“Isn’t it Dangerous There?”—a Reflection on Travel & Good Vibes.

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“Isn’t it dangerous there?”

You ask if Turkey is full of hatred.

In Istanbul, we passed our afternoons with the old men who gather on the streets to drink tea out of tiny cups and play board games. We visited jewel-laden temples and were hypnotized by women and men who whirl for hours in prayer. We took a ferry to an island full of gardens, horse-drawn carriages, and artistic communities. We were taken in by strangers who helped us navigate Turkish culture and a giant city.

In the U.S., people flick each other off for driving too quickly or too slowly, and call the police when their neighbors make noise.

“Isn’t it dangerous there?”

You tell me the police attack “Americans” in Mexico.

We arrived in Mazunte during a circus festival and spent time amongst fire spinners, yogis, and acrobats from all over Latin America. We spent most of our days naked in the sunshine and most of our evenings walking along the beach, looking for “Tamale Lady”—the one who sometimes fills the masa with pumpkin and chard.

The United States is the only country where I’ve ever felt scared or threatened by law enforcement officials.

“Isn’t it dangerous there?”

You ask if Nicaragua is unstable?

On Ometepe, we visited permaculture projects and intentional communities, slept on the earth underneath the stars, and practiced martial arts on the shore of a pristine lake. We drank fresh juice every day and were welcomed into the homes of locals to share meals, since households commonly cook dinner and offer food to guests as makeshift restaurants.

I flew back to the states to find that our government had shut down—which included the closing of all of our national parks and the prohibition of Peace Corps members from serving in communities around the world.

“Isn’t it dangerous there?”

You wonder if people in Cambodia seem scared or abused.

At a restaurant in Kampot, I started reading a book about a boy who spent his childhood oppressed by the Khmer Rouge. It was written for children, but I was hooked immediately. When the waiter came around with my food, he pointed at the cover and said, “That’s my brother’s story.”

Over the course of many curries and papaya salads, I finished the book and learned that its protagonist (the other owner of the restaurant) had grown up in a United Nations camp, learned English to support his family, found a city job bartending for tourists, and one day, met a school teacher on a boat who he has since kept in contact with via Facebook messages. This woman eventually wrote his story, but not until after he opened a restaurant and cooking school with his brother, where he also sells his beautiful artwork.

Here’s my point:

Nobody had ever asked me if the United States is dangerous—until a few weeks ago, that is.

An Australian woman asked me over breakfast if I’d heard about the shooting at YouTube. I hadn’t. She briefed me. Since random acts of gun violence have been happening on and off since Columbine, I must have seemed somewhat unfazed. She asked me what it feels like to be “American” these days—if I feel like our country is as hateful and dangerous as the media conveys it to be—and this question made a huge impression on me.

On one hand, my life in less “developed” nations often includes things that can seem alarming to others: scorpions, narrow potholed roads, exposed electrical wires in showers, and machetes that are occasionally used to frighten innocent people. Sure, these things can all be dangerous. However, from an outsider’s perspective, where we’re from likely doesn’t seem so safe either.

After several years of living in small towns abroad, what I fear are large, cold cities where people don’t make eye contact with one another. It’s scary when I look around at drivers texting each other or applying makeup as they speed down a highway. And the time and attention people devote to social media—this strikes me as dangerous too.

We’re living in a time when most people need only to use the tips of their fingers to have their voices heard around the world and, unfortunately, negativity and fear tend to spread exponentially faster than positivity and love. So regardless of where we are and what we are scared of, please consider this a friendly reminder to share our good experiences, our joys and hopes, with those around us because—it’s true—sometimes from afar, the world does appear to be a pretty dangerous place.

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Author: Rachel Markowitz
Image: Alexandre Chambon/Unsplash
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman

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Every time you read, share, comment or heart you help an article improve its Rating—which helps Readers see important issues & writers win $$$ from Elephant. Learn more.

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Rachel Markowitz

Rachel Markowitz lives a somewhat-nomadic lifestyle, likely due to an attempt to compensate for her suburban upbringing in Toledo, Ohio. She aspires to live in an ecologically-minded community in a coffee-producing country (which she is currently doing) and create everything that she uses (which she is not). In the meantime, she’s likely writing, singing, guiding yoga classes, and/or searching for sunshine somewhere in Southeast Asia. An online collection of her writing has yet to exist, but if you’d like to connect (or offer her work!), she warmly welcomes your ideas at: [email protected].

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