Risk is inescapable. It’s something we all recognize, but something we rarely think about. The presence of risk in every facet of life is something that I’ve used–rather successfully–to pacify my “I really could get bombed at any moment” fears whenever they begin to boil up.
But then, this week, I realized: this is a totally different sort of risk, and a different kind of fear that accompanies it. When I left the States, I reasoned to myself that, yes, the Middle East is turbulent, and Israel is under a constant security threat. But after living in D.C., where terrorist warnings abound, and working within blocks of the World Bank, IMF, and the White House, I convinced myself that the threat in the Middle East wouldn’t be that different.
But this week, I realized how weak my line of reasoning really has been. Maybe this is what 9 months in the Middle East will do to you, but the fact is, my logic had holes in it the size of Saudi Arabia. We worried about terrorism in D.C., and I used to only get on the last car of the Metro as part of my safety strategy: if a terrorist wanted to maximize casualties, they’d bomb a middle car–not an end car where half the force of an explosion would move outward into the tunnel and take out a few rats. I always felt better using this line of reasoning, and within seconds, I’d be engrossed in my WaPo Express and would forget about the idea of bombings altogether.
But here’s the key difference: in the Middle East, the things you worry about actually happen, and they happen frequently. In America, I knew that although we were attacked once, nothing has happened in the intervening four and a half years. The threat warnings that have come out since then have, thank God, not materialized. As a result, we worry mostly about threats that might become a reality, and keep our fingers crossed that they won’t. But over here, the things you worry about aren’t just threats that might become real. They’re threats that have become real many times before, will become real many times again, and serve as constant reminders of how vulnerable you really are.
And then you realize that despite the attempts at providing security at various coffee shops, restaurants, and busses, nearly every place you go has been bombed before, and will probably be bombed again. Your heart jumps into your throat, and you just hope and pray that you won’t be there when it happens. Because, sadly, it will happen.
I’ve been lucky; I was in Jordan 3 weeks before the hotel bombings in Amman, I’ve walked though Tel Aviv days before shwarma stands I’ve passed have been bombed, and just got back from Egypt 2 days ago. Each time something has happened, I’ve told myself that although the threat exists here, I’m just as likely to get hit by a bus in Washington as I am to be in a bombing in the Middle East. But that’s not the case. I can do things to avoid being hit by a bus, but no one here has any knowledge of or control over the time, place, or scope of the attacks that we know are coming our way.
Once I realized this, I realized that this is a fear far different from the twinges I used to get in D.C. whenever someone said the words “blast radius” and “World Bank.” This is a fear that eats at you; a fear that doesn’t go away despite recitation of statistics and the reminders to oneself that the probablility of being in an attack are comparatively small. Because the fact is, there will be more attacks. Whether or not I’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time is a complete crapshoot.
So then the question becomes, how does one manage this fear? My immediate inclination is to curl up in my room for the next two months, but I know that won’t do any good. No place is truly safe; as secure as I feel on campus, our cafeteria was blown apart 4 years ago in a suicide bombing that killed almost a dozen people. I’ve realized, though, that as scary as it is, I have to maintain a balance between not being lulled into a false sense of security and not letting the fear of an attack dictate my life. I have to be cautious, alert, and always on my toes–but I refuse to let the terrorists win. It’s impossible to not be afraid. But it is possible to continue living my daily life, taking busses and doing homework at coffee shops, while using that fear to be vigilantly watching my surroundings. Because at the end of the day, it’s still a crapshoot–but if I take myself out of the game because I’m afraid, then the bad guys have already won.