Mango Surprise: Being the victim of a random, delicious act of kindness

mango

 

This story is the other side of the news reports, the non-profitable story, the anti-State Department website of the capital of Guatemala, Guatemala City. Instead of pointless violence, I am writing about pointless kindness.

After being abroad for a long period of time in non-traditional tourist spots, a certain persistent question always and unavoidably comes up: “But, isn’t it dangerous in [insert city]?” Even between long-term travelers who should know better the question is frequently asked, with swapping stories of tourist crime (usually second or third hand and undoubtedly exaggerated for narrative effect) being an entertaining way to pass the time and a reminder to keep an eye on your stuff. The answer to the question, in almost all cases, is not really, sometimes followed by the more aware questioner admitting that their view of a place is often an image constructed by the media, profitable stories being ones in which people (extra points for foreigners) are murdered, robbed, raped, or preferably all three. I’m not exactly demonizing...

...the media either, since their revenues come from advertisers who are looking for exposure. One sensationalized crime story in a foreign land garners more attention than a thousand stories about how people live their life there without any problem, which are understandably not published. Even worse is when the safety profile of a place is quoted from the US Department of State (or equivalent) website. This is what the State Department has to say about Guatemala (the first two sentences give you the drift):

 

Guatemala has one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America. In 2009, approximately 25 murders a week were reported in Guatemala City alone…the sheer volume of activity means that local officials, who are inexperienced and underpaid, are unable to cope with the problem…Well-armed criminals know there is little chance they will be caught or punished…The number of violent crimes reported by U.S. citizens and other foreigners has remained high and incidents have included, but are not limited to, assault, theft, armed robbery, carjacking, rape, kidnapping, and murder, even in areas once considered safe such as zones 10, 14, and 15 in the capital… Victims have been killed when they resisted attack. Assailants are often armed with guns and do not hesitate to use them.

The State Department even has its own section dedicated to reporting crime in Guatemala – Recent Crime Incidents Involving Foreigners:

04/23/10 Guatemala City: Tourist couple was relaxing at the Hotel Barcelo gymnasium when husband was attacked without provocation by a thug who slammed his fist into his eye and caused serious injuries. The attack occurred when victim made a casual remark about the thug’s sidekick’s cap, which looked like a yarmulka. The hotel did not assume responsibility for the attack only saying that it was unfortunate, although they did provide medical assistance.

04/12/10 Guatemala City: Tourist robbed in zone 1.

03/31/10 Guatemala City: Tourist robbed at gun point; wallet and passport were stolen.

03/10/10 Guatemala City: Resident was in zone 1 at the Central Park at 11:50 am when a man walked up to her and showed her a gun at his waist and demanded her cell phone, cash and keys.

Et cetera.

04/23/10 Guatemala City: Tourist couple was relaxing at the Hotel Barcelo gymnasium when husband was attacked without provocation by a thug who slammed his fist into his eye and caused serious injuries. The attack occurred when victim made a casual remark about the thug’s sidekick’s cap, which looked like a yarmulka. The hotel did not assume responsibility for the attack only saying that it was unfortunate, although they did provide medical assistance.
04/12/10 Guatemala City: Tourist robbed in zone 1.
03/31/10 Guatemala City: Tourist robbed at gun point; wallet and passport were stolen.
03/10/10 Guatemala City: Resident was in zone 1 at the Central Park at 11:50 am when a man walked up to her and showed her a gun at his waist and demanded her cell phone, cash and keys.

Arriving into Guatemala City from the El Salvador border via local buses (lovingly known as chicken buses) setting me back a dollar or so, I had to take a city bus across town to get to where the local buses were leaving to Antigua, my next destination. At the time, I was unaware of what the State Department has to say about this:

Avoid low-priced intra- and inter-city public buses (recycled U.S. school buses). They are often attacked by armed robbers and are poorly maintained and dangerously driven. About 365 bus drivers and passengers were killed in 2009 in robberies staged by holdup gangs that target public transportation, both urban and inter-city.

