It’s still the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Walking through those departure gates after saying goodbye to my parents, knowing that my mum was tearing up at the site of me leaving and just trying to keep walking.
It was going to take me pretty much 24 hours to get there, with a stop over in Houston for a few hours.
That stop over was terrifying. Scared and sleep deprived I sat in George Bush airport and cried while strangers walked past and stared.
This was the beginning of my gap year adventure. Months of planning and working had got me to this point. Had earned me enough money to fly across the world to Argentina and away from home and anyone that I knew.
And now I was crying in an airport in the middle of America wishing I was on my way back home.
Needless to say things picked up a lot after that. I made it to Buenos Aires and somehow got to my student residence with my terrible Spanish and my tired brain.
I was staying on Plaza Del Congreso. There were noisy protests there everyday outside the beautiful political buildings. I stood on the balcony outside my room and watched them on the first few days I was there, before I got used to the noise.
I started my Spanish lessons and I made friends from all over the world, this was the gap year I had planned and it was wonderful.
A few weeks into my stay I was out at the local supermarket and somehow I got pick pocketed. I will never forget that feeling of horror as I reached round for my purse and found my bag wide open, everything gone.
Of course I had been warned. This is a country where people teach their children how to pick pocket as soon as they can walk. This is a place where there is poverty around every corner and, with my blond hair and pale skin, I stuck out as a rich and stupid tourist. Which I was to them on that day.
But apparently it wasn’t enough to teach me.
I dumped my basket filled with food I no longer had money to buy and ran home into the arms of my friends, who comforted and reassured me – ‘it’s more unlikely that you WON’T get pick pocketed at some point while you’re here’.
The second time was pure stupidity and I won’t ever really believe that I was naive enough to do it. I went to the cinema with a friend and for a second time I was a perfectly ignorant tourist. I put my bag with my money and precious ipod, an 18th birthday present from my parents, down on the floor by my feet in the darkened cinema.
The end of the film came, I picked up my bag and checked my stuff, I couldn’t believe it. I cried over the ipod, over being so careless with a gift from my parents. Yet again my friends came to my rescue and made me feel better but I felt mortified.
It was from that day that I started to feel unsafe. It was little things like refusing to let go of my bag even for a second while I was out in public and not wanting to go out alone. Nothing really bad had happened, no one had hurt me but I felt extremely vulnerable.
I became much more aware of how obviously foreign I was. The culture in Argentina is very different to home and men murmuring sexual comments in Spanish to you as you walked past is something I would struggle to handle now, never mind when I was 18 and it was my first time away from home.
On the whole my experience of Argentina was very positive. It strengthened me as a person to know I was able to travel alone like that and made me grow up in a way that I really needed at that stage of my life. Feeling unsafe was a small part of it which in no way ruined the experience.
That feeling, however, has stayed with me in some ways. It’s made me much more wary about my possessions for one thing, 4 years later and I still feel horribly uncomfortable when I can’t check I still have all my things when I’m out in public. In a way, I suppose, that feeling helped keep me safe. When I first went I was under the naive assumption that nothing bad would ever happen to me and, of course, if the worst thing that did happen to me is that I got pick pocketed a few times then I can only feel extremely grateful. But those bad things made me aware that worse things could happen and made me take every precaution to make sure they didn’t.
That’s all for now
Written for a Daily Prompt about feeling unsafe.