Travel in Troubled Times

As I start to type this, I can’t shake Anthony Jeselnik’s epic “Thoughts and Prayers” rant out of my head.

It’s with some self-awareness that, yes, I do type this from a place of having “sads”.  However, this isn’t just about Brussels.  Or Istanbul.  Or Ankara.

It’s more about all of it.

My last “real-time” post started with a complaint, asking how Sri Lanka was easier to navigate than Brussels.  Of course, the nightmare the people must be experiencing there today puts that thought in a whole different perspective.

Yeah, I didn’t much like the Brussels airport.  It felt like a humid, glass box.  I had the misfortune of experiencing two different flight delays there.  Everything was expensive, but that was probably a combination of airport + Europe.

On Istiklal Caddesi in Istanbul, Daina and I vividly remember a lone gay activist, marching uphill with his rainbow flag and frosted hair, with various people stopping to talk to him.  Moving out of the way of the ubiquitous trolleys, past fancy shops, on the way to see where the riots at Taksim had happened.  A single road showing a country’s potential for change.

In Ankara, I remember the size and the heat of the Anitkabir, a tomb that beautifully extols the reverence the Turkish people feel towards their founding President.  Cabbing from the hotel, to there, to the Museum of Anatolian Civilization before grabbing an amazing dinner at busy underpass.

Those roads we cabbed by were bombed.  As was ever-changing Istiklal.  As was the humid, glass box.

The Bardo Museum in Tunisia was shot up.  Bangkok and Kenya both experienced riots leading up to elections.  London was bombed.  Paris was attacked.  Kiev, torn apart, fortified and burned.  All places I’ve been, places I enjoyed, places that saw life-altering violence erupt after I was gone.

And you think to yourself, because you remember a street, or a sign, or a name, “Thank God I’m not there NOW.”

And there’s a privilege to that.  A massive privilege.  To be able to say you’ve been to some of these places when there are people here who will never go and people in some of those places who will never have the chance to leave.

It’s the golden age of tourism, though I often wonder if we’re the best generation of tourists.  Part of that is the fear that we allow ourselves to travel with, or that we impart on others.

The fear that has colleagues warning me about going to Sri Lanka, even though the civil war has been over for years.

The fear that has people asking a colleague how much of her stuff was stolen on a recent trip to Brazil (answer: none).

The fear you feel inside when you hear about terror suspects from North Africa being responsible for attacks in Europe, and you know you’ve booked a flight there.

Yeah, that last one is on me.

It would be so easy to accept that fear and stay home.  Or just travel within your own country.  Or go to the relative safeness of an all-inclusive.  Or to the “fancy” parts of Asia, like Japan and South Korea.  Of course, then you end up ranking Japan over South Korea, because North Korea fired a rocket.  Or maybe Japan is too far away, so you stick with Europe, because you’re probably going to beat the odds by going there after something has happened.  Of course, which parts?

Frankly, that all needs to change.

When you ride a local bus in Tunisia and the guy next to you strikes up a conversation, and his closing message is to tell people at home what a wonderful place it is, to not be afraid, and to come visit, and you leave the country having had one of the best experiences of your life;

When you go to Seoul, see how amazing life is on a daily basis, how you would never guess there is any kind of conflict with their northern neighbour and, if the people in Seoul
do think that, they sure don’t show it;

When you show up after a protest that shuts one of the oldest cities in the world down, see a city park cordoned off with police tape, but also see those same locals not only going about their everyday lives, but finding ways to keep their protest going in the face of some frightening odds;

When you see all that, suddenly, you’re not so scared of a bomb that went off in an airport.  And all those people who see you there are suddenly a lot less afraid of you.  If they ever were to begin with.

You probably were scared of them before you showed up.  Just a little.  But now, you’re a little less scared.  And if everybody could just get a little bit braver, I think we’d all be in a better, safer place.

It’s a big world, and sometimes a scary one, but don’t ever let your fear keep you from experiencing it.

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