i am smart. i am not stupid. remember that and then read this:
i sat with my elbows propped on my knees, looking across the desk at the curly-haired tourist police officer typing up the report. all around me bolivian women screamed at the officer, at each other, and, of course, at me. the old woman to my right, dressed in her sunday best, hollered at me incoherently. her daughter and her granddaughter both had armor-piercing stares fixed on me. once again, even though i was the victim, everyone was angry with me. the same exact thing had happened five times on this trip: i get robbed and everyone involved hates me.
because i am the rich tourist, i suppose. but who was the rich gringo in this situation and who was the third world slum-dweller? looking at us you wouldn't have picked me as the one with money; i was in a torn megadeth t-shirt, cheap black pants, and ratty tennis shoes - and i was covered in pungent mustard. the women surrounding me - the suspects in this crime - had just showered and were in fine, if unfashionable, clothes. make-up on, hair just so, jewelry dangling from their ears. i smelled and looked like the floor of a baseball stadium after an extra-innings game.
i was used to this sort of thing now though so as the storm of violent spanish swirled around me i calmly sat and let my eyes drift to a sign taped to the wall behind the officer's desk. it was a list of warnings to tourists, alerting us to potential scams in la paz, bolivia. #15 read like this:
"if someone in the street spits at you or throws ketchup at you, do not allow a friendly stranger to help clean you off - he is trying to steal from you. instead, clean yourself off, take your belongings, and walk away."
i read the almost exact account of what had just happened to me about two hours earlier and thought to myself, "well, of course, had it been spit or ketchup i would have done just like the sign says, i'm a smart traveler. but this was mustard."
because it was mustard and not ketchup or spit, i had correctly assumed that i was just in the middle of some massive hot dog-eating accident. i think the backpack disappearing was just a coincidence - i am quite certain that the sidewalk was fiercely malnourished and swallowed it when i wasn't looking.
but a hungry sidewalk ain't no reason to go home. i am finishing my trip, on my terms, in my way, smelling like mustard or not.
keep on keepin' on,