All consuming and mind-numbing fear; once the seed has been planted it at times seems almost impossible to overcome.
I have reached the one year anniversary of the day that made a significant impact on my life. As I walked aimlessly in Valparaiso, unaware by the lingering shadows that had crept up behind me, I was mugged by four guys. It would be a lie if I told you that I was over it; I am not. But as each day passes I have learned to cope with that small amount of fear that still lingers and use it to my advantage.
The last picture I took with my camera seconds before I got mugged
In reality I was incredibly lucky. My assailants had no weapons and I was only left with a fat lip and a swollen section on my face. The outside wounds quickly healed but it took a lot of time and effort for me to heal internally. In the ensuing weeks, I was a complete wreck. At times I would cry uncontrollable, I was scared to walk outside and I would have panic attacks if I felt someone was walking too close to me.
A lot of people who hear my story are amazed that I didn’t go back to Canada. In fact I stayed in Chile six more months and even traveled to Brazil and Argentina. I didn’t want to let my paranoia ruin my trip. In 2008 after a year in Paris I finally left with the promise that I would return in the near future. It is now 2013 and I still have not fulfilled that promise. If I had left than I wouldn’t have traveled to Brazil and Argentina [twice], I would have not met my Chilean boyfriend and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work at the Canadian Embassy in Chile.
I remember at one point I thought enough is enough and I started to use the fear to my advantage to reach my travel goals. I learned tricks and tips to spot and fool potential attackers/robbers and I was much more aware of my environment. For example, I learned in Brazil that you NEVER take out a map on the street [it makes you an easy target] so if you desperately need to check your map than go inside a shop or a café before pulling it out.
A day after my mugging – I was using my prescription sunglasses and my glasses were in my purse so I had to walk around with sunglasses for two days!
I know that I am not the only one that has been in this type of situation – sometimes you are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But don’t ever let fear control you. Don’t give up on your travels and don’t go home. I understand that some altercations are more serious than others but if you are able [mentally and physically] to push on than don’t take that step backwards. If you need to cry than cry; if you need to scream at the top of your lungs than just let it out. There will be days when you feel alone – when you feel like no one gets you. But those will pass. The days after I was mugged I received sympathy from some friends but most of them really didn’t understand what I had gone through and they all expected me to just get over it.
Take your time to heal so that you can carry on and remember that you are not alone.