My flirt with death. What I learned about myself

8 min reading

Quick summary:

Reading Time: 8 minutes

2:30 PM, Salvador, Brazil. My first day in Bahia – a beautiful black part of Brazil. Black women pretend to be natural here by wearing their traditional African clothing and the tourists pretend to believe them. Some innocent hypocrisy never hurt any relations. As a result, everyone is happy and relaxed – which is a nice change from the loud and crowded Sao Paolo.

A perfect day on a paradise beach. My only care and doubt regarded choosing the right time for a walk, because I wasn’t sure if even a level 50 sunscreen can handle this heatwave and whether I wouldn’t turn into a white-haired black woman myself.

However, the joy of life triumphed over reason and I not only went out but even did something unusual for me – I left my gigantic newest Olympus camera in the hotel and went for a walk only with my newest  iPhone. Just in case, I packed a book, some money and a credit card into my purse. Filled with gratefulness for my life being so beautiful, I started admiring the almost virgin beach.

Remaining in that undisturbed joyful mood I reached the part where there was already a lot of people and when I was wondering whether to turn around, I noticed a boy approaching me. He was walking slowly – I thought he wanted to say hi. It soon turned out that he didn’t. He just wanted my iPhone. When I noticed his cold merciless eyes and his wet hand on my arm, I realized that this was no joke.

What happened afterwards was a drama in 8 stages:

1. Passive and silent resistance

I held my phone firmly and made it clear to him that I won’t give it up easily. Once in McDonalds (it was a long time ago, I really don’t eat there anymore, promiss) I caught a kid who took my wallet out of my purse. When I grabbed his arm, he immediately broke free and took off. I was hoping that this would end up like that as well. However, the hard struggle and being choked told me clearly that this wasn’t the case.

2. Active resistance

I started to hit him with one hand, holding my iPhone and purse in the other with all my strength. My resistance was strong enough that another man negligently approached me and held my attacking hand so as to make things easier for his friend. Then I started kicking as forcefully as I could while being on a sand and wearing hawaiians.

3. Active resistance plus screaming

When they knocked me down to the ground, I understand that kicking is not enough, because they were not going to give up. And neither would I. The more I grasped my phone in my hand, the more they kicked me and tried to take it away. So I started screaming. I was screaming so loud that I actually surprised myself by being able to emit such noise. I had the impression that I was loud enough to be heard in Warsaw. I’m not sure if my screams reached Poland, but they surely didn’t reach anyone on that beach in Salvador. No one moved from their beach chairs.

4. Five to one

My screams attracted three more men. One of them was choking me so as to make me lose my strength, while at the same time pulling at my necklaces. I had worn one of them for 7 years, since my first journey, and the second one for 3. I think they wanted to stay in place because I felt them digging into my skin several times when they wanted to pull them off my neck.

Five men were beating, harassing, kicking and strangling me and twisting my arms. I couldn’t even kick anymore, because they were holding my legs. And I couldn’t hit them with my hands because I had to protect my face.

The last lines of defence that I had left were desperate screams and biting. I bit hard and wherever I could. But above all else I bit the giant hand of the man who was choking me, the one digging its fingernails into my neck and hoping for me to release my phone. His hands showed much more emotions than his eyes and his face was silent and voiceless, as if he was peeling potatoes or washing the dishes. At some point he hit me on my forehead with my own hand. Something cracked. I thought they broke my forehead. As it turned out later, it was not my forehead that cracked but the display glass of my phone. Turns out that I’m more resilient than sapphire glass. And people think I’m so delicate…

5. Diffused responsibility

At some point I saw something shining in front of my eyes. Sometimes I can be pretty melodramatic, so I thought that maybe it was a sunstroke paired with stress or a light in the tunnel that you see before you die. As it turned out later, it was a weapon. That was probably one of the reasons why everyone around was so “eager” to help.

The situation was pretty dramatic, because despite my excellent fitness after Sidorenko strength trainings and my extraordinary will to fight, the nature went its course and I was on the verge of exhaustion.

