Fear Itself

Maybe it’s because of my diminutive stature, people ask me frequently about fear and traveling alone.

In our present, scattered and politically shifting world, fear is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. There’s that stab of fresh fear about revenge terrorism after the demise of Osama. American citizens are on high alert, which has introduced innumerable feelings on the endless, pointless and violent cycle of war. Or how about the fear of rejection, the kind Akila McConnell is facing as she composes query letters to editors and agents for her novel. The prospect of criticism can be gripping, producing sleepless nights.

But, back to me.

I puffed up my chest like a blowfish and boldly announced to my friends, “I am GOING to Brazil.”

Some gasped, some hesitated before congratulating me.

I could sense the radio waves of their thoughts.

We love you, but you’re crazy.  I would never go there alone.

My sanity aside, what the solo female traveler endures is not the fall of dictatorships or a nasty, mocking circle of 13 year old girls, but space.

Is anyone near me physically? Or that person in my face, is he or she threatening?

Every year feminist groups in Vancouver hold an event called Take Back the Night. Women from all branches of life brandish candles, walking through a pitch, black night in Stanley Park to symbolically show a woman’s plight to be free, unencumbered. In years past, there were assaults and attacks in the park. I use to live right beside Stanley Park and would often run or hike through at varying times of the day. Rather than be wracked365/329 by fear, jumping at a rustle detected from the corner of my eye, I reveled in the blanket of trees covering me or the slits of sun creeping through, warming my chilled skin.

In Brazil, I was somewhat cautious, but never felt uncomfortable walking alone.  Yet, I witnessed victimization. One sassy Brit gal’s camera was lifted at Ipanema Beach. She shrugged her shoulders, knew it was what it was, and hunted for a shiny new one at the Saturday market in Rio. I encountered two other Brit girls in Salvador who were mugged for their cameras. Their viewpoint on Brazil had drastically altered from paradise to hate. That one incident colored their entire trip, turning the diversity and intense beauty of Brazil into sour grapes.

I always admired the sassy girl’s attitude. Shit happens, whether traveling or not, it doesn’t leave a distaste for your own city, why should it when far from home? You grieve, and hopefully move forward.

It’s amusing to paint myself as the loony Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore, played to perfection by Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now, the sentiment that the craziest guy always survives.

In that vein, I am impulsive. Bull-headed, leaping towards that door with a hanging sign that says “men only”. And I question things, constantly.

Why do all the women worship in this area of a mosque? Does the ghetto of Paris offer nothing to the tourist?

I don’t know everything, but I do know this. Fear is ugly. Fear is ignorance. I do feel it.

What wins is my innate curiosity, which renders fear a dull nag. The world, with all its treasures, realities and wonders compel me to move through it, over and over again. I squeal in delight, seriously, you’re reading a woman who still collects Wonder Woman comics. I can play the child and poke at weird objects, put the wrong things in my mouth, and decide that odd interaction was the neatest moment ever.

You can call it temporary insanity, maybe it is. The next time someone asks me about fear, I’m going to say this: I’m not just taking back the night, I’m taking back the world.

Photos: Christi Nielson, Ms. L. and United Artists