I was sad to leave Africa – the land of cheetahs and elephants. It felt like new experiences and sights were on the agenda nearly every day. And I do miss the breathtaking wilderness, amazing animals and friendly people. But as much as leaving was sad, heading to Europe was exciting. Although the new experiences are of a slightly less dramatic nature than say riding an elephant, there are a small collection of things I am really appreciating about being back in the more developed world.
So far in Europe, the showers are hot, the internet is fast, a wide variety of goods are available even in small town stores and the power doesn’t go out unless I turn it off. There is also no crowd of guys outside our hotel or arriving bus demanding that we must need a taxi, souvenir or tour. In fact, I can walk down the street without being sold a single thing. I can still hire a taxi, buy a souvenir or book a tour with incredible ease, but I can do it more on my own terms. There are signs, if I want something, I enter an office and let someone know – the way I am used to.
Old Town Warsaw – yep, this is what I am referring to as “more familiar” right now.
Something I have been surprised to find as I settle back into more familiar surroundings is that I have been just a bit on my guard at pretty much all times for the last few months. Not only because of the constant bombardment by requests to do and buy things, but because of a different degree of confidence in personal safety. I’ve felt the responsibility for my personal safety was a bit more on my own shoulders than in say, Fort Collins. I know you always need to pay attention, for example, Europe is known for theft and fraud, so we’ll need to keep a watchful eye on our wallets. However, the thief here is likely to rob you by picking your pocket, not by threatening bodily injury or via carjacking. This is a different kind of threat with a different feeling attached to it. The degree to which you trust and feel protected by the appropriate authorities, generally the police, is also a factor. Are they around? Are they looking out for you? In some places we’ve been I can’t say I’ve always been sure.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking as we travel about the terms “first world” and “developed nation” and what qualifies a country for those terms. To me this degree of confidence in personal safety for the average citizen (and the tourist) is a key characteristic. (Along with infrastructure and transportation which we’ll talk about later…)