Following on from a post I wrote about Paris ten days ago, I wanted to write about something that has been niggling in the back of my mind. It’s hard sometimes to express everything you feel in one, succinct essay – especially on such a difficult subject as personal safety and security. These are all my personal views and are not set in stone. Nevertheless I do think that as expats we are in a slightly different position to our counterparts back “home”. I would be interested to hear views.
It’s been a strange couple of weeks. Terrorism, bombings, Islamaphobia, hostage situations, Turks shooting down Russians…it feels like it is starting to get a little out of control. I am sure I am not the only one wondering where this is going to end.
But how much of what we feel is manipulated by what we read? I had a Skype conversation with a lovely friend back in our home town a few days ago, who told me some of the parents at our old school were worried about a trip the kids were making to London. It took me a while to work out why they were worried. Apparently they feared they would be the victim of a terrorist attack.
Okay I totally get it. Paris was hit, Belgium is all over the news. We, the UK, are heavily involved with both those countries, standing “shoulder to shoulder” with them. There is every possibility that attacks may happen at some point in our country, London is high up the list of places that may get targeted. But on the other hand, so must be the town where we live (home to GCHQ – otherwise known as the Government’s “listening post” for its intelligence agents). As well as other towns and cities near by – Birmingham, Bristol, Gloucester. In fact, there is always a small chance that these awful events can happen pretty much everywhere.
Not to mention that the biggest risk those children still face is being involved in a traffic accident on the way to the capital. And if you start Googling this for stats, you also find out that you are as likely to die from a bee sting as from terrorism in the UK. And 55 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a terrorist (although to be fair I think that was a statistic from the States…) I could go on….
Like I say, I totally understand the fear and panic these attacks have created – after all, isn’t that exactly why it is called “terror”ism? I also fully appreciate the worry of putting your children on to a bus and sending them into the “unknown” – it goes against our parenting instincts to do this, even if logically we know we have to let go eventually.
But as an expat, I still find myself getting slightly exasperated with this attitude. Just by living the life that we do we already increase our chances of being targets. And yet here we are.
Who remembers Bamako? That was the horrible attack in Mali that followed about a week after the Paris attacks. It led the news for about two days. More than 20 people died, including an American and a Belgian. But where is it now? In the flood of new stories coming out from places closer to home – Belgium, France, Turkey – it’s not suprising that what happened in Mali has somewhat slipped off the radar.
However, the chances of someone I knew being caught up in that attack were about 200 times higher than in the Paris bombings. When I heard a Belgian was dead my thoughts turned immediately to a new friend here whose husband covers the region and I knew was away at the time. My husband’s colleague and good friend also covers Mali – and in fact stayed at the very hotel where the attacks happened just a couple of weeks previously. In many of these countries there will be only one or two hotels where most of the expat visitors will stay – so when you hear about something like this, your thoughts immediately turn to who might be travelling in that area at the time.
As I said in an earlier post on the Paris bombings, I don’t expect people back home to have the same reaction to events in distant lands as they do to places closer to home. It is comletely natural that more people were going to be shocked about Paris, a city many will have visited or know people in, than Bamako. After all, many people wouldn’t ever have even heard the name of Mali’s capital before.
So when the news moves on, when the reporters have decided that although the Mali attacks were caused by a terrorist organisation they weren’t actually purely ISIS so therefore didn’t have anything to add to the ongoing story in Eruope, when the dead have all been named and none of them are British, then I know that yet another horrendous event in a far away country will be forgotten.
But as expats I don’t think we do forget. We counted them in and we counted them out and once we knew everyone was safe we sighed and waited for the next one. While friends back home worry about sending their children on a school trip to London, I have to put my children on a bus to an American school on the day we are told there is a specific threat against American interests in South Africa. The children come home and tell me they did a “duck and cover” drill that day. Although having already told them how to get out of a car-jacking situation without getting shot, and what to do if someone attempts to kidnap them in a shopping mall, they seemed to take this latest development in their stride.
We live with this sort of fear every day and yet we carry on. We take all the precautions we can without completely ruining the way we live. We are aware that as “westerners” we are vulnerable.
And yet here we are.
What do you think? If you are an expat do you think somehow we get more used to living with this sort of fear? Or perhaps you think we are actually MORE protected than some of the people back home? I would be interested to hear views.