The Fear

The Fear

I was sifting through my work e-mail the other day – yes it’s school holidays at the moment, but it all piles up – and, as is often the case with such things, allowed my mind to wander and indulge itself in looking through my old e-mails related to our recent Tanzania expedition. Most of the e-mails brought back happy memories, some reminded me of just how f***ing difficult this project could be sometimes…and one was from a concerned parent that, given the current climate, stood out.

Our expedition, for those of you not in the know, involved taking 14 girls from the School I work at in London out to Tanzania to build a library for a school near Moshi (more on that here). Parents expressing concerns about their kids going to the third world for the first time is nothing new of course; what took me by surprise was how concerned she was over the potential threat of terrorism.

There is, of course, a general threat from terrorism right now, and she was adamant that Tanzania was a hotbed for it, reeling off stories to me about bombings, shooting of female drivers and even beheadings in nearby Somalia, pinpointing Al Shabaab as the group responsible and emphasising their ‘small but growing’ influence in Tanzania. The fact we were predominantly a group of girls, she concluded, was a ‘red flag’ to a group fundamentally opposed to everything we stand for and everything we were aiming to achieve on this expedition.

20160712_130609A fear of terrorism would have deprived our girls of this experience…

This e-mail was sent to me in early 2015, and in 2014 there had been a few small scale bombings in Arusha, which is about an hour’s drive from Moshi. This, no doubt coupled with the travel advice given by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website of the UK Government, is what convinced her this expedition was not for her daughter. Her daughter so badly wanted to go, but I had to respect the wishes of her mother and that was that.

It’s obvious that we all made it back in one piece, but I’m not posting this for ‘I told you so’ self-satisfaction reasons. For the fact is, her concerns were very understandable…and believe me, if something goes wrong when you have 14 teenagers under your care then it will stay with you forever.

But was the knowledge of all this going to stop us from going? No way.

Why? Quite simply, because the perpetrators of such acts are relying on you to be afraid of their actions and reputation. The fear they are looking to spread far surpasses the damage they are actually capable of inflicting. Not going because of what might happen is basically allowing them to roam across whole swathes of the world like playground bullies. Is that what we really want?

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Are these dudes worried about terrorism? Nah, just frustrated at a flight delay in the Philippines 😀

As I write this there have been multiple explosions across Thailand in recent days, and this follows on from the bomb blast in Bangkok last year. The instinctive reaction is, of course, ‘holy sh*t, I’m not going anywhere near there’. Which, again, is understandable. But how many of us know people who have been to Thailand in the last two years and had trouble-free experiences, compared to those of us who know people who were caught up in bomb blasts and the like? If we’re talking in percentage terms, I’m willing to bet good money that the figure for the latter camp isn’t even 1…

To emphasise the point that it could happen anywhere, there was a knife attack – believed to be inspired by recent terror attacks – in the Russell Square area of London the very night before I went to that very place to meet a friend. What if the knifeman decided to strike at lunchtime the next day as opposed to the night before? And, remember, this was me in my hometown meeting a friend, not me actively travelling.

Essentially, listen to every dire warning of what could go wrong and you simply wouldn’t go anywhere. The only way to ensure you’re safeguarding yourself from something that unpredictable is to stay at home. Literally – I mean, never leave your house. But statistically, you’re probably more likely to die from an accident at home than a terrorist incident, so…

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I would never advocate knowingly putting yourself in harms way and visiting countries such as, say, the Democratic Republic of Congo. And vigilance and common sense goes a long way when you find yourselves in countries that fall out of the sphere of the familiar. You just have to accept that there’s a very small element of risk; and that element of risk exists in your everyday life too.

Am I being fatalist, or overly philosophical? Perhaps, but that’s how it is. We’re all perhaps a little too guilty of being overconfident of the future, making plans for the months and even years ahead when, fundamentally, life is uncertain. So, that being the case, appreciate that you can only manage risk so much, embrace your one shot at life and fulfil those travel dreams.

