The research for my doctoral dissertation (all 326 pages which can be read here: http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/thesescanada/vol2/002/NR81495.PDF) included a year of data collection in my three case study countries: Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia. I stayed in each country for at least three months, carrying out surveys, focus groups, interviews, archival research, and everything else needed to attain my data.
So picture me Month 11: I’ve spent an entire year living out of a suitcase, securing interviews everywhere from local community schools to high level government buildings, standing in countless lines to get appropriate research permits, all while learning how to live in each new setting: finding a place to live, figuring out the transport system, learning basic language skills for each country, understanding how to cook with local ingredients, and so forth…
I felt confident. Alas, I felt a little too confident.
I let down my guard.
Which is why, in Month 11, when I went to the bank machine to retrieve sufficient currency needed for a flight back to Dar Es Salaam and onward to Toronto, I wasn’t bothered by the fact that there was no one around this particular ATM…not even the usual guard. I wasn’t bothered by the fact that the sun was slowly setting as dusk crept in.
No, I wasn’t even thinking about anything. I just needed my money. And then I needed to go home.
Looking back I am not at all surprised that I was the target of robbery that day. Of course I was. I was the epitome of the easy target: a woman. a woman alone. a woman alone at a bank machine. a woman alone at a bank machine at dusk.
Last year I wrote a post that addressed some of the choices that anyone, especially women, can make to be safer while travelling: https://myexperientialtravels.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/dear-solo-female-traveller/
What I should have done is written in that post: I should have gone to the bank machine during the day, in a crowded place, at a place where people are working (a guard, a teller, anyone!)
Today’s lesson is a lesson I learned the hard way. And a lesson that I must continue to remember. And I encourage you to do the same.
When you leave for vacation, I can almost guarantee that your passport is securely against your body, that you know where your secret stash of cash is, that you have the name of your hotel buried in your memory and your pocket in case of emergency.
But what about on Day 3? Day 5? Day 15?
It doesn’t matter if it’s your second day or your eleventh month…recognize dangerous situations and always be on guard to avoid these. Anecdotal evidence suggests that tourists are most at risk during two stages: the very beginning of their travels, when they are new and vulnerable; and the very end of their travels, when they are feeling confident and secure and, ahem, letting down their guard.
Don’t be paranoid, but always be vigilant about your safety, especially when you’re in more vulnerable situations, like visiting an ATM! Safe travels, readers!
As an aside, you’ll notice that I did not actually mention the city nor the country where the incident happened. Why? Because it is absolutely no reflection of that place. I loved each of the countries in which I conducted my research and was blown away by the courtesy, generosity, friendliness, and willingness to help me in my academic and personal pursuits. I have been back several times, without any incident, and am always looking for opportunities to return! It doesn’t matter where this incident occurred – it could have happened anywhere – so never let down your guard!