I was in the middle of my first solo trip abroad. I started in Paris and then ventured down to Barcelona to meet up with friends.
The 3 of us were out and about exploring the city and had made our way down to Las Ramblas. While we were looking around the different booths, I noticed a man acting funny.
He was hunched over as if he were crippled and had a large coat draped over his back.
A young girl was shopping at one of the booths in front of him. As she turned to walk away from the booth, he sneakily threw something on her. She started looking up to the tree above her to see where the muck had come from since she hadn’t noticed the man hovering around her.
My friend who was very familiar with Barcelona and all the theft that takes place around Las Ramblas said, “He’s going to try and steal her purse.”
The girl had turned her back to the man and was using a mirror at one of the booths to clean herself off. The booth owner had seen the shady man waiting behind the girl and was motioning for him to go away, but the thief kept putting his finger to his lips telling the booth owner to be quiet.
Sadly the booth owner complied and turned his back on the situation.
My friends said we should go, but I couldn’t just leave and not say anything to the girl. If it were me, I would want someone to help me. I have been robbed before and nobody helped!
I think that was a worse feeling than that actual robbery.
I told my friends I had to say something, so I approached the girl.
I told her how the man had thrown something on her to distract her and that he was probably going to try and steal her purse. Of course when I tried to point him out, he had hid behind a group of men.
I asked her to walk with us to get away from the man, and she informed me her mother was a short distance away. I told her to go to her mother and stay with her.
We waited until she had joined back up with her family before we started to make our way back to the train.
That was when things got a bit scary.
The man jumped out from behind the crowd, threw off his coat, and started running at us screaming in Arabic. He clearly was not handicapped and was actually in very good shape.
My friends and I took off running towards the subway with the man in tow. He yelled and ran after us all the way to the other end of Las Ramblas before giving up and joining his crew of thieves.
This was the first time I was legitimately scared, but I do not regret helping the young girl.
When should you say something?
The issue of when to say something is a big one not only in travel but in our everyday lives. I feel strongly about standing up for what is right, but there are times that you could be putting your own life in jeopardy too.
Being in Thailand, I voice my opinion about elephant riding and animal attractions quite frequently to other travelers, but I haven’t actually gone to these attractions to persuade tourists to avoid them.
I want to, but I’ve also heard stories of the mahouts and operators lashing out at people.
A man tried to get people to stop riding an elephant by holding signs and pictures of the abusive training and telling them they are supporting animal abuse by participating. Needless to say the mahout did not like the idea of money being taken away from him. He began hitting the activist with his bull hook giving the man some severe wounds.
While I was in North Sulawesi, we were told to never personally approach shop owners if we saw them selling items from the illegal wildlife trade. Even though selling macaque meat and sun bear heads and paws is illegal, you would still find people doing it, and approaching the shop owners would be too dangerous.
In the case of the young girl, I didn’t feel threatened by the man initially which is why I decided to help her, but what could I do if I had? I could always find the local police, but it would have been too late. What would you have done?
And then there are the less dangerous situations like seeing people littering. I see it at home and even more here in SE Asia. The “no care” attitude is strong, and it seems like most people don’t think twice about just tossing their trash to the side.
This one is a bit easier for me since I’m a bit of a loud mouth when it comes to littering and not recycling. When I’m back home, I have no problem voicing my opinion (especially to my friends and family), but there is still the risk of popping off to the wrong person. Maybe I should think a bit longer before I start scolding someone I don’t know.
I guess it all comes down to how you feel about the situation. The number one priority is to keep yourself safe, but I personally feel like if you can say something without getting hurt, you should.
It’s a hard choice when deciding whether to approach someone or not. What are your thoughts on the issue? Have you ever approached someone? What kind of reaction did you get?