|Beirut street art - Can you feel the danger?|
What do these places have in common?
They are perceived as dangerous, due to political upheaval, civil unrest, decades or centuries of conflict, poverty. These are the places your foreign office does not want you to visit. The places that are in the news all the time, full of rebels and dangers lurking at every corner. Or at the very least, people get very worried when they hear where you are going and suddenly become experts on that countries' politics, history and culture, not to mention geography. Without ever having been, or having informed themselves beyond the grasp of mainstream media. You must be crazy for wanting to go there.
I am writing this from the city of Kharkiv in the East of Ukraine, which is not without its problems, but nothing like what many countries’ travel advice for the “Eastern Ukraine” would make you believe. Life goes on pretty much as usual for the hundreds of thousands of people who live here.
Terror attacks happen in major western cities, too. Nobody talks about the fact that Thailand has been a military dictatorship for years now. That it's probably not the best idea to venture out by yourself in much of East Germany, including large parts of Berlin, if you aren't white. People get mugged in Barcelona, clubbed to death in the Munich subway, raped in upscale London neighbourhoods. You can in fact live in a peaceful Swiss mountain town and get mowed over by the public bus as you try to cross the street, a little tipsy.
|the wild Caucasus!|
Danger is everywhere, every day. We don't have to submit to it.
The places listed at the top are also the places I have enjoyed visiting the most in the last years, mostly for the intense learning experience they offer in a way that no happy go lucky destination ever can. We learn that the world is not so simple, that even a single person can be split over an issue. That our way of thinking about an issue is completely diametric to that of the people who are actually IN that situation. More often than not, we learn that places aren't actually that scary or dangerous - at least not for a visitor. The media loves to blow up situations, because 'Girl had a great time and tasty hummus in Beirut' doesn't sell as well as a headline as 'Protesters clash again, tourists injured'. Even if the positive experience is a much more frequent outcome.
Actually, even in places renown for tourism, it's the dark side of history, social issues, economy and politics that interest me more than ticking off the sights. I understand that this is not a popular approach to travel and many will find it downright depressing.
'Why are you always looking for the bad things?'
I travel to places like this not for sensationalism or a feeling of being a 'more authentic' traveller. Not for any kind of rush - I would never visit an actual war zone on purpose. I travel because I want to learn about the other side, or the many other sides, that are not represented in the media.
|one of many peaceful spots in Ukraine...|
And because I believe that visiting another country, talking to locals, trying to understand each other or just supporting the local economy a little can help make things better. Probably not in the altruistic sense, but on a very human level, in small everyday gestures.
By travelling to places that have been distorted by the media, meeting people whose lives have been reduced to a snazzy headline, we humanise the dehumanised, which makes our world much more balanced and civilised. Does that sound too idealistic? I don't think so. We don't need to agree with somebody's views or support their ideals. We probably don't make a big difference. But we should look at the world in an unfiltered way every now and then.
I might be looking at the bad things, but don't find them depressing. It's the darkness that we learn from. The difficulties that we face in life make us who we are. By dealing with the uneasy, ours and that of other people, we grow, broaden not only our minds, but also open our hearts.
Dealing with troubled thoughts is not your idea of a great holiday? That's fine. But please, think twice the next time you judge a place or people you only know from the news.