What Are You Afraid of?

As I have been traveling for a month around a small part of the North Island, I got to meet all kinds of people already. Many backpackers, but also locals, among which many Maoris, since the East Coast is one of the regions where they are found the most. And among them Kiwi Maoris, many that I met had never been to the South Island. I must admit I was a bit puzzled in the beginning even though I tried not to show it; I am traveling from Europe  to New-Zeland and you have never been further than 300km away from your house – how big is the gap the lies between us!

I managed every time to try and understand why they had not done so yet: ‘do you not want to see what is just a few towns away? Do you feel you don’t need to go explore?’ and so on and so on. Many times, they said they were really happy with where they were and did not really see any reason why they should change it. Many of the people I talked to in the beginning were ‘full’ Maoris and their relationships with other family members is of utmost importance. For a christening, for example, members would gather around the new-born, then surrounded by three generations up him. That would give him a great amount of cousins, aunts and uncles, let alone the fact that most Maori parents raise a lot of kids – ‘oh I have 12 siblings, so no, we’re not that many!’. Obviously, raising these babies is quite time and money-consuming, which discourages parents to go explore their country, let alone the world.

When I met these people, they often had two questions, or similar ones: they asked what I was most afraid of, and what I missed the most from my country. Before they asked, I don’t think I had ever really thought of missing things – as opposed to people – albeit that from traveling around a bit already, I know that what I would not find in Ukrainian, English or Belgian supermarkets, I would not find in New Zealand either. As for fear, well, there are the basic of a traveler: losing your passport and/or credit card. A smartphone is very handy too, but quickly replaceable if you really feel the need for it. Then if I think a bit further, then I would say I am afraid of terrorist attacks, murderers, car accidents or any kind of accident that would cause physical pain, running out of money, forgetting important papers or items somewhere… But these things are universal. In other words, wherever you encounter yourself in the world – you as a human being living in the modern society -, these are things you are aware of; they are things you know could happen anywhere, anytime. When traveling, one just be aware of the areas where more care is required – dangerous roads, dodgy areas and expensive places. And I have come to realise that the more you know about a place, the less scary it seems to be.

Given the mindsets that these people who questioned me were in, I could not really give them this answer – they would probably have looked at me with big eyes, wondering what the hell I was talking about. So I gave it a bit of thought and ended up with one answer.

To me, nature seems scary. While driving along the North Coast – as it is probably the case for many other places -, it is impossible not to think about how small you are. And somehow meaningless; in fact, should there be any kind of fire or tsunami and/or earthquake taking over the Earth, the powerful nature would be pitiless, and History holds way too many examples to back up my words.

However, to the people I would give the answer to, the wilderness would probably not be scary; big cities might. Gigantic amounts of cars, planes, high buildings, that would scare them, or at least impress them. Elevators, maybe. Things they are not used to seeing on a day to day basis. But they can ride bareback from a very young age and walk barefoot on the grass without wondering if ants might be preparing a human body invasion.

All in all, one place is scary for everyone; when we get out of it, we get nervous, excited and stressed at the same time, clueless and lost – we call it comfort zone. This is what we are afraid of.

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