Let this be a lesson to you, young globe-trotters. If you’re heading to a developing country, and plan on going a bit outlaw, don’t get caught. If so, run to the police—perhaps like your life depends on it.
Something you may learn in college, other than with enough ingenuity you can have someone else take your statistics exam, is an oft-cited study by Geert Hofstede. Cultural dimensions—values, if you will— differ from land to land. Among them; Individualism vs. Collectivism.
While the USA literally scored the highest in the individuality department, most countries, particularly developing ones, are collectivist in nature. In these societies, obligations we may deem the responsibility of our immediate family—or the law—are often addressed by the village, the barrio… or a bustling neighborhood in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Need an example? Of course you do. Here is a little blood-soaked story.
Having just finished at the gym, I was walking across Boulevard Ernesto Rohrmoser to grab some post-weights sushi. But then it happened, and fast.
I was on the median when the lady screamed.
I was on the median when a black SUV permanently laid on its horn.
And I was on that median still when a motorcycle tore past me and a big fucker wearing a motorcycle helmet ran down the sidewalk.
—Oh, another thing from college other than safe spaces; Regret Theory. Some say we base our decisions on what we will regret the least, and they may have a point. As this frantic lady chased the helmeted man, I realized she’d just been robbed. Some compulsion in me piped up, right then, “Hey Asshole, rather get stabbed than live with watching some woman get victimized and do nothing about it—don’t be a pussy—YOLO, and stuff.”
The chase ended up being something like a parade. The robber taking point, followed by the lady busy cursing him in Spanish, me passing her, and taking Tail-end Charlie; the black SUV, at a crawl with their horn still blaring.
Now, I’m no big dude—though I can find those complimentary angles as good as the next Instagrammer. Catching up to this guy, he’d seemed to have grown, enough so that I had to not only reconsider if he was actually Costa Rican, but also if I was running headlong to bite off more than I could chew.
In a final blast, the SUV soared past me and blocked him in. The tiring robber tossed the loot—a damn cell phone, breaking it against the pothole-ridden side street we’d turned down.
He faced me.
Did the driver of the loudest SUV in the world get out and help? Nooope. Did the robber give up and then curse his getaway driver for leaving him stranded?
We crashed into one another.
You’ve all seen the videos on YouTube; crimes gone bad in developing countries. Anywhere from weapons of opportunity to a damn AK-47 can come out.
I looked for knives in his hands and belt-line as I draped my arm over his full-face helmet. Thankfully, I was able to sink in a half-ass guillotine. That was the only thing that kept me mildly confident when he lifted me in the air like a rag doll.
Our strategies were similar actually; a one-armed approach—me wailing on his ribs with my free hand as he began to peel my arm from around his neck with his own. His other hand was doing just about the worst thing it could; reaching for the small of his back. Right before I could find out why, shit got a whole lot worse.
I realized that I was on my side. Sneakers and cowboy boots were passing my eyes, kicking up dirt and dried grass. His reinforcements had arrived and they’d knocked us both over. I was moments away from getting annihilated, and I knew it. A heavyset tico in red shoes came in for the kick. One of those crow-hops that will send a soccer ball flying. With my eyes slammed shut, I only heard it; that uuummpfff—you know, when the wind is bludgeoned out of you.
Only, it wasn’t my wind. Four locals had heard the alerting horn and convened on our brawl. Two men tore off the robber’s helmet, one pinned down his legs, and the other waited until the helmet was off to deliver another soccer-ball-blaster. This time, not in the gut, but right into my opponent’s—nay—our opponent’s mouth.
By the time the policia arrived, the robber was in tatters. He laid on the ground, swollen eyes to the sky. And the victim retrieved her broken phone.
I lived in an apartment nearby but wasn’t on the lease. Was the way of things back then. Walking home, the Geert Hofstede shit, of all things, was rattling around in my head. In communal parts of the world, disruptions are often handled with an older form of justice. Sure, a lot of us in the USA would gladly do the same, but that’s because it would be a moment of savage glory allotted to us by a convenient “bad guy.” In some parts of the world, however, even though law enforcement may be robust, it is still the citizen who is the primary enforcer.
At the end of it, I believe most unlucky criminals there would prefer the banalities of an arrest.