Solo and Safe???

the Jewish quarter in Paris
Yesterday, Monsieur and I were having coffee with another retired neighbour couple. We were discussing travel, community and world events when the remark was made "I guess that you're glad that you're not in Paris right now."

I have been thinking about Paris and the terror that must be felt by its citizens in this troubled time.
I believe that the shootings and the acts of terrorism are the works of fanatical young people who have been misled to believe that killing even to "defend the honour of their religion" can ever be justified.
These murders are as shameful and needless to most Muslim people as they are to non-Muslim people.

During the months that I have lived in Paris, most of the corner "épiceries" that I frequented were owned by Muslim people from North Africa. The shopkeepers were friendly and patient with me and with my Canadian guests. When I left Paris after 5 months in 2012, my local grocer presented me with a framed photograph of the neighbourhood.

In 2014, I stayed in the Marais, very close to the Synagogue. It was Passover and my neighbourhood was certainly a hub of activity. I loved to watch from my window as Jewish men in high fur hats made their way to worship. I was never afraid.

In a few weeks, I will be going to stay in Oaxaca de Juarez, Mexico for a couple of months. In many ways, Oaxaca is as far away from Paris as you could imagine. The streets are uneven, there are no shop windows and most of the people are very poor by any standard. Indigenous people from the pueblos come to the city to find that there are few jobs and little opportunity. My experience in Mexico ( two one-month sojourns in Oaxaca) is different from my European trips but I still feel safe.
a street in Oaxaca

There are many things that frighten me: heights and excess speed, looking foolish or being abandoned by those I love …..But with travel, I am usually quite certain that if I take the appropriate precautions, I will be safe. When I am alone in a unfamiliar city, I try to learn about local customs and dress so that I am inconspicuous. Not difficult in Paris but as a gringa in a primarily indigenous city, it is impossible.

In Oaxaca, I wear modest clothing that I can easily wash in the kitchen sink. I have access to a clothes line so cleanliness is not a problem. I take few clothes and donate most of them when I return home. I don't usually carry a camera or wear jewellery other than my wedding ring.

In Paris or in Oaxaca, I seldom venture out alone after dark. If I am going to a theatrical production, I take a taxi. I never drink in bars or take more than one glass of wine at a restaurant meal. I am a friendly person but when travelling by myself I pretty much keep my "poker face" until I've assessed the situation. I check out locations on Google maps before I set off. That way I avoid standing on street corners  looking lost.

Last week at church, the sermon was about "non-linear warfare" tactics that keep us off-balance and afraid. Terrorism and drug cartels do exist, but what is the likelihood, that I will ever experience either one? It is possible that in Paris or Oaxaca that I could be "in the wrong place at the wrong time" but that is possible in my own neighbourhood. I fear being "off-balance and afraid" more than I fear being taken hostage by terrorists or drug dealers.

I dislike violence of any sort. I tend to leave the room if Monsieur is watching "loud and violent" television. While I personally choose to attend my neighbourhood church for a feeling of peace and of community, I do not believe that there is any religion that instructs its members to kill innocent people.

I hope that the neither the week's events in Paris nor the tales that we hear of grisly murders in Mexico create the feelings of uncertainty and fear to prevent us from experiencing all of the positive and meaningful experiences that travel has to offer.


  1. I like this line -- I fear being "off-balance and afraid" more than I fear being taken hostage by terrorists or drug dealers -- so much that I've Tweeted a link to this post. Hope you don't mind. It's a thoughtful, wise post that deserves to be widely read. Far too easy to succumb to fear and xenophobia.

    1. It is so important that we do not let unreasonable fears determine our live choices. I have lots of my own personal anxieties to overcome without succumbing to xenophophia. We have lost our freedom when we let the actions of terrorists or criminals affect our lives.

  2. I agree with materfamilias. This post is so well said.

  3. Dear Madame

    So well said. As a Muslim woman who loves reading your blog and your travel adventures, I toally agree with you "no religion justifies the murder of innocent people", including Islam. Its too bad that the actions of a few stereotype all Muslims.

  4. We always make a mistake when we "stereotype" people or when we make remarks about others' religions without having studied them.

  5. I am sure that you will have a wonderful time in Oaxaca. As you know, I was just there for 2 weeks, and neither my friend nor I ever felt at all unsafe. I realize that it is quite different for a woman by herself, but we felt very safe walking around at night as well. I am now in Mexico City, and even though it is a city of 20 million people with 50% of the population living in poverty, I feel safe here too. (Granted, I'm not wandering around in bad neighborhoods.)
    ¡Buen viaje!


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