Lunch Time Banter and Safety Tips

I love lunch hour in El Salvador.  Yes, lunch HOUR.

A group of us often gather in the conference room where the lunches are as varied as are the stories shared.  A couple of weeks ago we welcomed a new missionary to the office.  She had a little bit of an encounter on a bus earlier in the week, and so we started talking about the ways in which we navigate getting from place to place safely.  Here are a few gold nuggets from the conversation...

On the theme of the wisdom of carrying a bit of money in your pocket:
     One time I was on the bus, and a gang member got on and said, "Everyone has to pay $1.  We don't want to rob anyone so you are all in this together.  Everyone $1."  
     So we all got out our dollars.  This is why it's important to carry a little money in your pocket. You never want to have to dig around for a dollar if you need it.  The older lady next to me pulls out a 5 dollar bill.  I don't know if she didn't have a one or what.  So there were 2 collectors and their boss was watching from behind.  The collector came and took the $5 and didn't say a word.  The boss watched and waited and then said, "Hey (bad name), you give that grandma her change.  We said $1 each person and that means $1." 
     I have to confess that I had bought something earlier for a quarter, so I only had 75 cents in my pocket.  I had given the collector my coins and looked at him pleadingly and he took it.  When the boss was saying $1 means $1 I was sweating in my seat.  But nothing happened.

On the wisdom of separating your money into different locations:
     There was this time when I went to the bank to cash my pay check.  I put half the money in one secret spot and the other half in another spot in my backpack.  I started walking home.  For some reason I forgot to put money in my pocket.  Of course the one time I forgot to put money in my pocket this gang member confronted me and asked what I had in my bag.  I told him I didn't have anything but my work papers.  He wanted my backpack.  As I swung it around I unzipped a pocket and half my money was in there.  He grabbed the money and dropped my backpack.  I picked it up and was relieved to have at least half of my money.  
   There must have been a lady behind me carrying two big shopping bags.  I didn't actually see her because I was really trying to attend to the guy who was in front of me.  When that guy was gone I looked behind me.  There were the two big bags.  I looked around but didn't see anyone.  So I took the bags, one in each hand, and sat down on that little concrete wall by the shopping center.  I waited about 10 minutes but no one came for the bags.  So, I walked home with them.  My wife probably thought, "Oh, he went shopping and bought something great."  Well, in one bag was an iron, still in the box and with the receipt.  And in the other bag was a nice fan.  I put that fan up by my desk at home and it works great.  I guess God felt sorry for me so I ended up with the 2 big bags instead of my whole paycheck.

On the technique for walking down the street:
     I choose my clothes wisely if I am walking to work:  black skirt, sensible shoes, sometimes an embroidered blouse, and always a big cross.  "Buenos días," I say to each person I encounter and to every worker at the pupusa stands, the car repair shops, and pharmacies.  It's good to have friends who watch out for me along the route.  Most of them think I am a pastor, or even a nun, and that is just fine.  I can do this because I am older.  For younger women, the rule is no talking, no smiling, and just walk fast with determination.
   I have a burn phone - just a cheap flip phone that does not actually work.  I carry that in my hand, and my good phone is stashed in my bag.  I keep $5 in a pocket, just in case.  If I have to carry anything of value, I put it into an old plastic grocery bag with some older, slightly grubby folders.  Sometimes I put it under my lunch.

We had a little debate about how much money is needed in one's pocket.  Apparently lots of times, $1 is enough to buy off an assailant.  I will still go with $5.

Just about everybody has hidden a phone or money in a bag of fruit or tomatoes.  Well, except for the $5.  Or the $1.

I just worry that one time the pandillero (gang member) will be hungry and there my money will go, along with my fruit.


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