Paradoxically, ignorance is not bliss*.
Before any departure, I check the map to pre-navigate points A to B. I seek out walking tours to learn about cardinal historical facts. I learn “hello”, “goodbye”, “thank you”, and of course, “Cheers!” in the new language. And while a few of these personal travel routines slip away from procedure, I assure to leave each city more competent than when I arrived.
Let’s take Budapest, a fairytale setting I had dreamed of exploring ever since a few girlfriends posted pictures and told stories of their daring escapades throughout the Hungarian capital. I booked a guided tour to Budapest during my semester abroad, but was forced to exchange the weekend excursion due to lack of participants. This was shocking. “Who wouldn’t want to visit Budapest?” I beamed as I read the e-mail from my tour guide company. That afternoon, I swapped the trip for one to Southern France and swore to pursue the bucket-list city before it was too late (Say, Age 25).
Now age 23, I have nothing but time and a shrinking bank account. While planning an impromptu week in Europe this past month, I delegated myself travel agent for two young women aspiring to notch another mark on the bedpost (geographically, that is). Post booking and prior to takeoff, I emailed my once-visited German relatives to send my love as I awaited to enter their continent. Explaining my short-lived visit between two countries, the response was a bit startling:
“Do you know that Europe, in particular Hungary is being flooded with myriads of people from Syria and the Iraq trying to get away from islamistic terror and civil war ? In Hungary the situation, in particular around the main station in Budapest seems quite chaotic, as every day thousands and thousands of political refugees get there. Authorities, according to what we learn from TV, are absolutely helpless, thus all these people are trying to go to Austria and to Germany on foot or illegally in the back of lorries.”
Is that so?
My distant relative was not the first person to warn me about the current event. Julie, my nomadic escort, also raised concerns within hours of our transatlantic flight. Naturally, I searched Twitter before opening any other media source.
“The trains are still running.’ ‘We aren’t refugees, we’re young, American tourists, we’re fine.”
I assured Julie.
Despite the tainted videoclips, we entered Budapest Ferenc Liszt International with ease. Access into the city required an inexpensive bus ticket and a short tram ride. Each mode of transportation went swimmingly and unbothered, though a few travelers from our hostel booked an extra night when their train to Vienna halted due to riots. After 24 hours, the voyagers were en route to Austria. We heard nothing more of the immigrant crisis within the city. It was if Budapest was unaffected by the media-induced terror entirely.
If Julie and I had feared the television screen and refunded our tickets, we would have missed out on hours of stories and megabytes of pictures.
This makes me wonder:
What is the rest of the world missing out of due to a misconceived problem?
What do foreigners think of the United States’ criminal issues?
When did fear inhibit adventure?
And then I remembered the guard inspecting my passport during my immigration home from South Africa:
“Where are you coming from?”
“Cape Town, South Africa” I replied.
Expecting a “What were your reasons for visiting?” she asked:
“Were you scared?” “Did you feel safe?”
Putting on my best face, refraining from an eye-roll, I ignored the earlier question and exclaimed:
“Why of course! South Africa is a beautiful country.”
I retrieved my passport and shook my head. Acres of wine farms, city lights, and views atop Lion’s Head Mountain flooded my thoughts. I tried comprehending Cape Town before the voyage, which only fueled the anger.
How dare the officer question my experience? As if a magic eraser seized the memories from a single thought of fear.
A different conversation had me thinking during my drive to the airport the other day. The Uber driver and I spoke of nightlife across the Caribbean, which escalated into the dangers of Jamaica. We had both passed through the island, though encountered polar opposite experiences. He had honeymooned at a resort in Montego Bay, while I knew of day trips biking around Ocho Rios. He was on vacation, and I pretended to be. We similarly noticed hagglers and petty crime, the drug dealers dispensing marijuana amongst tourists, and the frustrated civilians . Though blended in the madness we reminisced seeing the smiling natives sharing their home with us, playing Bob Marley through the speakers.
By the time we reached the airport, the driver reconsidered his views on the island:
“I guess I shouldn’t have hated on Jamaica. I guess it wasn’t as scary, just a culture shock. We take our safety and law enforcement for granted in the U.S.”.
Perhaps ignorance persists no matter how well traveled we are. Perhaps our travels remain divergent for the better, allowing people to avoid uncomfortable situations.
As for me, I’ll continue allowing curiosity to tease my wanderlust; forming opinions after the stamp bleeds into my passport.