I’ve heard of tear gas. I’ve heard of the military or police using it to control people during riots, etc., but I didn’t know how it worked, had never seen it, nor had I ever experienced it—until yesterday.
In Colombia, it’s customary to end lunch with cafe (coffee), either at the restaurant where you ate or at a separate cafe. Yesterday day, my friend (I’ll call him M) and I chose to sit outside at Juan Valdez Cafe and enjoy our lunchtime coffee. During the lunch hour, we had heard the “bomb” sounds of tear gas grenades being detonated by the students at a local (very) liberal college. Apparently they do this on a pretty regular basis as their way to protest the issue of the day. The first one that happened while we were at the cafe was pretty loud and it definitely startled me. M didn’t even seem phased. In fact, he kind of laughed at me because of my (slightly) alarmed response. A few more happened, but we ignored them because they are usually not problematic and happen frequently.
Moments later, we see people walking quickly and/or running with their faces shielded as much as possible. The cafe is situated between a church and a shopping center. As soon as M saw what was happening, we bolted. Seated, we hadn’t noticed the tear gas starting to filter into our immediate area, but within the seconds of standing up and starting to move, we quickly became aware of the burning sensation in our eyes, noses, throats, and chests. Faces covered, we headed for the shopping center and walked as quickly as we could through the center to the other side—which equates to about a block away from where we were—to the fresh(er) air on that side of the shopping center complex.
Once we stopped tearing up and could breathe again, we headed back to our office building, but not before I snapped a shot with my phone of one of the tanks that came in after the tear gas grenades were thrown.
All in all, it was an exhilarating experience, but only because there was no real damage done.
This afternoon’s lunchtime coffee plans were thwarted as there were more tear gas grenades being detonated. I decided tear gas once in my life was plenty.
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