As Americans, before we travel, we tend to first think… is that place safe? I remember my second international trip to Israel (the first was in 2002 to Venezuela). In 2006, I was 26. I went in an organized tour group of about 50 of us I believe (I can’t quite remember). It was a group of 18-26 year olds for 10 days. Never once did I feel unsafe, although there were soldiers with weapons standing guard out in the open throughout the city. I remember being on the bus and driving down one of the roads where buses had been bombed years before. I felt sad, and a bit uncomfortable, but never scared.
Another girl and I decided to leave out tour group at the airport and extend our trip, on our own… into Egypt. It was absolutely the first time I explored and planned on a whim. When we first arrived, my Grandfather knew someone whose son was a police officer in Cairo. Through communication, he was told to pick us up at the bus station and help us with our trip. Well, I guess that may be where some of the cultural difference came in and he brought us back to our house and I imagine believed that our whole trip would be in his hands as it is a male dominated country. This was not our plan and we left his house and jumped in a cab. He followed us and it was a pretty scary few hours where we kept hopping in and out of taxis, in and out of hotel lobbies to attempt to trick and lose him. I called my grandfather and explained the situation and I imagine he spoke with his friend, who then called his son to clear up the miscommunication. After that there were absolutely scary parts of this trip, but it wasn’t because of the country, it was because I didn’t trust my travel companion. I remember my travel partner was acting extremely disrespectful to the culture and drawing attention to us. This freaked me out. She was blonde and loud, and we stuck out because of her behavior. She would strike up conversations with men and get too close to them (this is absolutely not ok). I remember wanting to leave her company and roam the country and culture quietly and alone.
When Adam and I went to South Korea… so many thought that Korea was a third world country and unsafe. We have NEVER felt as safe, anywhere in this world as we did there. Their economy is booming and in a way, better than America as they truly support mostly their own companies, as it is affordable and easy to do.
As we traveled through South East Asia… Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia… our initial inherent American thought is, “Is it safe.” I can’t stress enough that these countries are no different in a way, then our states here. People are hard working, children go to school, parents love their kids, there are good people everywhere that love their country and culture and want to share it with others. Very rarely did we feel unsafe. Other places may do things a little differently, but that doesn’t make them unsafe. People are inherently good and not trying to take advantage.
In 2010 when Adam and I went on a 7 day cruise, I remember us getting off at ports and being incredibly uncomfortable at the onslaught of people trying to sell us things either right off the ship or along the beach. We thought people were trying to pull one over on us. How unfair of us. Where did this thought process come from? Is it because when there are people on the side of the road in our own country with “hungry” signs that it makes us uncomfortable and we relate that to this? Is it because we think we are so superior as Americans that everyone expects us to be rich and to take advantage of us? How self absorbed is that? Where on earth did that mindset come from?
Just two years ago when we took our kids to Mexico for a month… we got the same… oh is that safe? And at times, Adam and I questioned this.. but only when we were in the touristy areas based on feedback from Americanized news. When we were staying at our casita, we experienced such kindess and now have a lifelong friend with our uber driver whom daily helped us get places, order delivery and brought us to see different sites. The people selling things on the side of the road, they are all just trying to earn a wage to support their family.
But I think what is even more sad is the way we have preconceived notions of cities in our own country. (whoa that was a long introduction to where I wanted to go with this).
This past weekend we went to Detroit. It was about a 90 minute drive away and we had never been. Adam is a car lover and visiting “motor city” was something we definitely wanted to do. Fast forward to when we got back home, we were chatting with our neighbors who have lived here their whole lives and asked what we thought the city was going to be like. We embarrassingly told them that we thought it would be dirty, full of homeless and exhaustion, tired and run down, unsafe, we weren’t sure we would get out of the car and just drive through it… maybe abandon in certain places.
Let me tell you, Detroit was a very impressively beautiful and clean city. The buildings were tall, it was along the waterfront; there was a waterfront walk with flower gardens, small restaurants, statues and families walking and riding bikes together. It was full of cultural differences, more so than we have seen in awhile. There was religious and ethnic diversities, lots of people outside exercising or picnic-ing. There were a few street performers. The city had blocks and blocks of restaurants, a Little Greece, and all of it felt safe and accepting. We never once felt uncomfortable or unsafe even with our three little kids running all over. The word I kept using to describe the area was hard. It looked like people worked hard in Detroit. That they were proud of their city and it has grown to what it is because of that hard work.
After talking with our neighbor when we got back, I was embarrassed and a little sick to my stomach that this was a prejudice and preconceived notion both Adam and I had. I think what is even worse, is I know our previous views on the city aren’t unique. I feel like this is where reflection and growth comes in. I mean in the gut of this blog, it isn’t just countries or cities where this type of preconceived opinion comes in, in the end, it has to do with people.
People across this globe are good. Everyone is a brother, sister, mother or father. People are all trying to do their best, take care of their families, do what they think is best. It is incredibly unfair of us to be judgmental or blatantly rude because of prejudice we may or may not know we have. It is up to each of us to work on this and become better.
Together, the world is a better place when we are united with kindness, understanding and respect.