My Professor Stanisław Mika would be proud of me. I remember how he was thoroughly explaining to us during psychology classes that, despite what common sense tells you, when you’re in a crowd it is the most difficult to get help. Everyone thinks that someone else is going to help you. No one wants to get involved, thinking that there are some many other people who can help you. In psychology, this phenomenon is called diffused responsibility and the only way of handling it is not allowing for the responsibility to get diffused or to take it back to where it belongs, that is, to specifics. Thus, I called someone specific to help me. “You, in the red shirt, help me!  Help! Ayuda me! You, in the yellow shorts, help!!!” However, the knowledge of psychology is very practical only on condition that you know foreign languages. Brazilians, similarly to Italians, speak only their mother tongue.

I know four foreign languages but Portuguese is not one of them. Obviously I can try to explain this situation like that, but, like my friend said: “Oh, come on! Portuguese shmortuguese! Five guys beat up a girl. How can it be any more obvious? What else would you scream? I mean, it’s not like you’re ordering caipiri with no sugar” (that’s what I usually order and that’s where I usually pissed off that nobody understands me) Thus, I ran out of possibilities. It was a decision of these several dozen people to remain passive onlookers.

6. The last phase of struggle

I knew I had only seconds left. I also knew that no one else would come and help me. What happened then was a certain phenomenon that is observed during therapy. Some people think that you go to a therapist in order to feel better. They couldn’t be more wrong. Obviously, in the end you are supposed to feel better (since you’re definitely not paying for being battered more than by your own life) but the truth is that at the beginning it has to be bad so that you can reach the bottom. Then there’s only one thing you can do. You have to make a decision whether to stay there or get up. If you have the strength and the will to fight – you get up and go towards the light. And that’s how the change process begins.

The moment when I touched the bottom resulted from the total loss of hope and made me clutch the purse even more and bite mercilessly as hard as I could. I loosened my bite only after I tasted blood. I’m not sure if it was me who let go or them. The one who I bit let out a scream of pain. And in the end they let me go. They left me with my phone, purse and terror. Then they went slowly their way. And even then not a single person moved.

7. Rising up after the battle

I was lying on the sand and crying. Actually, it was hard to call that crying since I had no control over my eyes similarly to how I couldn’t control my knees, hands and my whole body shaking. Then I saw a man with a broken bottle approaching me. At first I cowered even more, curled up into a ball on sand like a snail. I looked askance on the hand given to me, without the bottle, and I knew I had to make a decision:

Is that hand going to deal the final blow or help me? I’m not sure if it was lack of strength or sixth sense, but I considered him a friend. He got me up and hugged me strongly. Then a girl came to me and started wiping my tears off. The man, still hugging me, walked me a bit further and had me sit on a rock, around which his whole family gathered. A very large woman was cleaning my glasses and kissed my back where bruises appeared on the following day. Someone gave me water but someone else shouted at them immediately and the water got immediately switched for Coca Cola. – I guess water was consider to be not fancy enough for that moment

“At first we thought that it’s just a couple fighting or something. We Brazilians are like that – boys often fight for a Shakira like you. When there was five of them we knew that it was more than just a quarrel of jealous lovers, but that was when we saw the gun too. All the time we couldn’t understand why you kept fighting. We were wondering what was really going on there. One girl and five grown men! Do you have a lot of brothers? Or maybe you know karate?”

I think that’s what they told me, or at least that’s what I understood from the mix of Portuguese, Spanish and English and with the help of Google Translator.

8. Police

After three calls they still didn’t come. The Brazilians started arguing among themselves whether it’s better to go or wait. The option “to go” won. Julia took me by the hand, constantly repeating: .”Julia Poland – Julia Brazil – friends” .“Do you want to live with me?”. Although I was charmed by the amount of care I received, I didn’t take advantage of that offer.

Julia and her two cousins explained what happened to a policewoman with a bored expression on her face. With an equally bored gesture she showed me where I’m supposed to go. She led me to a very featureless room where two policemen with the same bored facial expressions were sitting. I definitely felt as if I was in one of Kafka’s books. One of them tried to segregate all the documents that lied on the desk and the other tried to write down everything that the crying old black woman was saying.

I was handled by the other policeman.

