Up until the little adventure on the street on Saturday, things were fine and dandy in Quito. I went early with a friend on Friday since I didn’t have class (yet again) and we got some errands/shopping done. Saturday we got up, ate breakfast on the hostel terrace overlooking the whole city and made our way to the Basilica to go up in the towers and get some good photos. We decided to head to the market at El Ejido before heading back to the Centro Historico for lunch.
The Scene: Your average Quiteña street near El Ejido, a major park near the center of the city. Three gringas walking in the rain carrying farely worn-looking North Face backpacks. They’re walking slowly, discussing how excited they are to have just one day in the city away from their, at times very stressful, rural Peace Corps sites with no idea that someone is about to throw shit on them and attempt to rob them.
The Events: Yours truly was walking a few feet behind when I notice a man walking close behind us out of the corner of my eye. I turn around and he starts walking toward a nearby tienda. I turn back around to catch up with my friends and we keep walking. The whole thing happened in probably less than a minute so I’m not sure exactly how everything happened. I think I noticed something on my friend’s backpack. Then she looks at me and says the back of my coat is covered in something. Being “street smart” we pull each other into a nearby store. Immediately two or three people are there with tissues telling us we have stuff all over us and our bags. One lady literally takes the bag off my friend’s back and sets it down to help her clean it up. She turns her around and the man I saw a few minutes before behind us grabs her bag and puts it in a black trash bag and takes off. So as most people would do, she yells and runs after him. He drops it on the sidewalk and darts through 4 or 5 lanes of traffic. Meanwhile, people are still trying to help us clean up and by this point we have a firm grip on all of our shit-covered shit. The tissue lady/accomplice screams that he stole her bag and takes off running out of the store.
We stood in the store for about 5 minutes trying to figure out what actually happened. The stuff covering my coat and our bags was most definitely fecal matter of some kind. There’s no escaping that smell. We figured the 3 or 4 people who were so kind as to offer to help us clean up were definitely working together since they all disappeared once the thief dropped my friend’s bag and ran off. We pulled it together after standing there shaking and near tears for a few minutes, called the Peace Corps duty officer to explain to someone who’s second language is English that someone threw SHIT on us and tried to rob us. I asked the people at the counter for a plastic bag to put my coat in and we walked to the Sana Sana pharmacy a few stores up to get some baby wipes, hopped in a cab and peaced-out of El Ejido. Certifiably, biggest WTF moment of my life.
The Take-Away: We’d heard of something similar happening during one of the 2.5 million hours of Safety & Security sessions we sat through during training. We also heard about a million other robbery/assault/theft stories so needless to say, the shit-throwing robbery attempt story didn’t stick in my head for too long. After googling, robberies like this are extremely common in South America, especially Ecuador. Apparently there’s even a box on the police reports in Quito for such feces-related robberies. Lesson learned, if someone throws shit/condiments/anything on you…KEEP WALKING, go inside a store to the very back far away from anyone, and don’t let anyone attempt to help you…AT ALL!
P.S. We’re fairly certain it was dog feces mixed with water in a spray bottle…just for the record.
I keep reminding myself things could be worse 🙂