Oh, and that girl whose mother wouldn’t let her join us in Tanzania? She’s going to Nepal with the school next summer. You know, the place that was struck by the devastating, 7.8 Richter Scale earthquake. Either the mother believes devastating earthquakes are less dangerous than a few small bomb blasts, or she has realised that you just have to accept nowhere is completely, 100% guaranteed safe. I’d like to think it’s the latter.

20 Comments

  • Bethanny Sudibyo

    August 16, 2016 at 3:09 am Reply

    You make a really good point here. It is understandable that we might fear the things that are out of our comfort zone. We are human after all. However, this shouldn’t stop us from living our lives. Us being scared would mean those groups got what they wanted: spreading fear.
    I also think that people sometimes really highlight on the bad stuff. When there is nothing going on in a certain place, no one says anything. But if one thing happens, everyone gets a warning sign to not go there.
    I’m doing a solo trip to Ecuador in December, and it’s my first solo trip ever. I’m scared and nervous as hell, but I still bought my plane ticket. We only live once right?

    • Joe

      August 17, 2016 at 6:03 am Reply

      Absolutely, and you make an excellent point yourself about how people only highlight bad stuff. People who are vicious, evil and hateful often make the news, whereas those who are honourable, decent and kind (i.e. most people) don’t. No wonder all our perspectives are skewed. Good on you for taking that first solo trip plunge – we’ve all been there, and your nerves are natural. Have a great trip 🙂

  • Maggie

    August 17, 2016 at 6:34 am Reply

    Great post! We were in Thailand last week, at the time all those bombings happened. We were in Bangkok at the time and felt completely safe. Yes, the security was high everywhere (they searched car trunks for explosives, metal detectors at malls) but we felt completely safe with our 4 year old. So many people tell us we should stay home because of all the violence, and yet they forget that they are more likely to die closer to home than while traveling. People panic over random bombings in places they’ll probably never go, yet get in the car every single day and drive and that statistically is more likely to kill you. So keep traveling and don’t let the worry warts ruin your trips!

    • Joe

      August 17, 2016 at 6:46 am Reply

      Hi Maggie – so great to hear that all the recent attacks in Thailand didn’t affect you 🙂 In many ways the heightened security will actually make you feel safer, although I can understand those who argue that in itself is caving in to terrorism. Anyway, the fundamental point that people panicking over random incidents many, many miles away from their home when there are more clear and present dangers in their more immediate vicinity is a very valid one! Thanks for stopping by, and keep travelling with your family!

  • Erika Bisbocci

    August 17, 2016 at 6:39 am Reply

    It is amazing how few people would think twice about going somewhere that is often devastated by natural disasters (Nepal, New Orleans, Japan) but then are terrified by the idea of traveling to places that are somehow geographically or culturally associated with terrorism. Before I moved to Jordan in university, people were practically praying for my life and hoping I would come back in one piece. Yet, Jordan hasn’t had an attack in ages and is incredibly safe. I’m really interested in the psychology behind what it is that drives this type of fear.
    Erika Bisbocci recently posted…Dieng Plateau Day Trip: Volcanoes and Hindu RuinsMy Profile

    • Joe

      August 17, 2016 at 6:50 am Reply

      Me too Erika! I wish I could put my finger on it too…I often think that the people who whip themselves in to a frenzy about such things are often the people who don’t travel much. Those people who were worried about you going to Jordan – which I hear is a fantastic place by the way – immediately associate it with the Middle East and so immediately think ‘red alert’ in their heads. In this post, I didn’t mention that a couple of other parents expressed fears about Ebola to me when we were promoting the Tanzania trip…despite the fact that Tanzania was about as far from the Ebola-affected area as the UK is from Iran! Similarly, I think that they just had ‘Africa’ in their heads. Thanks for dropping by 🙂

  • Laura Hall

    August 17, 2016 at 8:07 am Reply

    Great post. I feel this is something that needs to be written about especially just recently! That’s why I felt the need to write my post as well, I’m glad we have the same views ? I was also in Bangkok in May and came across zero issues, other than extreme humidity ? Haha

    • Joe

      August 17, 2016 at 8:32 am Reply

      Thanks Laura 🙂 Yep, overwhelmingly the issues that travellers face are things to do with the weather, the food or their, erm, belly. But you’re right, it’s something that does need to be discussed in the current climate. We never hear about the overwhelming majority of people who travel trouble free. Your post was great too – feel free to share a link to it if you want 🙂

  • The Toronto Seoulcialite

    August 17, 2016 at 2:00 pm Reply

    Bad things can happen anywhere, it’s true! I was so sad that while I was in Thailand there were bombings on the other side of the island. I’m 29 years old and my parents were still terrified. If you let the fear take over – you’re done.

