“Empowering Expats/Travelers with relevant security information.”
victoriaadvocate| September 25th, 2015
Safety abroad is more common than people think -By Jennifer Lee Preyss
I was in a Shanghai hotel room a few months ago when I saw the breaking news alert about a terrorist attack in Sousse, Tunisia.
In front of a lovely hotel, on a lovely beach, 38 people were shot and killed by a 23-year-old Islamic fanatic, Seifiddine Rezgui Yacoubi.
A human barrier of Tunisian locals formed to protect the wounded and living, and the gunman was soon killed by police.
I was already having discussions about booking a trip to Tunisia. I’d been invited to visit, and I knew the attack would make it more difficult for my family when they learned I’d be visiting soon.
Any time we hear about a terrorist attack occurring somewhere across the globe in an Arab nation, we tend to make sweeping accusations about the country as a whole, that it’s no longer safe or friendly toward tourists.
I decided to take the journey to Tunisia a few weeks later despite the warnings of threat and danger.
On the plane ride into Tunis, I sat next to an Australian woman, a teacher in Bangkok, who was meeting her Moroccan boyfriend in Tunisia for a few days of beach vacation.
She told me they intended to cut their travels short because of the shooting and spend part of the vacation in Morocco instead.
I wondered for a moment if I was being too naive about traveling to Tunisia so soon after the attack.
I spent 10 days in Tunisia, traveling through about six cities. Though I was within drivable distances to Sousse, I never visited that particular city.
In Hammamet, where I was staying, a similarly touristy spot as Sousse, talk of the attack was still occurring from the locals. It had been weeks of mourning for many. And they were angry, the ones I spoke with, that something so devastating and murderous could happen on their soil. There was a similar attack in a Tunis museum a few months earlier, and they’d had enough.
For those who formed a human shield against the bullets, they were willing to risk their own lives for the lives of foreigners visiting their beaches.
It took less than a day for me to realize I was never in any danger.
There were a few more guards on the streets and on the beaches, but never was there a feeling of danger or Islamic fanaticism. Not for me.
Each day, I met local people, teachers, cafe workers, businessmen and women, all of whom were thrilled to entertain an American and show me hospitality. All of whom were Muslim, with the exception of an interfaith American couple who happened to live in my home city of Atlanta. We’re now making plans to meet up again during Christmastime.
While there, I met up with the Hammamet Rotary group, sat in on their weekly club meeting, and was later invited to take a tour of current humanitarian projects in the area club members were aiming to complete in the coming service year.
At night, I walked around with friends, drank coffee, and cheek kissed new faces introduced to me, using one of my favorite French phrases, “Enchante,” or pleased to meet you.
On my last day in Tunisia, I spent a few hours at the beach swimming in the Mediterranean, which will forever be remembered as one of the most beautiful bodies of water I’ve ever seen. It was a body of clear water surrounded by stretches of beach with smiling children running and laughing with parents.
I almost never swim in oceans and lakes because I’m terrified of all the big and small creatures in the water.
I love being at sea, not in the sea. But this day, I went in the sea. I swam, I laughed, I dove through the waves. That’s how lovely it was, and that’s how safe I felt.
The first thing my father said to me when I returned to the States was, “I’m so glad you’re home safe. Don’t ever go there again.”
He was afraid for me. And each time I attempted to explain Tunisia wasn’t a dangerous place, he couldn’t or wouldn’t believe me.
For him, and many others, Tunisia would be the place of recent terrorism, an Arab nation, adjacent to Libya with brewing and uncontrollable ISIS loyalists nearby.
I would think my firsthand witness would hold more weight, but it appeared I couldn’t win against the fear the media reports had created.
This morning, I read a report that tourism has plummeted in Sousse in recent weeks. People are losing their jobs and hotels are slowly beginning to close.
There are police and guards there to protect the few tourists trickling in. The town and its residents, who depend on tourism industry, may have other things to fear now: Joblessness, poverty, business closings.
What happened on the beaches of Sousse is tragic. It’s worse than tragic. And many are and have suffered.
This is not the time to run away and be afraid. This is the time to demonstrate we are in solidarity together.
Could another shooting happen? Sure. Shootings happen here in the U.S. regularly. We have 31 percent of the world’s mass shootings, which means we’re the global leaders of mass shooting incidents. Think about the ones we’ve had this year already. And since 2006, there have been 200 reported cases of mass shootings in the land of the free, and on average, happen about every two weeks.
People will often make the case that shootings in the U.S. are different because they aren’t motivated by religious ideology. Does it really matter? Do those who lose their lives from a crazed or mentally ill gunman matter less because the motivation for murder was non-religious?
I’m more likely to be shot here in the U.S. than in Tunisia.
So back to the Mediterranean I will go one day. Perhaps even to Sousse.
The more we live divided, the more we remain in fear, the real evil ones will continue to prevail. I plan to do my part not to let them win another battle.
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