Setting foot on to South African soil for the first time last Sunday, my step was intentionally light and my pockets noticeably empty, filled instead with the scores of cautions received prior to departing and the resulting anxious expectation of essentially getting held at gun point before my luggage even arrived.
Instead of dreaming about the Table Mountains of Cape Town or the harmonies of the Soweto String Quartet, I was being attacked by the 52 murders a day, the 15,000 robberies a month, or the 500,000 assaults a year. Just as I was first cautioned about life in Nairobi (or "Nairobbery"), South Africa was a place where you couldn't ask a stranger for directions. Couldn't drive with your window down or your bag in the front seat. Couldn't walk during the night, or even ride a bike during the day.
This is the paranoia birthed by fear.
Instead of getting physically robbed, however, I've been mentally and spiritually robbed. Robbed of opportunities to initiate new friendships, engage in new conversations, experience new sites, enjoy new smells, inspire new change. The real thief has not been the guy standing on the corner, but the guy running around my head. And my punishment has been equally (if not more) damaging: solitary confinement in a gated, barbed wire and alarm-enabled cottage in the suburbs of Craighall.
This is the creation of self fulfilled prophecies.
Obviously this is a never ending battle that probably every traveller (and even local) fights, and clearly there are reasons why this war exists in the first place (three of which are listed above). But my concern is that I'm ultimately a victim of my own defense strategies, and that -- by fighting for my protection and safety instead of for the ability to live a complete and fulfilled life -- I end up losing much more than just my wallet and laptop.