My parents are always concerned about my safety, especially when traveling, and rightly so. They care about my well-being, and part of that well-being includes not being kidnapped or found dead in a ditch somewhere on the other side of the world (or, frankly, in my hometown). Safety while traveling, especially for a young woman who is frequently doing said traveling alone, is no joke. The fact that I am automatically a target because I am a woman is absurd on so many levels, just like the fact that children sitting in a classroom or friends at a movie release or people out for a night on the town or soccer fans at a game or people on holiday in a romantic city sometimes end up being targets.
I have only felt truly unsafe a handful of times in my life, and the vast majority of those times have actually been in the United States and some even in my hometown. There have been moments in my travels in which I get a sinking feeling that I probably shouldn't be in this part of town, or that I'll get trapped on a mountain overnight with no cell service and no idea how to get back to the city and my family because I took the bus in the wrong direction, or that I may walk slightly faster than my friends around a corner and not see the two men who probably would have grabbed me had a gaggle of loud Americans not come around the corner 15 seconds later... but even those experiences were never enough to shake me to my core. Being catcalled as I walked to school every morning in Ecuador didn't make me feel unsafe, but it did make me angry. And that's what I feel right now. Angry.
I've never been to Las Vegas, nor has it ever been on my bucket list of places to go. Just like the people who were harmed (at this writing, 58 were also killed) by a gunman at a music festival, I also don't have any desire to be shot or within range of someone using humans for target practice. My heart goes out to the families affected by this atrocious act of violence... just like it went out to the victims and their families of the Pulse nightclub shooting, those of the 2015 Paris Attacks, etc., etc.
(The fact that I can use "etc." here absolutely horrifies me.)
But it isn't just these attacks – of foreign and domestic terror – that make me angry. I am honestly infuriated by people who ask me if where I'm going will be safe. The first time I traveled to Africa (Namibia in 2015), my family was extremely concerned about my safety, moreso than they were when I up and moved to Ecuador in 2014 at age 19. Would I have walked alone in some areas of Windhoek or Cuenca at night? Absolutely not. But would I walk alone at night all over Columbus, Ohio? Not a chance. I understand the sentiment, I really do. I appreciate the fact that my family and friends want me to be safe (let's face it – anyone who has seen me dart across a street probably has their doubts about my judgement to begin with)... but many of these overt displays of concern for my safety, predominantly when I'm traveling in certain parts of the world, need to stop. This is stereotyping, masked by surface-level concern.
Is where I'm going safe? I assume, yeah. Probably. I'm going there, and I wouldn't be if I didn't expect to make it back alive and unscathed. But I don't know, and it shouldn't matter because everywhere in the world is vulnerable, including my own country. (Especially my own country.)
You can't assume that one act of horror results in a country being an utterly dangerous place. Yes, there are parts of the world I'm not planning to go to at the moment because it isn't the best idea. Yes, there are places that, if required, I would probably categorize as unsafe, at least for me and at least for the time being. But that doesn't mean that they always were or always will be. People shouldn't be unwilling to cross borders and have new experiences and meet new people and grow as humans because of fear. There are extremists, but the name implies the one thing people seem to forget: extreme. Not normal. (Though gun violence at this point seems normal to me... which is also terrible, but not the point.) There are people who go to great lengths to cause harm and terror, for a variety of reasons. I'm not justifying any of them – I'm just saying that to associate a group of people (geographically related or not) with extremism undermines the identity of the rest of the people who live there/are similar to this group. And for us to make this judgement call, without knowing people and without having experienced some of these places, is not okay. And I admit – I have made snap judgements like this too, and I am not proud of it in the slightest.
This may be an unpopular opinion, and I get that. I know that my family and friends who ask these questions only want to protect me and make sure I know what I'm getting myself into. But the fact of the matter is, the places that they've been most concerned about are the places in which I have met some of the most kind, wonderful, and genuinely caring people on the planet.
Safety can be determined by a neighborhood, by a situation, by changing weather patterns, or by our own actions. What matters is that we make good decisions about how we live our lives, experience new things, visit new places, and see what the world has to offer.
Just my thoughts for today.