Right now I’m in my birth country Mauritius, a small island-country, off the south-east coast of Africa.
I’m sure most of you know people who are so paranoid about the world that they over shelter their children and tell them all the scary stories about how they will be killed, attacked or rape if they mingle with the wrong people. No exaggeration.
Even though for the next few months I’m living in the same country as some people here, we live in completely different worlds. In their world, people constantly at risk of getting mugged, attacked and people outside their circles cannot be trusted. I feel guilty that I let some people’s irrational fears led me to create an unnecessary guard during my first two weeks here. What I’ve experienced so far in Mauritius on the street, public transit and financially destitute communities is nothing but genuine kindness and people who are helpful.
My grandma lives just 15 minutes from the city centre so I just walk around only in the daytime. It’s true that in Mauritius, it’s not generally safe to walk around or go around at night unless you have a car and with a group of people. But in the daytime, common sense will protect you.
In my first two weeks trying to navigate Port Louis, when I got lost, I asked a man for directions and he kindly offered to walk me part way to my direction. I made sure I held my valuables tight and prepare for the worst and even thought, “I shouldn’t let him walk me all the way, then he’ll know where I’m going and what if he and other people try to steal something later on. I don’t know what it’s like here.” As soon as I knew where I was, I thanked him for his help and continued on.
But he is not the first person to be so kind to me and I realized that I got sucked into other people’s unjustified fears. I’ve been traveling on my own for a year and a half, and like anywhere else, I use street smarts and my intuition to judge who I can and cannot interact with.
Another time I went the wrong direction and I asked a woman in her 50s where to go. She said, “I saw you walking up the street and the other woman sent you the wrong way. If I didn’t have to be at a meeting I would drive you myself.” Then she took time to draw me a map of where to go. She was really sweet.
There are so many busses around Mauritius and it’s not always clear where to go, so I always ask. I asked an old man about the bus before everyone got on. Before he said down, he asked if he could sit beside me and I said yes. He told me a bit about his life, and where he grew up. He got off a few stops before mine and he told me to enjoy the rest of my trip.
I’m not naive of the dangers that exist in every country, but there is a difference between being cautiously prudent and being unjustifiably paranoid. Irrational fears create an unnecessary barrier to experiencing the kindness of people who live next to you.