The Fear of…Everything

Keeping an eye an out for danger is something everyone should do. I wasn’t scared about traveling to West Africa, despite the many stories I heard. There is danger everywhere and having lived in NYC when crime was high, without ever being mugged or hurt, I know part of it is the way you carry yourself and how you protect your personal belongings. The embassy has warnings about traveling alone and especially traveling after dark, which was something I didn’t plan on doing except short distances (like across the street for a drink or something). I haven’t encountered any negative circumstances here except for the stories. Everyone I know has been pickpocketed once, but there are even stranger and more unusual stories.

My companion constantly worries about me and even in my apartment he gives me the impression that I am not safe. All the windows have bars and every door has a lock, especially the main door which has four locks. I mentioned in my last post the security is a concern here, but its perplexing to think that in a country where its common to introduce someone (with no relations) as your “brother” or your “sister” then why are you so afraid of them? He told me the story of someone coming through the window using a long stick or handle with a sponge dipped in tar or adhesive to grab small valuable items like wallets or phones and thus to leave my belongings on the floor. Or how about my first time going into town on my own and I was told not to trust anyone, even when asking for directions. WTF?!

He admits now that he may have placed too much emphasis on my safety, but he wanted me to keep the reality of danger in the back of my mind. Yes, there is danger in the States and in the U.K. too, even though admittedly I may not always remember to lock every door and every window or even to zip up my purse as long as its jammed securely underneath my armpit. Or better yet, I didn’t know until now to have the zipper of the purse in the front, so it can’t be open from behind. Great, I learned something new about protecting myself from pickpocketing, I’m thankful for that. However, he constantly lectured everyday about thievery and assault that was waiting for me outside my door as soon as I stepped out without a chaperone, even buying fruit on my own could be a hassle as the price may double or triple once the merchant sees that I am a foreigner.

Facing Danger

Well, guess what? I take a motorbike to and from and pay the right price, a few in the beginning had tried to offer me double but since I knew the price, I would tell them with a smile that the correct price is 1000 or 1,500 leones and they usually agree. I think only one may have left and not given me the ride. When I take a bus into town, I pay and get change for the correct amount, no bus conductor or taxi driver has refused to give me change (unlike an experience I had in the Dominican Republic many years ago,) and I had to ask for directions several times from various people and they have usually been helpful even to the point of hailing a taxi or a bus for me. The latest I came from town was 8:30pm, which is quite late because the buses stop at 9pm or 10pm. Most people do try to make it home by 8pm unless it’s a weekend and/or they have a private vehicle.

So is it dangerous, yes, there is danger everywhere and I’ve seen the videos too. It’s odd because my companion had the perception that its dangerous in the U.S and mentioned the Orlando shooting and another mass shooting a couple years back. Yes, mass shootings are a problem and there needs to be some intervention (LINK). However, except for a few hotspot places like South Chicago, I don’t think most Americans feel like there is danger outside their doorstep. Or at least I didn’t think so until Trump made me think America is so dangerous.

When traveling, safety is a concern especially since it will be obvious that you are a foreigner. Even for me, being a Black American they know from the way I dress, walk, and look that I am a “JC” (Just Come) and its confirmed when I open my mouth to speak. I don’t blend in as much as I think I do, but I don’t walk around with large sums of cash, I always split up my money so I have my transportation money in small bills on top and easy to reach and larger bills buried deep in my bag, I keep my purse in front of me…etc. These are precautions everyone should take around the world, from Tokyo to Geneva to Springfield.

Understanding the Culture of Fear

Getting a lecture everyday about how dangerous the country is and how I can’t go anywhere without someone nickel and diming me is frustrating. I understand Sierra Leone doesn’t have the same safety and security infrastructure as the West and in fact many people are still traumatized from the civil war. In fact, from 1991 to 2003 was a period in Sierra Leone (specifically Freetown) where you could not walk more 100 yards without coming across a corpse. So maybe there is a “collective trauma” from the people that I speak with, as they are old enough to remember this period. However, I asked him, what do you think Westerners perceive of Africa and Africans specifically? I told him, I know he has concern for me and wants me to always keep these rules in my mind, but I asked him, “Did you really think when I told people I was coming here or when I alerted the embassies of my travel that they didn’t give me a list of precautions?” As Americans, we perceive Africa as a dangerous and mysterious continent filled with “dysfunction.” I’m aware things are bad here, but I’m still trying to keep a positive light on things, I came here to see the “good”.

I live in an apartment without running water and we had electricity last night from 2am until 7am, for the first time in 3 days. However, things are good and I am having a good time.

Another reason his constant lectures upset me is because I know he cares about me on a deeper level, and has even brought up the topic of children and having them visit extended relatives in Sierra Leone or even me coming back and staying here for a longer period if I find a job. Why would I live in a country where I’m too afraid to step outside my doorstep? Why would I send my children to visit their relatives in a country where someone may kidnap or kill them? He didn’t reply, he didn’t see that his attempts to “shield me” were making me question my decision to come here and wanting to leave as soon as possible. While I don’t want to minimize safety risks as there is crime and there isn’t justice; focusing on the bad and even scaring someone “a little” is counterproductive.

So how do you understand safety and security when you’re abroad?

Tell me @ReporterandGirl or post it on my Facebook.

Love at First Flight

Good day, smut readers!

This is my first post whilst on my trip in West Africa. For those of you who follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter, then you know that I have been posting photos and such from my trip. I am currently in Sierra Leone and will be here until mid-March. I was very nervous about this trip for all sorts of reasons; one, it is part of my field research, so I’m not on vacation, I am here to do work and collect data and this will impact the viability of my thesis. Second, there were some logistics that were not yet solidly confirmed such as my short and long term accommodations and where in the country I would travel to conduct interviews.

