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.
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?