I was feeling a bit strange as there is a lot going on at the moment; adjusting to life back home and thinking about the future. It’s safe to say I was feeling a little overwhelmed and not quite with it. I felt like I needed something to cheer me up so I went in Waterstones, because, I love books.
I was sad to see that the book I wanted to buy they didn’t have in stock. Instead I went to the travel section, because it always makes me happy to see the many possibilities of places I can visit. On a stand they had recommended books for Europe. As I’ve just returned from many European countries, I browsed in the hope of finding one about one of the places I just visited. To my dismay, all the books on the stand were about Spain, France, Italy, England or perhaps an odd one about Ireland, Germany or Poland.
I was disappointed that there were no books about Macedonia, Serbia, Albania and many other countries. Then I wondered, were there are any books at all about these countries? As it turns out, there are no books about Bosnia & Hercegovina or Kosovo (I understand the politics of writing a book about Kosovo but it would be very interesting/useful to read). Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia all had one measly travel guide about them by a company called Bardt, no sign of Lonely Planet writing a whole book about these fascinating countries. This bothered me beyond belief and has compelled me to write. Of course it may just be this particular Waterstones but it leads me onto the real point of this post.
On more than one occasion I have been asked about my travels, both to South East Asia and Eastern/Central Europe, the question: were you safe? This is a very good question because it’s important to feel safe whilst travelling. In Asia I was on my own, travelling for the first time in a country where a lone women isn’t as common as in England. Safety, I understand. But I’ve had people who have said things such as they would never visit Slovakia, Serbia, Bosnia, they wouldn’t believe it was safe until they saw it. I also had a question ‘Isn’t Cambodia just full of mines?’
All these comments were really starting to anger me, how could people be so ignorant? Then I remembered: I was once that ignorant too. Before venturing travelling I knew nothing about Cambodia, or even heard of Bosnia & Hercegovina myself. Then I began to think: Why?
Mitch and I were pretty keen to visit Ukraine while we were away, we even got accepted for some Help Exchange work there but due to lack of funds we couldn’t go. When Skyping my mum to tell her we might be going she got all worried. But, how can I blame her? At the time, the news was flooding the UK with the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and telling us all how unsafe it was. On our travels we met people who not only visited but also lived there; Ukraine has plenty of safe places to visit. What’s more concerning is due to the media coverage, their tourist industry has significantly decreased meaning the economy is struggling.
The Media: Our main source of information, the news we watch, the articles we read online, the adverts we see on television telling us where to go on holiday. But it’s not just them telling us where not to go, if a country isn’t mentioned we equally get as hot under the collar.
When I met Mitch he was living in Oman. After meeting him I went home and looked it up because I had no idea where that country is: the Middle East. As soon as you hear that we all have connotations in our head. I went to visit him and had a host of friends and family being very wary; of course it goes back to the safety thing, especially travelling as a lone female to a Muslim country. But this is a country never mentioned on the news because it is calm, peaceful, and absolutely stunning, yet because of its location it has this aura of fear.
While I was in Vietnam, two British tourists were killed in Thailand. Both my parents were concerned and felt the need to tell me about the incident and check if I was okay. This would be the equivalent, geographically, of two tourists being killed in the South France and people asking me when I lived in London if I was okay. I get the logic that a lot of travellers visit Thailand and Vietnam, and I even met a couple of people who were at the location where they were killed just a week before, but it goes to show the climate of fear that the media create.
Still, let’s not blame it all on the media. There is something before the media which is a bigger cause for concern: The British Education System. Before heading to ‘Eastern Europe’ I knew that there used to be a country called Yugoslavia and that now it is lots of countries. While visiting, I learnt about the war, the amount of people killed and so much more that I was ignorant about before. Where was this in my history lessons? I asked a friend of mine who is a secondary school history teacher if it’s on the curriculum and she said no, they learn some things about it at A-level but that’s it – even she didn’t know much about it. Why do we not know about a war, so recent it’s within my lifetime and so close to home? Unless I go into a very specific career, I really don’t need to know all the names of Henry VIII’s wives, nor how they died. The only time any regular person would need that information is if it comes up in a pub quiz – and the only reason it’s on the pub quiz is because the pub-quiz writer knows we all got taught it in school.
Our ignorance about the true realities of these countries isn’t our fault. What’s important is that we make ourselves aware of what’s happening or happened in the world, throw away stereotypes given to us by the media, go beyond what we’re taught in school and share our knowledge and experiences. I guess this is why I started my blog in the first place. It’s important to question what we’re told…and never just to look at the books recommended by Waterstones.