When I was a senior in high school, I won the senior superlative for Most Gullible. I believed one friend was adopted even though she looks exactly like her mother. I believed another went to the Olympics for juggling. For juggling. My friends loved making me believe whatever they could.
I liked to think of myself as trusting. I trusted that the words that came out of my friends’ mouths were true. As a child I was taught that humans are mostly good and can be trusted. For example, in the small town where I grew up, we never locked our doors at night. We left our cars in the driveway with the keys in the ignition. It wasn’t until my Dad’s old farm car was stolen that we started taking the keys out. I’m not sure if started locking the cars and the house at that point. Maybe, maybe not. I would routinely leave my car unlocked with my purse in it as I ran into the gas station to pay for gas. It’s just the way we did things in Small Town, Vermont.
Living in Santiago has changed me.
I don’t like it.
Now, I’m the opposite of trusting. I’m wary of any stranger who comes up to talk to me on the street. Usually they just want directions, but I always check my pockets after to make sure my cell phone and wallet are still there. This weekend in La Serena a little old lady asked me to help her cross the street. I said sure and helped her across. Then, and I hate myself for this, I checked my pockets. It was habit. Of course that little old lady wasn’t going to steal from me, but I still doubted. I never would have done that before.
Of course there is reason to have this attitude. There is a man who hangs out near Pedro de Valdivia who is a scam artist. He’s tried to get me many times. There’s the man in Ñuñoa who goes around asking for money for a taxi because his car stalled. And in addition to these, there are simply a lot of pick pockets in this city, and soccer fans who act on group mentality and rip purses off shoulders. There are people who steal your locked car when it’s parked for 5 minutes outside your in-laws house. It’s a jungle out there, folks.
Maybe it’s not just Santiago. Maybe it’s any big city. And maybe you wouldn’t call me untrusting, you’d call me “street smart.”
When I think about my future, whether I want to go back to the U.S., or stay here in Chile, or go somewhere else, these are things I think about. I like my life in Santiago, but do I want to live with my guard up forever?
I guess only time will tell.