.

I am squished between Sister and Man Three.

He is wearing a mask so I cannot see his face. Maybe I could see his eyes, but I don't dare look. I only notice he, too, is wearing all black.

Man Three looks through my sister's shopping bags. He asks her what is in them. Sister is frantic, in tears, screaming. She yells that it is only notebooks and school supplies. I understand those Spanish words. She is not lying to him. Man Three looks through the bags anyway. 

Sister is scream-crying. I am afraid, but I do not scream. I only sit, stunned.

Man Three is patting us down. First Sister and then me. He keeps saying words to me. I do not understand them. I say "¡No hablo ingl├ęs!" because it's the first words I think of. I just told him "I don't speak English!" I think he gets the point, though.

I wonder if we may be abducted or killed. I have an odd thought that this scenario would make a good opening scene for a Criminal Minds episode.

I reach to hold Sister's hand.

Man Three is patting me down again. He pats every part of me, including pulling my dress up in search of anything I may be hiding.

My Ecuadorian ID, my banco de barrio card and my cell phone are all in my bra (a trick I had learned from the US Embassy earlier in the week). I should have willingly given them up, but I am not thinking logically. I am only praying he doesn't find them. I don't know if he will be angry if he finds something I intentionally hid from him.

He doesn't find anything.

I am so grateful he doesn't find anything.


It is over as quickly as it began. The entire scene played out in under ten minutes. I imagine the longer it takes them, the more risk they have of getting caught.


Man One continues to hold the gun to Dad's face while Man Two the Wallet Thief, Man Three the Screw-Driver Assailant and Man Four the Trunk Rummager flee to their car.

Man One waits until they are a safe distance and then runs after them.

I sit still a moment. The fear is really setting in. I think they have left, but I don't feel safe. Are they really gone? What if they come back?

I turn around. They speed off but not before I look The Four Men Dressed in Black right in the eyes. 

My heart is beating fast, or it has stopped beating altogether. I'm not sure which. 

Sister is still crying loudly. I am still holding her hand. I don't want to let go. I lock my door. I don't know what else to do. What if they come back?

Dad keeps asking me if I'm okay. "Estoy bien. Estoy bien," I insist. I am fine. I am shaken but I am just fine.

They're gone, I think.

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