After four weeks in what remains one of my favourite places, I find myself back home feeling rather evolved. I realise this must sound trite and perhaps a little too Eat Pray Love but it simply is what it is. Since returning from Thailand I find myself a little more peaceful and at ease, and for me that is kind of a big deal.
There is something perhaps a little eye-opening about being somewhere else. Again: that sounds so silly. And yet it is true. During our travels, my husband and I met so many wonderful people. The best thing about Thailand is that you don’t only meet wonderful Thai people, you meet people from all over the world, and I cannot help but feel like these sorts of interactions make for a particularly satisfying plate of soul food.
A recurring thought that I have had over the last few weeks was a surprising one: Being South African has somehow prepared me for far more than I have ever considered. In some ways this is a good (sensible) thing, but I admit in some ways it is also perhaps a little disturbing.
As much as I would like my parents (and friends and loved ones) to believe otherwise: Thailand is not the safest place. Actually, the world is kind of not the safest place…
Before jetting off to a foreign land, it’s always best that those who love us are able to watch us go without having to worry about our safety. Of course this is almost impossible because love and worry go hand-in-hand, but I realised that as a travelling South African, I have been indirectly equipped with something that not all travellers seem to have: vigilance. If nothing else, this almost automatic vigilance should be a source of comfort to those who might be invested in my wellbeing.
While engaging in conversation with some of our new friends, I discovered that the topic of crime is a relatively universal one. That is kind of obvious, of course, but as much as we all love the stories about folks who live in neighbourhoods where they never have to lock their cars (unheard of in SA!) and about places where you can leave money lying out in the open and know that it will still be there when you get back, that is not exactly a common reality. Folks all around the world have dodgy things happening in their neighbourhoods. As South Africans we often have all sorts of weird ideas about crime. We sometimes think bad things don’t happen in other places, or other places’ bad things are different to South African bad things. Of course we are wrong. I am getting better at exploring the things that I am wrong about.
It’s strange perhaps, but during conversations about the botched investigation of the murder of the British couple in Koh Tao, and discussions about how tourists in Thailand are such easy targets for muggings and pickpockets, I found myself thinking about crime and the role it plays in my own life. While some of my new friends seemed to have found themselves in a place weeded to implement a slightly stricter routine of self preservation, the “scariness” of Thailand didn’t affect me at all.
Because I’m South African. And I’m a girl with zero upper body strength. I pretty much always assume that someone is about to mug me.
I hardly knew I felt that way until it came up in conversation. I am careful, and I am careful in a large part because of where I come from, but I have always been one to laugh off the doomsayers when it comes to South African crime. When folks ask me, with genuinely concerned looks on their faces, how I cope with South African crime, I always laugh it off. The perception of South African crime always seems more dire than the reality. I do not live in fear. I recognise that crime is an issue, and that it may touch my life at some point, but I don’t live in the kind of fear that other people seem to expect that I should.
This, of course, begs another question: Am I wrong?
So far, I have been lucky enough to have lived a life largely untouched by crime. But just because my experience has been one thing, I can’t really expect that experience to be a real reflection on the reality of what crime is in this country. I may happily stick up for my country and the beautiful people living in it (criminals aside, South Africans are great people!) but perhaps I am not so accurate in my defence.
As I was going off on one of my defensive tangents the other day, I started to list the few times crime that had actually touched my life. I expected the list to be short, but as I continued, I realised that the list was way longer than I thought it was.
Let’s take a quick look:
- a.) Grabbed on the vagina by a man who passed me in the street when I was a teenager (thankfully I was more infuriated than traumatised by the event)
- b.) Wallet lifted from my handbag while washing hands in a public restroom
- c.) Cell phone lifted from handbag while shopping
- d.) Cell phone lifted from my desk at work
- e.) My house has been broken into twice
- f.) Washing stolen from the line on various occasions over the years
These are massively irritating things and were quite upsetting at the time but they haven’t caused any long-term damage. I have learned to close my handbag properly and to hold it closer to my body. I am good about setting the alarm when I leave the house and not leaving any windows open. We have household insurance, which makes a huge difference when it comes to the trauma of discovering that your house has been broken into and half of your belongings are missing (although the violation of having a stranger in your house can’t really be fixed by a cheque). These are just simple things that are no big deal and eventually don’t really feel like a big deal, but when you list them I guess you kind of have to admit that it’s a little iffy…
And then I look at articles like the one I recently read on Hippo’s Blog about ‘The Real State of SA Crime’ and can’t help but wonder if I am exceptionally naïve to feel that way. If these are the kinds of realities that face South Africans, why am I not a constant nervous wreck? Nervous wrecking is, after all, what I am so exceptionally good at.
Should I be proud of myself? Or is it perhaps that we just kind of get used to these things? Perhaps they become part of our scenery, our psyches, our day-to-day. And they become almost invisible.
Is that bad?
Are my usual habits just good sense or have they been born from this place where I live?
It seems sensible that I don’t use an ATM unless someone (preferably male) is with me. It seems sensible not to take my camera with me to the park unless my husband is able to come too. It makes sense not to walk to my dad’s office down the road with my laptop in my bag unless I am not alone. It makes sense to never let myself get publicly intoxicated enough to make myself an easy target (although I admit that I kind of don’t really like being drunk anyway so that one is easy).
It makes sense not to walk alone at night, ever, with or without valuables on my person.