Sunday, June 02, 2013

Would you allow your wife/girlfriend to travel alone across Africa? Why?

I have recently finished a book, Red Tape and White Knuckles by Lois Pryce on her solo motorcycle adventure transversing Africa.

A woman riding alone across Africa, isn't it dangerous?

From England to Cape Town, she shared the same train carriage with a group of soldiers wielding their Kalashnikovs in Democratic Republic of Congo, almost rode into a land mine in Angola, got disturbed by an albino drunkard in Congo while she was on the phone with her husband, handled the cultural differences in different countries.

She was hardly ever alone as she met travellers and locals along the way. Each encounter has its own stories and adventures.

I highly recommend this book to any aspiring female travellers.

When she was in Congo talking to her husband on the phone, an albino drunkard vagabond tried to drag her away. Her husband, Austin Vince, also a renown motorcycle adventurer got really worried hearing the screaming and commotion over the phone. The proprietor of the phone shop and other locals managed to pull him away from her. Upon reuniting with her husband in Cape Town, she shared her stories, to which her husband responded.

"I was really worried about you, I mean really terrified when you were in Congo. I would lie awake at night and pray, to something or someone, that you would be alright."
Lois apologised but was interrupted by Austin.

"Don't be silly! I would have never stopped you, and I wasn't worried when you left; I've ridden through Africa. I know what it's like, but when you phoned me from Congo...." He trailed off, looking pained at the memory.

I was surprised that he was not worried about Lois travelling alone in Africa. It got me thinking. Most husbands may think he was crazy for allowing his wife to travel alone across Africa. But have they themselves ridden through Africa to form these negative perceptions?

If they have not ridden across Africa, probably their perceptions are largely shaped by hearsays and the media. Austin has been there, done that. His personal experiences are probably positive enough to put him at ease in allowing his wife to travel alone. However, media usually depict Africa as a very troubled continent - civil wars, famine, HIV.

Take a look at the newspaper, how many bad news are reported as compared to good news. What is flooding the headlines of The Newpaper most of the time? Murders, accidents, scandals etc. When I told my mum that I will be riding to Thailand, she told me don't, it is dangerous. I asked her, how do you know? Have you done that before? She told me not to tee-kee (talk back in hokkien.)

Motorcyclist killed on North South Highway. Bus coach flipped, killing many of its passengers. These are the types of news reported on the papers. I have many friends who travelled along North South Highway frequently without any incidents. There are probably more safe passages I know of than accidents I read in the papers. But we hardly see newspapers report about motorcyclists returning safely from their travels, do we?

There is one thing I can say about news. A bit of scandal or tragedy appeals to the masses amidst our monotonous and otherwise uneventful lives. They attract viewerships. That is what they want. Bad news are worthy news. You hardly read about people going for their travels safe and sound. Once something bad happens, it reaches the headline.

They serve as a reminder to everybody not to be complacent about our safety. However, they also let readers form a largely negative perception about the places before they have ever been there. So are we overly paranoid about things we have never done before?

I do not deny the existence of danger or reality of situations. Throughout our lives, we have allowed media form opinions of places and situation for us before we have personally been in touch with them. Go speak to people living there and those who have been there and you may realise how little we know about the world.

Pickpocketing is so common in Rome and Naples that they are not really news worthy. The locals are well aware of the problem to take precautions. But for the unsuspecting tourists, doesn't lack of such news give them a false sense of security then?

In the documentary "Pickpocket King" with Bob Arno, he asked the pickpocket, "In your opinion, how many good pickpockets are there in Napoli?"

"It's not important to say that the pickpockets are good; it's more important how many dumb people are around," the pickpocket said.

Recently, my sister lost her handphone in a crowded club, suspected pickpocketed while her handbag was slinged behind her. For a Neapolitan, placing bags behind you is a no no. News worthy? No, it does not mean there are no pickpockets in Singapore.

A lot of times we are ignorant of things until it happens to us. If we are aware enough of a situation to take precautions, good for us. If shit happens, take it as a lesson learnt so we outgrow the 'dumb' category by their standard.

The role that media play in instilling fear is making us too afraid to try anything out of the norm. It is keeping us ensconced in our comfort cocoon, deterring us from exploring. I have already met many people who tried to talk me out of travelling to places. Not that I do not believe them, instead, I choose to regard those scary news and warnings as awareness about situations. In that way, I know how to better safeguard myself.

If I need advices from others, I would rather approach people who have been there, done that, not someone who only tells me things they read on the news.

Just because there is a bad egg in a carton, it does not mean all eggs are bad.

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