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.
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?
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…
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.