As I prepare to go on my next great adventure, to  a far-off land, filled with reindeer, moose and lingonberries, not to mention loads of quaint small towns with quaint small churches, I am reminded of the first time that I travelled overseas.  I tell this story, not because I aim to teach anyone anything, but rather because my parents, well-meaning though they may be, seem to be – how can I say this politely? – outliers when it comes to their views of preparation for disaster (see also:  my future posts about getting rid of imaginary lice after going to Papua New Guinea and avoiding me like the plague after returning from China, in case at some point I accidentally came into contact with something that may have at one point been a fish).

My first trip overseas, by myself of course, was during my sophomore year of university, when I would travel to Malta to live for a semester.  I was so excited!  Actually, there aren’t even words to describe it.  I came upon going to Malta after deciding that, since I didn’t like my university (loved the scholarship, the academics, the city, just not the social aspects of it) I would take advantage of the fact that I could actually study abroad for two solid years.  The first stop, after confirming that I wanted to spend a whole year in Ireland and a term in Spain to help me with my Spanish skills, would be the small, beautiful, island nation of Malta.  It’s still the place in my heart to which I dream of retiring, if such an event ever happens.  Even travelling back there years later led me right back to the love of it that I had before.  But, I digress.

My parents wanted to prepare me for anything.  Especially my father, who, as a former military man, and a man in general, felt that, as his one and only daughter (insert embarrassing nickname here) was going to be going so far away, all alone, and perhaps not meet anyone else from the US or that speaks much English, I needed to learn how to protect myself.  Now, mind you, this was really a time before cell phones and broadband internet, so communication wasn’t as easy as it is now, if something should happen.

So, how do typical parents help their children prepare for such a milestone (at least from the conversations that I have had with others)?  They make sure that they make plenty of clean underwear, any medications that they might need, along with their written prescriptions and probably at least one pair of comfy shoes.

How did my father help me prepare?  Well, let’s start with the fact that this was also during a time before 9/11, when you could still wait with your family at the actual gate in the airport.  Therefore, the first thing that my father did was drive me to the local airport and have me (repeatedly) go through safety drills, including, but not limited to:

1.  Learning how to stand on an escalator, facing the inside, and making sure that I had a line of sight to everything and everyone around me.

2.  Putting various objects through the screener at the check-in, literally holding on to them until the very last second, when even the security guards started to think that I was paranoid about something, only to release my grip once I was finally forced to walk through the metal detector.

3.  Walking by numerous glass walls, such ass where stores are located, making myself look completely self-centered, since I was told that I had to frequently look at the glass in order to see who was around me, especially behind me.

4.  Make definite eye contact with everyone on the street, just to let them know that I see them.  Presumably, according to my father, if people see that you see them, they won’t approach you or bother you.  Of course, if you do like I did the first few times, you might make them think that you are after them, which is probably not the ideal situation, especially in states with a conceal-and-carry law in effect.

5.  Practice walking on sidewalks.  No really.  I know, I know, most people know how to do this.  But did you know that you should walk on the part closest to the street?  That way, according to my father anyway, you have more than one out if someone approaches you.  You can either go closer to the wall, or grass or whatever is on the interior, or go out into the street (where, presumably, getting hit by a car isn’t such a high risk…still don’t get that one).

I did this all, by the way, not just once, but three times.  Three trips to the airport, three times through the screener, dozens of trips up and down escalators…well, you get the idea.

Now, you ask me, did any of this help me?  Well, it’s hard to tell.  Most people in Malta speak English, fully 1/3 of the people in the flats were from the US or Canada, Malta is continually (or at least was before all of the English and German tourists took it over) rated one of the safest places in Europe.  In fact, my friends and I hitchhiked, walked around unfamiliar areas at all hours of the day and night, randomly decided to walk across the country (a mere 9 miles, really) one day and even take that wonderful short trip to Tunisia, all without incident (other than my friend, Mike, trying to sell me off to a Tunisian shop owner for some camels and 2 Ferraris – thanks, Mike).  So, yeah, it’s hard to tell.

However, I will say this:  I actually find myself, to this day, looking in shop windows to see if people are around me, I still face the inside of escalators to watch what’s going on around me and frankly, I still like holding on to my items until the very last moment in the security lane.  I just don’t want anyone getting their hands on my shoes!  They are darn comfy, you know.

Advertisements