Tuesday, September 25, 2012

International Public Transportation: Overcoming Fear

Growing up outside of city limits where the extent of public transportation was pretty much just the school bus option offered by the local public school, learning how to use public transportation has been exciting, intimidating and a bit frightening at times. Especially the taxis.

In Guatemala it wasn't safe for a non-Guatemalan looking woman to ride the way-over-capacity buses that were available. Especially alone. Buses were always getting shot up and their drivers killed or threatened for the bus fare. One Guatemalan friend said that when she had to take the bus she would sit as far from the driver as possible because of how likely it was for a bullet to travel in that direction. Needless to say, I wanted to keep coming home to my daughter and when Ben used the truck with a different schedule after school and I needed to find a safe way to exercise, I had to make a choice: learn to use a taxi or keep running laps around the enclosed garage like a gerbil in a cage. I learned how to use a taxi. Now, admittedly, I'm no poster child for courage, but this was a big step for me. Something Guatemalan taxis did was to always ask for a name and then try to link names and phone numbers and locations in their database. While I recognize that they were trying to streamline their process in order to offer better service, that didn't seem like a good idea to me. The last thing I wanted was someone hacking into the taxi data and knowing people's locations, names, phone numbers and approximate schedules. It just didn't seem smart to give all of that information in a country where kidnapping people who attended the school I taught at wasn't improbable. I used the school phone whenever possible and gave a different name than my own every time. There's a thin line between being smart with your information and being paranoid... and I'm not really sure where that line is. I realize that fear can keep us from really living, and we have to make smart choices and keep going realizing that many things are always going to be out of our control.

In Abu Dhabi, many situations are different. While I haven't figured out the bus system yet, they are not near as exciting as the chicken buses of Guatemala. There is even a separate place for women and children in the front, which I prefer. If anyone causes problems here they are deported, so I haven't heard of any shootings, kidnappings or robberies. I know this doesn't mean it doesn't happen, but it's much rarer. Stopping at red lights isn't as risky, since you don't have to worry as much about armed guys on motorcycles demanding money from your car window and then speeding off. You don't even have to give a name or really even call a taxi with a phone because there are taxi stands all over the place and rarely a long wait. Communicating in English with mainly Filipino, Pakistani and Indian drivers and learning my way around a new city are the most challenging things so far... But I still have difficulty getting over my initial fear of using the transportation and going places (and my natural tendency to just make homemaking my entire life and saving money.) However living an international experience means learning to do things that are uncomfortable sometimes because overcoming these things opens so many more opportunities to learn about the world around us and to create our form of community. I'm thankful for the friends I have made here who keep pushing me to learn new things and to expand my "safe" zone.

Have you ever dealt with fear of public transportation? How did you overcome it?

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