A Merida area blogger recently reported that two expat women had a horrible experience when one of them discovered a burglar in her kitchen. Hearing the homeowner scream out, the other woman ran to her aid and they fought off the burglar who had grabbed the homeowner from behind.
With all three of them scuffling, the women hitting the burglar with bottles and plates, he eventually freed the homeowner and ran out the front door, through which he had apparently entered, leaving his shirt behind in the melee. My understanding is that the keys to the door were in the lock on the inside and could be reached through the protectore and through the open wood window on the door (that may not be precisely right, but the homeowner thought the door was secured).
The young male burglar had apparently come by and rung the bell about 10 pm, but the homeowner said she didn’t speak Spanish and thought he had left. Later, going to the kitchen, she encountered him.
Fortunately for the two expat women, this only resulted in some broken plates and bottles and maybe a sprain and bruises. It could have been much worse.
Normally, I wouldn’t write about ‘hearsay’ type things, but this account was confirmed independently by another expat who knows both women.
Those who enjoy Merida for its relative safety shouldn’t suddenly think everything has changed. But I feel it is worthwhile to publicize this so everyone knows to review their homes for safety.
Rule 1: Sturdy front door and locks, locked at all times, even when at home.
Locks and keys must not be reachable from the front door or window. Use your imagination. Can someone see your keys on the front table and snag them with a pole or string through an open window? Protectores and a front door are even better. Both locked.
Rule 2: Doors opening to the back (or side) gardens should be sturdy, have good locks and stay locked, particularly at night.
Garden doors are often left open or unsecured. Unless you are actually on the patio or at the back room, it’s best to keep them locked or have protectores which lock.
Rule 3: Garden areas should be reviewed for possible access points and exit points.
Do what you can to make it every bit as hard to get out as to get in. This is a deterrence, believe it or not. Thieves may not try to enter if they don’t think they can escape your garden once finished.
Rule 4: Roof access? Make sure doorways or areas which open to the roof also have sturdy doors and locks. And? Stay locked, particularly at night.
Running across rooftops from some far-away access point is an easy way to gain access to some homes. One expat had a break-in due to this. She had been assured by her architect that the open look was fine.
Rule 5: Many expats raise the walls at the roof or put up a fence-like structure to further secure their own roof area.
If you have a house separated from others, you’re lucky, but most colonial areas have adjoining rooftops. Review the area closely since access is so easy from other rooftops.
Rule 6: Have the numbers of the Merida City Police, the SSP, and the emergency number by every phone (even if in a drawer under your phone) and have them programmed into your cell phone. Learn to ask for help in Spanish.
General Emergencies – SSP – 066 from wired phones 113 from cell phones (The SSP is the state police. These numbers are the most similar to 911 in the USA.)
Red Cross (Cruz Roja) Ambulance – 924-9813
Merida City Police Dept. – 942-0060 (This is only for specific areas en Centro, not the whole city. It is a waste of time unless you know the City Police patrol your neighborhood.)
Merida Fire Dept.- 924-9242 or 923-2971
Rule 7: Never, but never, invite unexpected strangers into your home, even or especially if they knock asking for a glass of water.
That is a common trick used to slip into a home and swipe a purse or wallet, which are often left for convenience sake near the front door. If you cannot hand someone water through the locked front door (the opening window part with bars), just say, “Lo siento, no hay.” Or don’t answer in the first place, if you are not expecting someone.
Rule 8: Know your neighbors.
Even if you don’t speak much Spanish yet, learn to say “Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening” and when to change from one to another. Learn your neighbors’ names and get their phone numbers. Give them yours. Do little favors for them. Neighbors tend to be very helpful, but we need to go part way to show we are considerate of the culture, language and their sensibilities.
Your neighbors can literally be a lifesaver in an emergency. Look out for them, too.
Now, these don’t seem to be particularly insightful rules, I’ll admit. But we all tend to fall into an easy-going life and don’t worry about being secure. The city is normally calm and peaceful. Everyone feels relaxed. Locked doors are inconvenient, especially with some of the types of locks sold here.
Expat houses often stand out. And word gets around where expats live, just in casual talk. We may not think we’ve got much money, but most of the time we are assumed to have plenty of wealth. That’s not a reason to be paranoid nor to stop enjoying life. But we should be conscious of the way we are seen and how that is attractive to criminals. Thankfully, there are relatively few cases of personal violence, but a surprised thief may become violent.
One final point: If a crime occurs, you almost always have to actually go to the police station to complete the official report and complaint. That is not done at your house, even though responding officers may ask questions and write down information.
You have to make an official complaint. Please always take this step so that the police are empowered to act should they encounter the criminal(s).
If anyone would care to share additional simple personal safety tips, please feel free to do so.