As a founder of a company that does business internationally, I usually travel a lot. And as a Latina, I also tend to be more aware of what is around me and to avoid "potentially dangerous situations". Anyway, things never come out the way we plan them.
Last week, I arrived to Rio de Janeiro, I was running up and down doing some errands. I was doing this for several hours and all I wanted was to end all this. Once I finished with the last document, I was preparing to deliver all the documentation, and I knew I still had an hour before my consulate closed. It was very close to the time so I decided to take a taxi to get there on time. In that, I realized that my phone's battery was low, I opened the 99 Taxi application (which is basically Uber but from Brazil, majority owned by Didi).
I called for a private taxi via the app which arrived super-fast. I checked the license plates -as I always do- and they coincided with the ones indicated on the app, so I boarded the car. The driver was a normal man and very nice. A few minutes later I found out that I was trapped in the car on my way to an unknown address.
In the first minutes inside the car, I was trying to organize all my documents so I got a little distracted. I realized that we were stuck in transit and that it would probably take us longer to get to my destination, but I did not worry because I knew we were close. While I got distracted again, I saw that we were now in a tunnel, a long tunnel. For which I knew we did not have to cross, so I asked the driver why we were there. To which he replied that the map of 99 was temporarily out of service and that this happens a lot, which is why I believed him.
When I checked my cell phone, the time to get to the destination was longer each time, and I had no idea why. In a blink, we were crossing the bridge that goes towards Niteroi - for those who know Rio de Janeiro, you should know that there are almost no business activities in Niteroi let alone diplomatic activity. But the driver was calm and told me he was sure where we were going so I decided to trust him - even though my instinct told me otherwise. I checked my phone one more time, and app 99 showed that we should go back. At this point I had only 6% battery and I realized that if I kept using my location and the data I would finish my battery faster. So I activated the Ultra Energy Savings mode, which meant I had access to WhatsApp and other basic applications that I had already configured to use. When I saw that the driver did not intend to return as indicated by the app, I really started to worry, so I used the Kwema application to send my location to my co-founder Ali. He lived some time in Rio de Janeiro, so if something happened to me he would have a better chance of helping me find me. I told him that if he did not know anything about me in half an hour, he should start assuming I was missing.
I work for personal safety company and kidnapping is one of the reasons why I decided to found Kwema, I am aware that every second counts and that one must keep the situation under control as much as possible. As far as I knew, at that moment, I did not show any fear or that I was very upset. I asked the driver to stop. He seemed nervous, as if he had not done that before, even though at that point, we were heading to a favela, and that was not a good sign for me. He hesitated and said we would do a U-turn, claiming that if I went down there, that would also be unsafe for him. I was not quite sure what he meant, but I knew that this situation was too risky for me at this point. He continued on his way, and even though he tried to return to the favela, I think something inside him told him to come back. So we went back to Niteroi, near the main avenue, and he left me there.
I was scared and stunned for a few hours, and I could hardly understand any conversation. One thing is for sure, if I had lost control of the situation and it would have upset me, surely I would have upset the driver and probably my situation would not have ended that way.
I tried to dial the two numbers that appeared in the app 99, but both were out of service. In fact, in his service it appeared that I had reached my destination when I never did. Nothing could be further from the truth, it was clear proof that a company as big as 99 Taxis(Didi) does not care a bit about the security of the users, and that if it had disappeared, they would have no idea where my whereabouts were. Now that I went through this experience, and maybe it's due to the daily exposure I have to much more terrifying stories of missing girls. This gave me a clear confirmation of why Kwema exists, why our commitment is to build safer communities, and why our stories need to be told.