Oh, and apparently, I’m engaged, so now I must think about that too.

I’m glad to say that it has all been working well. I stayed in a nice guest house for a few days before heading out to the most eastern region of the country, Kailahun District. This is where the rebel war of the 1990’s that had spilled over from Liberia crossed over in 1991 to overthrow President Momoh and displaced millions of Sierra Leoneans as they fled westward to the capital, Freetown, or to other places. A large part of the diaspora has yet to return, especially in a country that desperately needs educated, entrepreneurial, and reform-minded people to rebuild in a post-conflict and fragile setting. In 2014, this is also where the deadly Ebola virus had also crossed over and was the heart of the epidemic that soon spread to the rest of the country, and now people are rebuilding from that too. I plan on visiting some other districts along the South, and hopefully will make it to the Bombali district in the north too.

The good, the bad, and the ugly about traveling

Everyone has been very friendly to me, despite my companion and the family I’m staying with, warning me to view everyone as suspect. It is not in my nature to do so, however, I know that I am different and I look different, so I should be cautious. Especially at night and tonight I do plan to travel alone from downtown Freetown to my apartment in the Eastern side of the city. I am also the type of person who will forget to lock her (front) door and I never lock (I don’t think I ever had a lock and key, except for in the college dorms) my bedroom door. However, folks here take security seriously, even in the remote villages that I went to, its common to see 6 or 8 feet cement walls with barb wire and broken glass bottles on the top. As well as bars on the windows, all kinds of deadbolts and padlocks on front doors and each person’s bedroom doors. When I asked my companion why he felt it necessary to lock everything up, especially when he is living with family, I asked, “Are you afraid of theft?” He replied, that he knows that no one in his family are thieves, but this is Africa…etc.” There is suspicion of the other – that someone will try to harm you (physically or spiritually) or take something from you. As well as there are a lot of stories and rumors of people being robbed or kidnapped and such, in the States we call that news.

So, I do think this one person may be a little overly cautious, especially since I was betrothed (kidding) by a close friend of his to watch over me while I’m here. And he wants to make sure that nothing happens to me.

I can’t seem to escape…men problems

Speaking of my betrothal, my companion has taken a liking to me. I arrived very early on a Thursday morning where he met me and took me to my guest house where I stayed for a few days before moving into this apartment. He’s a very smart guy and politically involved and savvy, just the way I like ‘em. I would later find out, that he in turn, was surprised to see how young I was doing my postgraduate degree. There are many obstacles in Sierra Leone for young people to attain higher education, so to get a bachelor’s (a first degree, as they call it) is remarkable in of itself. But to see someone my age studying beyond that, is rare and very respectable. I guess he was not only surprised by my youth but also attractiveness. We talked a lot on Thursday about Sierra Leone politics, global politics, my thesis, my family,…etc. I felt very comfortable talking to him, of course, because I knew we would be doing a lot of traveling together and spending a lot of time together. Thus, it is good to get to know each other well. However, I may not have known that culturally I may have been crossing a line; by the next day he declared that he was falling in love with me and tried to kiss me. He really didn’t seem to understand what was wrong when I kicked him out of my guest room and threatened to christen my new Swiss army knife by slicing off his left nut.

Apparently, “being open” about yourself is a sign that you like a person, so talking about my family and myself…etc. He may have misread that as me falling in love. Thus, I made a call to a friend in London, who has spent some time in Senegal on his experiences. His advice:

  • Love doesn’t actually mean love. The word love is sometimes overused, when it really means lust or just really liking a person to date him/her. Westerners are much more reserved in using the word love until we know this is the person we want to settle with for life.
  • Men in West Africa, can be more aggressive. Not just in pursuing women, but in other aspects too. For example, I noticed that when my companion speaks with younger cousins around his compound “he orders” them assertively to do things (fetch water, boil water, sweep his room…etc.), now there is a respect for age and education, so as the oldest male relative, he does get to boss his younger brother and cousins around to do things for him, but heesh! As well, since he is an educated person (first degree) when we go to buy things from local shops or hop on the bus, he “demands” that they take us this place, or when they are going too fast or slow, or to give him his change now. In terms of love, if they are feeling something, its best to let the lady know upfront and now, hence why I found out from him so soon.

We talked a couple days later and decided to remain friends but even that has had tension and clashes. Like hand-holding (all sexes) is a common sign of close friendship and I had many times refused to hold his hand, which made him upset and wondered why I would refuse this. Not to mention, in one of our trips we had to share to a room.

These last couple weeks, he had let it known that his feelings had not changed, and even had gotten stronger the more he has gotten to know me. Even to the point of telling his mother that he was falling for me. His mother confirmed this over the phone to me too. On our last night before heading back to Freetown he said he had been talking to someone before he met me, but it hadn’t gone far. OK, I don’t give a shit. Really, we just met last week or so, and I’m pretty sure you had a life before me, anyway I’m glad he’s an honest Joe.

Sigh…More problems, am I in Nollywood?

Well, on the day of our return, when I was transitioning to my new apartment with a lovely older couple, he said he was going to introduce me to a female friend, someone my age that could keep me company in my new neighborhood, as the couple’s own daughter was away in medical school. He showed me a picture of her on his phone, then another picture, and another and another…and WTF, how many pictures of this female friend does he have on his phone?! I inquired deeper into their relationship, and it turns out she was the girl he was talking to…for two years!

Who the fuck does he think I am? Nobody “talks” for two years.

To be continued…