In the last week, I’ve had reason to question the wisdom of traveling to certain places in this troubled world today. I’d always felt that travel was no more dangerous than driving to my local supermarket; I figured I was just as likely to get T-boned by a distracted suburban mom on her phone as I was to be caught in cross-fire overseas.
But in recent days, I have sat at home helping to re-route my son twice as he finished up a summer of work and vacation in Europe. After spending the month of July teaching in northern Israel – safely out of the reach of Hamas rockets – it was time to return to Tel Aviv to fly out. As (bad) luck would have it, a lone rocket landing close to the airport set off an international panic and almost all flights into and out of Tel Aviv were canceled at the exact time he was scheduled to leave. Quick thinking and a willingness to part with many extra dollars allowed us to re-book him on El Al only a day late; many others remain stuck in Israel for up to a week after the airport re-opened a few days ago.
Feeling relieved after a few tense days, I attended a dinner with friends where we chatted about the relaxing vacation our son was now on – a few days in Rome and Dubrovnik, then a stop in Norway and Sweden before heading home. “Norway?” a friend asked. “There’s a big terror alert there right now!” I laughed – haha – good one! But I checked it out and was stunned to see there was a real, credible threat there from Syrian terrorists, and that the likely date for the strike was July 28, the end of Ramadan, the very date my son was scheduled to fly into Oslo.
Should we change the flights? Do we panic and let the terrorists “win”? Will there be anything even open in Oslo? We’ve heard about museums and palaces closing their doors, nuclear plants being shut down, the airspace over Bergen blocked. Ultimately, we decided to make the change, mainly to avoid getting stuck in Dubrovnik and unable to make the international flight home if the Norwegian flights were canceled.
I’ve been thinking about many things as I confront these two scenarios. One is that it is much scarier to be the person who is outside the situation. Our son did not feel threatened in Israel at any time; there was tension to be sure, but being with Israelis for whom a daily instability is routine made him much calmer than those of us reading overly-dramatic U.S. news reporting every day. Years ago, when I was studying abroad in Spain, the Basque separatist ETA group was busy bombing Madrid on a regular basis, and one bad blast actually hit a busy restaurant across the street from my apartment. Somehow this did not faze me in the least; my parents reading about it in the paper were freaked out, but life went on as usual for me. Likewise, being in Istanbul during the Taksim Square demonstrations, in Athens during street protests, and in Lhasa after China had closed it off to foreigners were not even remotely as disturbing as the world press made these situations seem from the outside.
For those of us who feel we are citizens of the world, the recent unrest in so many places is depressing more than anything else. Yes, it messes up our vacations, costs us money and time, and adds angst to our travels, but the saddest part is that we have seen the kindness in the world, the common ground among people, the cooperation, the kinship, and the potential for peace. It shatters us to see the divisions, the hate, and the violence. I joked with my family in an email update a few days ago that all this worrying and rearranging might dampen my enthusiasm for traveling, but I couldn’t help adding parentheses with the word (Maybe!). But there’s really no maybe about it; I will never be afraid to venture out into our wide, wonderful world; I’ll just cross my fingers extra hard that I pick the right place at the right time!