I awoke this morning to the news that one of my fellow Cuso volunteers was robbed at knife point last evening as he left a popular restaurant not far from the YMCA. He’s unharmed and barely rattled (although the brave man is out a phone and some cash), but it was an unnerving reminder of the need to be vigilant.
When I first arrived in Kingston, the training I received and the stories I was told made me suspicious of everyone I met in the street: the windshield wiper guys, the fruit vendors, the beggars, even the man who ‘helps’ me cross the road in the mornings. They were loud and aggressive and invaded my personal space, and I was so overstimulated from all the new things that I had little energy to approach their ways with openness. We were coached to acknowledge and move on to avoid engaging with people who might take advantage of us, and I put that into practice quickly.
As time has passed, I’ve grown accustom to the characters I pass throughout my day. Now, they are not only friendly, familiar faces, but they have become people that watch out for me and make sure I am safe and sound. I get hugs from their children, waves and greetings when I pass in a taxi, and discounts on my bananas every once in a while. These kind souls keep track of when I come and go, and check with me when they miss seeing me for a few days. On my walk home today, one fruit vendor said, “you’re heading home so late, and you look tired.” Clearly, if we are so familiar, I can relax around them.
But the thing about this mugging is that it wasn’t committed by a street vendor or a windshield wiper. Those people of whom I was wary and to whom I was so slow to warm are (for the most part) too busy trying to eek out a living on the road to bother anyone for very long. They want your attention or your business, nothing more. They aren’t the ones lurking in the shadows carrying knives, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce.
This incident is sobering reminder that I need to stay on my toes even if I feel comfortable in my day to day travels, but I am also taking it as an opportunity to be grateful for the grace I have been shown by people I pass each day. They’ve shown me that there is much more kindness and hope in Kingston than there is violence and crime.