As I boarded the bus and paid the equivalent of a few cents fare after finding where it was leaving from with the never-fail ask-and-then-walk-a-few-blocks-in-the-direction-they-pointed-and-then-ask-again method, I saw that the response to this rather bleak situation of bus transport in Guatemala City was to place a shotgun wielding uniformed man behind the bus driver. I took a seat near the front on the crowded, ex-American school bus with my bag on my lap and settled in for the 20 or so minutes it was going to take to cross to where the buses to Antigua left. I was in a half zone out looking out the window at the street scenes bustling to the unrhythmic rhythm of Latin American urbanity when quite unexpectedly a plump, middle aged lady sitting in the seat just ahead turned and held two small, ripe mangos in front of me. I figured she was passing them to the kids behind me to eat, assuming they were of some relation to her. Yet, when I turned to hand the mangos to the kids, they just stared at me in what I recognized as the “What is the goofy foreigner doing now?” look without taking the mangoes. I shifted in the seat looking forward again and Mango Lady was turned back around adjusting her pony tail, bouncing with the potholes in the road. She otherwise sat there unmoving as if she didn’t just randomly give two mangos to a sweaty tourist. Seeing the confounded look on my face, the fedora-topped man sitting next to her said sheepishly and with a smile, “She wanted you to have them”. He proceeded to turn back around, and there I was left sitting with two mangos, one in each hand, trying to figure out what just happened. As I was trying to figure out what to do with them, I started to realize it might have been some sort of ploy to occupy my hands and attention while something was dexterously robbed from me. I glanced around and no one was particularly close to me (by Central American public bus standards), my daypack was secure and untampered with by my side, the backpack was safe on my lap, nothing missing, camera still in pocket. No one said anything to me. A few minutes later the Mango Lady got off at a bus stop after shooting me a shy smile, and then the Fedora Gentleman and Confused Kids a few minutes after. Any hope for my rationalization of the situation, already frustratingly non-existent, was abandoned after the only parties involved besides myself had disembarked from the bus. Hot and sticky and dusty after hours of buses, I was actually slightly pissed that no one thought it might be nice to explain why I found myself inexplicably with two unsolicited mangos in my hands. The bus was emptying as it was ending its route.

 

I realized it was an unexplained act of kindness, a sweet, fleshy, aromatic middle finger to the reputation Guatemala City had developed. Maybe Mango Lady wanted me to have a good impression of the city. Maybe she thought I was cute. Maybe she didn’t feel like carrying the mangos, which are quite abundant in the area and easily picked free of cost. There were a million possibilities, and I was forced to accept the fact that she chose to give me two mangos without anything in exchange (even a thank you, which I would have said if I wasn’t so confused) and I would never know why. They were refreshing and delicious when I ate them in Antigua.

 

So, please, when you are thinking about visiting somewhere and are justifiably terrified by a narrow portrait of a place, remember that stories of murder, rape, and robbery spread far quicker and are much more entertaining than stories of random mango gift-giving. Remember that the Police Department only has the means for a filing a report for crime, and not a report for a mango surprise.

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Comments  

 
0 #1 Salam 2010-05-31 01:51
I agree with your post!
After living in Detroit for 6 months I received a lot of, "Do you feel safe in the city?" And I would simply reply, "Well... is anywhere you go safe?" Posing more of a philosophical question in order to avoid answering the first question all together.

I also have examples to back up my question, like the time my room was robbed in Ann Arbor. I lived in Detroit for 6 months and was not robbed once, however, once I moved back to Ann Arbor I was robbed within the first 2 months! Reinforcing the question, "Is it really safe anywhere?"

I tell people be smart and aware of the decisions you make, that's how one stays safe.
 
 
0 #2 Tyler Cole 2010-07-31 17:26
Salam, that's a good way to put it. I feel like when people ask a question like that, they are sort of fishing for some sort of crime story to re-enforce their view of a place. And like you said, common sense goes a long way in avoiding those situations in the first place.
 
 
0 #3 Susan Cole 2011-03-12 13:31
Hi Tyler, I forever heard the statements "isnt it dangerous in Russia" or "isnt it dangerous in New York City." But I will now ask you about the danger of Mother Nature..what are you seeing from where you are in regard to the situation in Japan. Mother Nature is a force never to underestimate. Hope you are safe.
 
 
0 #4 Tyler Cole 2011-03-17 12:03
But mother nature is the sort of thing you can never really predict, only prepare for. And even that is more of a national issue, not a personal one. It also isn't really location specific, like the over-zealous warnings of crime/danger that governments and media latch onto of certain places. That is, you could be in the most dangerous part of LA or the safest part of Tokyo and still run the same risk of having a building fall on you from an earthquake. I guess what I was trying to get across was that dangers from people themselves are vastly overemphasized because they are sensational and easy stories to tell. Obviously natural disasters, and those that cause nuclear disasters, are a whole different issue.
 

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