-From Poland

-Alone? What do you mean alone?

-Do you have a husband? You don’t? Maybe we could go for a caipirinha tonight?

-But I have a boyfriend

-A boyfriend is not a husband. Which hotel are you in? I’ll come pick you up

I forgot that in Latin America you always have to say that you have a husband.

-What did they take from you? Two necklaces? It’s nothing. It’s good that they didn’t kill you, there would be a lot more problems with that, since you are a foreigner

Another policeman came in. The interviewing one showed my hand to the new one and said:

-Alone, without a husband

-What, then? Caipirinha?

My knees were still shaking and I was still afraid so I didn’t know what to do. If I say yes, will they attack me too? Should I give them my hotel address or stay silent? My eyes decided instead of me and I started sobbing.

-See, I told you that we should go for a caipirinha. Look, do you recognize them? We caught these two 10 minutes ago

-No, it wasn’t them

-Maybe those?


-Maybe you don’t recognize them because you have few Blacks in Poland and they all look alike to you?

-I can differentiate a black man from a white one. They were white. So those here are definitely not them

-Too bad, we probably won’t be able to catch them now

In the end I understood that if I was not going to go for a caipirinha then there was no point in sitting there. The woman led me out on a corridor with several armed policemen. This time she explained to them carefully what happened by showing them the marks on my neck and hands, stroking my shaking knees while doing that.  I felt that this time they were going to help me.

-So did they manage to steal your iPhone? No? So maybe we could take a picture together if you have it?

We took a picture.

-So where’s your husband?

-She doesn’t have a husband, just a boyfriend

-And which hotel are you in?

I said nothing. I didn’t know whether to tell him or not.

-If we catch them, I will have to find you

I gave him my hotel number and telephone number.

-But, if we don’t catch them then maybe at least we could go for a caipirinha?

My sobbing was getting louder and louder. The woman with the iron face hugged me and led me to her car.

-I’ll drive you to the hotel so that nothing happens to you on the way. And you can go for a caipirinha with him. He’s a good boy and he doesn’t have a wife, just a girlfriend

They haven’t caught anyone, because I think they would inform me then. As for the nice boy, who was sending me a lot of text message over the next three days, I blocked him on WhatsApp after five days when I lost any hope that they would find the attackers.

Not everything bad that happens to us makes us stronger or has some deeper meaning. But this event had. I’m going to write about it in a week.

Similar Posts:

If you find this helpful, please share. Someone may find it useful too. #onetribe

2 Responses

  1. Useless information. Nothing new that everybody doesn’t already know.!
    If you wanted to decompress your brain from such horrible situation you could have visited a psychologist. You all Europeans know you shouldn’t be travelling to such dangerous places alone. Even more if you’re a woman. Period.
    I have an amazing respect and care for women but that is a reality that you didn’t discovered. You just experienced it for being so careless, naive and moreover cocky person showing off and being misinformed or careless about what you should wear and take with you when having a walk in LatinAmerica.
    U learned the hard way, sadly, now get prepared and informed next time,
    All the best lady,

    1. My reality – is that people are kind and good too each other. my reality is that I don’t take that nothing is not mine
      my reality is that I travel ALONE as women since I am 19 years all. An I refuse to accept arguments that you use. and as Brazilian – you should be ashamed to make comment like this
      I love brazil. I go there every year. and I will go there next year too. Instead of giving stupid and useless advice – like :You all Europeans know you shouldn’t be travelling to such dangerous places alone – you think how to make your country more safe
      and as I women I can do ANYTHING I want like men – who can do anything he want. it has nothing to do with gender. I did nothing bad or dangerous on this beach – I was walking in day light. I WASNT CALESS OR CKOCKY!!! – it’s very rude of you even to say something like this!!!!!
      blaming me for what being attacked on the beach by 5 men who were beating me u, and people who were not helped me – it’s just not only prove how little empathy you have – but also how little understanding of human being you have
      for the last 6 years I was TRAVELING ALONE IN LATIN AMEIRCA – and I will continue. its wasn’t a Leeson – as I did anything wrong! and there is nothing I could do be prepared better!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *