I was scheduled to travel to Tanzania in 2001. Africa would have been my 4th continent and the trip was built to include time location scouting for building a boarding school, a visit with a prominent AIDS physician, a few days with a missionary in the Ngorongoro Crater who worked closely with the Massai. and a little time on safari. I was looking forward to the trip.
My departure ticket was dated September 17 and a week before my scheduled departure, our world changed. The skies were quiet as our planes were grounded and reluctantly, I called off the trip.
Of course, by Sept. 17, the planes were flying again. I could have boarded and gone forward as if everything was normal, but nothing was normal in that time.
The events of Sept. 11 were a new experience for everyone and it wasn’t clear what would happen next.
While I considered my options, I wasn’t actually concerned about some great tragedy visiting me. The odds of that were so slim in my mind that it wasn’t worth calculating. But the pragmatist in me worried about flights being cancelled again. I did think that something unexpected could occur on the global stage, and that something might just shut down air travel again. With a developing business and two young kids at home, I couldn’t afford to be stranded off shore any longer than the two weeks I had scheduled.
I have a healthy fear of certain things. Like centipedes…they horrify me. Bugs of any kind, really. I don’t walk through dark alleys alone with my camera gear hanging in plain sight. I don’t eat food from street vendors in Bangkok
But in other ways, I move forward with faith and trust that most people are good. I believe if we walk through life in fear, we miss much of what’s worth living for. I believe in calculated risk.
The world is not a safe place. Someone died last week in Bloomington from a car crash, but I still drive. There is gang violence on the south side Chicago but I’m in love with that city…Ferguson Mo is a hotbed of protest, but there’s no reason to avoid Joplin.
In Athens, Greece in 1990, Karen and I were drawn to the large crowds and busloads of riot police because it looked interesting. Wading through the masses, we wondered what the protest signs said (it was all Greek to us), but as we ordered souvlaki from a street vendor and heard the crowds chanting “something, something, something, No Americano!” we had a better picture of what was going on and managed to squeeze through the line of riot police before the tear gas was discharged. It had something to do with historic American support of a Greek dictator, perhaps tinged with emotions around the the start of the first Gulf War.
Regardless, Athens harbored about 10 blocks of chaos, and the rest of the city was business as usual.
Risk is real, but there are ways to manage it. Hiding in a bubble is no way to live.
The day after the Sandy Hook shooting, we sent our daughter to school even though some parents didn’t. We talked about it first. We asked if she knew why we weren’t keeping her home.
“Because you don’t love me very much?” she joked.
This is an ongoing joke, and as I write it, I realize it’s dark and makes us sound like bad parents…but it’s a joke, and she knows how to play the game.
We talked about our backpacking trips in national parks. We go for multiple days into the backcountry where there are bears…and if they wanted to…they could eat us.
We take precautions to avoid running into bears. We don’t do things that will attract them, and we know that if we see a bear, it is not the same thing as being eaten.
In fact, you can see a bear and still be very safe. Your first choice is to change your route and go the other way. We’ve done it several times on the trail…on one hike we had to reroute 5 times in one day. Then we took the hint and called it a day.
If the bear starts coming toward you, there are still options. You can bang some pots to scare the bear away. If it gets aggressive, you still have options. I’m not going to list them here…if you go into bear country, it’s up to you to do your research and know how to respond.
But the point we raised with our daughter is this…bears can kill you. Does that mean we should never go into the wilderness again? Of course not. Bears are just a risk that we manage to the best of our ability so that we can enjoy the rewards of the backcountry.
Last week I received my ticket to Ghana for early December. Last time my trip to Africa was foiled by 9/11. This time, there’s Ebola to think about.
So, what’s a guy to do? On the surface, it sounds a little scary.
Ebola is a few hundred miles away from our destination, but it has not been reported in Ghana, though it has killed in Dallas. The countries immediately surrounding Ghana are clean…and those countries are about the size of New Mexico. The ones outside of that? That’s where you’ll find trouble.
The World Health Organization has set up its Ebola regional response in Ghana, which tells me they will be well prepared if something crops up. It also tells me the country is unlikely to seal its borders if they encounter the disease.
Nigeria and Senegal have just been declared free from the disease, which means they have managed to contain it and they have experienced no new cases in recent weeks.
I’ve gotten my shots for the things that are more likely to afflict me, the visa is on its way, and I am moving ahead like the trip will happen. I’ll pay attention to basic hygiene and health concerns like I always do when I travel and I’ll watch the news while I am there.
But I haven’t filled my malaria prescription, or the one that combats traveler’s tummy if I experience a food indiscretion. Those meds expire, and they cost money. I’ll fill those prescriptions when the trip is closer…just in case.
I will continue to monitor the news, the CDC, the State Department, the World Health Organization, and the best judgment of the institution that is sending me there. I have great faith in people who are smarter than me, and in my own instincts.
I don’t intend to put myself in harms way, but I won’t let fear shrink my world.