Sarah Ardolino, Arts & Entertainment Editor
As I said in my last column, everything happened so fast. One minute, I was waiting for my fellow peers to land at the Barcelona airport. The next, I was following a stranger into the airport parking garage with a fake business card in hand and furiously beating anxious heart. I somehow ended up in the group with five other girls from the Rome program. I had seen the movie “Taken,” and I knew how this situation would end.
When the six of us and the man arrived at his van, I almost started to cry. It had no markings or logos on it, just a regular black van anticipating six young girls to get into it. The man began to grab our luggage and swing it into the trunk. Before he took mine, I turned to my Rome roommate, Gianna, and expressed how uncomfortable I was about getting in the van. I asked her if she wanted to go back with me to wait for the others with the “adult figure” we were traveling with. She was also terrified, but was hesitant to agree at first because she did not want to go against the group. After I got the green light from her, I stood up for us.
It took a lot of courage to speak up. If you know me, I can be kind of reserved and follow the crowd at times, but definitely more so two years ago when I was abroad, than now. (Needless to say, I learned a lot from this experience and grew significantly as a person.) So, I cleared my throat and with the little bravery I had, I told the pushy girl that Gianna and I did not want to get into the unmarked van, and we were going back into the airport to wait for the others.
She immediately shot me down and bickered, “You are screwing us all over 60 euro. We all don’t want to do this, but we all have to.” The unofficial taxi ride was 60 euro flat; if Gianna
and I left, the other girls would have to pay more than the 10 euro per person that was originally promised. To be honest, I do not remember what I said in response, but the strange man took my bag and I reluctantly got into the van.
To make matters worse, my phone did not work abroad. I had no way to map out our ride to the hostel to make sure we were heading the right way, or more importantly, contact anyone if something went wrong. I told the pushy girl, who did have phone service, that I wanted her to track our location. She agreed, but appeared to be visibly irritated with me.
As the man pulled out of the parking spot, I held the girl’s hand sitting next to me in fear. Both of us were terrified. We devised an exit plan out the trunk if anything were to happen. Another girl sitting in the front row of the van tried to make small talk with the man to make us feel better about the situation, but I was still shaking in my seat; I knew what I was doing was wrong and something horrible could happen to us.
As we went down a few levels of the garage, I said a prayer and hoped for the best. Suddenly, something seemed off with the pushy girl. She got a text from our Rome group chat. I asked her what was going on, but she refused to tell me. Since my phone was not working, I had no way to check what our peers were saying.
At that point, I was so scared and completely frustrated with the pushy girl basically gambling our lives away, I yelled at the driver to stop. I told him that I would flat out pay him the 60 euro. I wanted to get out of that van. At first, he did not stop. In that moment, I thought I was never going to see the light of day again. I nervously told the driver to stop again; he said he could not pull over yet because we were in the line of traffic. The pushy girl seemed to be annoyed with me, but I did not care. My life is more important than her rude demeanor.
Finally, he pulled over and I offered him the money. He refused and told us that we just wasted his time. Again, I did not care. “Good, I’m glad I wasted your time. F you,” I thought.
It turned out that the text was from the other group that went with the other man. They never got into a van because his keycard did not scan into the parking garage, and they decided that the taxi service was a scam. The thought of the pushy girl refusing to tell me what that text said still makes me angry to this day. I think it was her pride getting in the way; she knew she was wrong and did not want to admit it.
In the end, I technically was able to advocate for myself. It just disappoints me that I let the situation go that far, and I got into the unmarked van. I went against my gut feeling. I was peer pressured into doing something I was not comfortable doing. I believe God’s grace saved me that night in Barcelona; I feel so lucky that I am home safe, even two years later, and not somewhere in Europe being trafficked.
Moral of this two part story: Listen to yourself. Be your own advocate. You know best.