I had a lot on my mind today, as I had a very interesting day with a solid 11 hours of lecture and discussion on solidarity economics and conflict resolution. But instead what has overtaken my thoughts is that of safety. I am in Salvador, Brazil with a group of 8 other students for a course.
It is late, about 9:30 and we sat eating dinner at a restaurant near the beach. My classmates started talking about wanting to check out the beach. I could see that no one was on it, and wasn’t sure if I wanted to ruin the mood or not, and share a personal story with the group of caution – sometimes people don’t like to hear it. I proceeded to tell the group of getting robbed and stabbed on a beach in Rio. I had been on Ipanema Beach with two friends when three teenage boys came and started speaking to me in Portuguese. I answered, realizing later that I was giving myself away being a foreigner. At sunset, the three came back and sat down near me, one beside and the two in front. I recognized them from before and stood up telling my friend to run. They grabbed me, and I tried to resist. When he pulled out a long knife I gave in, but he stabbed my leg anyways. This situation did not compare to the fear I felt earlier on in my time in Brazil. Being attacked in my own apartment that I had recently gotten in Salvador by someone I knew, and the mistrust that follows. It’s easier to think of crime as random and not personal. You don’t want to think that someone is specifically attacking you, you as a person that they have spoken to and made friends with. After choking me and attempting to throw me off the balcony, my roommate was able to intervene. I’ve unfortunately experienced various acts of violence, which are far diminished by the random acts of kindness I’ve experienced by people everywhere.
I was also remembering a previous time traveling, again many years ago. This time I was drunk and flirting, and went for a walk along the beach late at night. My friend then comes running up yelling at me. Screaming and in tears. This was the exact same beach that she was gang raped in mid day surrounded by people. The reason I was down there. To support her through her trauma. How could I do this to her and make her worry about me. Beaches are not safe, she tells me. I remember feeling guilty, and also angry. That didn’t have to mean that everything in life is no longer safe, and you can’t let fear guide your existence. The brutal rape of my friend haunted me and my traveling choices for years. I was reckless on many occasions after that, wanting to prove to the world and mostly to a voice in my head that I would not let fear conquer my life. To show that it didn’t, meant I would walk down dark alleys without looking. That I would break up fights not meant for me to intervene. That I would develop anger issues in response to towards a violent and unfair world. Lashing out was the only way I felt in control during bad situations for a long time. Daring the world to hurt me may have been unhealthy, but it also meant that I did not let it stop me from traveling alone.
I hadn’t been back to Salvador since the last time I was here, being kicked out of my apartment after being told by my attacker that he was going to come kill me, as collectively a group of women pushed him out the steel gates where we lived. They told me I brought violence to their home and did not want me there. One woman had started crying, and explained to me the fear that I had brought back to her life. I packed my bags and left my beautiful apartment overlooking the ocean. The place I sat in the mornings with my fresh fruit and coffee and watched the simmering sea. I went to the bus stop that night and traveled to Recife, the city for which the next bus left.
Walking in groups makes me more fearful than walking alone. I feel like I am targeted when people see ‘foreigner’. Alone I blend in better. The beach is not safe at night, nor is the path along it. Or so I felt. We were walking along the boardwalk, and as the locals dispersed, and it became quite I felt a sense of fear coming back over me. Fear that I used to try so hard fight and push down inside me. I’ve also recognized that there is healthy fear, and the challenge is in finding the difference. I watched a group of men wandering by a half block away, one broke a beer bottle on the pole and started laughing. I chose in that moment to acknowledge and obey my fear and tell the group I was turning back. I didn’t need to justify it to anyone but myself that I didn’t feel safe. I would like to consider myself a brave person. But sometimes you need to care and nurture yourself for peace of mind, without feeling like I let myself down by caving to a fear I once refused to let myself listen to.