    • Joe

      August 17, 2016 at 6:24 pm Reply

      Parents will always worry about us, no matter what, but I guess their concern would be higher than usual regarding terrorism. But you just have to convince them that their fears are no more justified than the standard parental fears they will have over you, and that’s all there is to it really 🙂

  • Jamie

    August 17, 2016 at 3:14 pm Reply

    Yes! Love this post! In times like these where we might feel helpless in the world, it’s important to be strong and confident, and to not let the bad guys scare you. I feel like I’m talking about bullies! I wish I could take this post and send it to every news channel in the world!

    • Joe

      August 17, 2016 at 6:25 pm Reply

      Hahaha! Thank you very much, if you are able to do that, let me know 😉

  • Christine K

    August 17, 2016 at 8:18 pm Reply

    So glad you continued on with your journey; that was the right decision. I also believe that we should do our research of course but don’t let fear keep us from traveling. Thanks for the great article.
    Christine K recently posted…It’s Not Too Early to Plan One of These 5 Magical Christmas Market VacationsMy Profile

    • Joe

      August 17, 2016 at 8:32 pm Reply

      Thanks Christine – to not go ahead with the trip would’ve robbed the girls of an incredible, life-changing experience. As you say, a little proactive research and vigilance goes a long way 🙂

  • Brian

    August 18, 2016 at 3:40 pm Reply

    As an American, I’m amazed how people think they are going to die in a violent incident at the hands of another. The truth is that heart disease and caner are the leading causes of death in the United states. After those two, there is a HUGE drop off and terror is not even in the top 10.
    Brian recently posted…5 Cultural Gems Along the N Train in Astoria, QueensMy Profile

    • Joe

      August 18, 2016 at 8:08 pm Reply

      Now those are facts you just can’t argue with! Thanks Brian 🙂

  • Cynthia @journal of nomads

    August 18, 2016 at 5:12 pm Reply

    I completely understand your point of view here! I’m currently in Turkey and there has been a lot of attacks here lately (not even mentioning the failed coup). People are now very scared to come to Turkey and they are staying away. I just hitchhiked across the whole country and I haven’t felt unsafe at all. Honestly I think it is ‘dangerous’ everywhere. My own home country has suffered from terrorism (Belgium), France, Germany,… There has been shootings in the USA, there has been… I’m not going to write it all down because sadly enough it is a big list. I mean, we can stay at home and cut ourselves very badly with a knife 🙂 There is always a risk with everything you do. It shouldn’t stop one from going out there and LIVE 🙂

    • Joe

      August 18, 2016 at 8:12 pm Reply

      Hear hear! Very well said Cynthia 🙂 As you say there is the scope for danger in every country in the world, including our home countries. I’m sure it was very upsetting for you when the Brussels attacks happened, but it’s great to hear it has not put you off and you’re hitchhiking across a country that so many people sadly are increasingly seeing to be a no go area (I was in Turkey in 2014 and loved it). Thanks for dropping by 🙂

  • WhereMonicaGoes

    August 20, 2016 at 5:39 am Reply

    What a wonderful writing, Joe and I definitely agree on your points raised here. I was in Munich when there were series of attacks in Bavaria last July. Of course, it pales to comparison to what is happening in Middle East and Africa. But did those attacks stop me from traveling around? No. If we will fear, then only the terrorists will win. We should not stop living our lives because of them.

    • Joe

      August 20, 2016 at 6:31 am Reply

      Thanks Monica 🙂 Attacks are attacks wherever they are and on whatever scale they might be too, so it always pays to be watchful…and, of course, not to cave in either!

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