The NY Times’ own Kristof offers us 15 tips for surviving bandits in poor countries. Among them is “carry a fake wallet” and (the tried and true favorite) “pretend you are Canadian”.
While sometimes the article sounds like an excuse to recount the exploits of brave Kristof, I’d endorse all15 suggestions. I just have one problem: they undermine his ultimate ambition.
Kristof wants more students travelling to more dodgy places. So do I. But one emerges from the article thinking a bandit lurks around every developing country corner.
How many more parents will now dissuade their son or daughter from the travel Kristof wants them to take? How many will go, but approach every local with an ounce of trepidation and a measure of fear? Americans have cultivated a culture of fear at home. Need we export it abroad too?
Here’s a simple truth: just like home, car accidents not bandits are the bogeyman. Malaria might be the second major risk, for which we have easy solutions. Thieves and rapists are typically a distant danger.
This is not to say you shouldn’t take precautions. But personally I try to remember that I have more risk of bandits in New York and New Haven than any of the countries I visit. (Note from experience: this point does not relieve spousal and parental anxiety about your international travel.)
The essential point: foreign does not equal dangerous. Dwelling on the potential bandit round the next corner will make you miserable, paranoid, and make even a little prejudiced.