It’s a word I think we’ve all become inundated with these past few years, especially in the context of our travel lives. Drug cartels in Mexico prompted the US State Department to issue travel warnings to would-be tourists and that coupled with sweeping media-frenzied speculation about the origin of swine flu left the Mexican economy crippled and struggling, even along the Yucatan Peninsula corridor thousands of miles from the violent conflicts. Anyone hoping to visit the Pyramids of Giza this year might be deterred by images of young revolutionaries gathering in Tahir Square and reports of rescue missions by our government of travelers caught in the mayhem. And South America? Well, don’t even bother going there.
But what of the alternative? Don’t travel? Stay home?
What makes being at home any safer?
As I write this blog entry, I am sitting in a coffee shop at 2nd and Christian Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In chat box in a separate browser window, I am debating with a friend whether the shooting and killing of a man two blocks away from here can be attributed with a Section 8 community there (it can, but only to certain extent). And I find myself hoping that the next car that passes by is mine. (Note: I am now thinking that if I did see my car drive by, it would be problematic. Would I abandon my MacBook in the coffee shop to chase after it? And, let’s face it; I’m in no shape to catch a moving car.)
My car was stolen over the weekend. Before I write any further, I just want to say this: I know that in many ways I am lucky. I am lucky to not have been the victim of a violent crime. I am lucky that possessions are, for the most part, replaceable. And thanks to my environmentalist, über hippie hairdresser, I know that cars really have no place in a big city. But that doesn’t make it right that someone took mine, nor does any of this rationalization erase the memories of the panic I felt upon realizing it was gone, or the sense of violation I feel right now, or the growing paranoia that I am beginning to inhibit. Two days ago I walked all the way to work only to walk all the way back to my house for fear that I had forgotten to lock my front door. Walking from block to block, I find myself looking at every single car, hoping I’ll find mine. When I don’t, I begin to feel angry. Why hadn’t these cars been stolen? And here it is, what I will call the ultimate worst feeling: Victim’s Guilt. What have I done wrong to cause this bad thing to happen to me?
So what are my options? I wait. Wait for the police to call and say that they’ve recovered it. I could buy a new car; thinking about that throws me to the wave of financial panic, and what if the same misfortune finds the new car? I briefly considered a retreat to the suburbs, to make that great voyage out to the land of safety, cal de sacs, and Wegmans. But then I realized, as self-proclaimed city person, this would be just as emphatically wrong as to deny yourself the opportunity to travel because it might be dangerous. (Note: I am not advocating travel to regions or countries that are war-torn, or otherwise legitimately dangerous.) To live with fear is no way to live. The thing is, you can follow all the rules. You can say “please” and “thank you” and treat others as you’d like to be treated and tip generously and make sure all your car doors are locked. You might even go a step further and take all precautionary measures in an attempt to prevent anything from happening to you. But sometimes, due to the chaotic and random nature of crime, you still might find yourself on a sidewalk with all your bags for the weekend packed and hanging off your shoulders, looking at an SUV parked in the spot you left your car 10 hours ago.
I still think it’s important for you to say “please” and “thank you.” Be smart and follow the rules. But I’d hate to see myself, or anyone else, cower because they are afraid of the bad in the world. So, go out there. Take risks. Buy a guidebook for Ecuador and read the sentence “Warning: All parts of Quito can be dangerous at night” and think to yourself “so is home.” And then, go.