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Beyond The Sunscreen, The Dark Glasses And Bikini
Posted: Tuesday, June 7, 2005

A teenager disappears in paradise, and a writer sounds notes of caution.

By Linda E Edwards

If the young girl missing in Aruba for a week now, could scream across the distance from wherever she is, in body or just in spirit, what words of warning would she give to other young women, tourist women, taking trips to paradise on some sunny beach in the Caribbean or other exotic places?

She disappeared after leaving a nightclub with three people she had just met, the media reports. She disappeared after packing her suitcase, and leaving her passport at the ready. She disappeared from under the supervision of forty chaperones! She apparently told no one where she was going, and she never came back.

Some advice to future tourist women, from a fairly well traveled female, seems in order.

The illusion of paradise- friendly natives, crime free, idyllic places, pink sand, where the dollar goes further is sold to tourists in North America and Europe, and they buy it in the billions of dollars. Every now and then, a smiling native or two turn deadly, and all hell breaks loose, and tourists flee from there to other parts of paradise, until there is a blow-up there also.

Jamaica has suffered, St. Croix has suffered, Bali has suffered, Egypt's Sinai Peninsula has suffered and now, pretty Aruba.

There are two ugly undersides of tourism that people should pay attention to.

The first is the friendly native. Most people in other parts of the world are really friendlier than, say the average American or British. Most people, but in cultures where people are paid to smile, and be nice; some smiles are forced, and cover an ugly reality that may come out after dark. The poor who work in the tourism business are often immigrants from even poorer places, country places, or other islands; and they do not necessarily like the idle rich at all. To them, every tourist is the idle rich. The tourist exploits this reality in the hotels, dancing and flirting with native men in bright coloured shirts, and sometimes, the men exploit the lonely women they are encouraged by the hotel to dance and flirt with. This could get ugly later, as drinking and darkness progress.

The second is that where tourists go, drugs are present. They may ask for it, from people in bars, people in restaurants, taxi drivers- though there are few taxis as such on Aruba, it's a dune buggy kind of place; there are people with cars who know where to get stuff. Young people who evade their chaperones are indulging in risky behavior. Drugs and sex with strangers are very risky business that can get even uglier than flirting with the guys in the brightly coloured shirts.

Young girls, blonde girls, like the ones portrayed on all the foolish TV programs that people in Tourist land watch, like the young girl now missing, have to be particularly careful. You are away from home, from the normal confines of the societal expectations, of those who know your parents. You are trying to fulfill your fantasy vacation. The predators too, have fantasies of their own. You went away to cut loose a bit, but cutting loose of all forty chaperones, sneaking out after everyone is supposedly in their rooms, is the riskiest behaviour of all. No one knows you are gone. No one knows where you are gone to, with whom, or when you are coming back. These are the things that the parents who raised you to this point usually try to find out. It is in the interest of your safety to let someone know these things before you go anywhere. Chaperones are substitute parents. This is also good advice for businesswomen traveling alone to strange places.

As a Caribbean National, traveling to the other islands on company business alone, my first order of business was to call home to my sister to say which island, which hotel. It makes sense.

Running off with young men you do not know, for whatever reason, is extremely dangerous behaviour.

The things you want to buy on a tourist trip are sold in markets and specialty stores. You do not want to buy anything that anyone offers you as a special that no one else is getting; you do not want to cut any special deals on drugs or anything else. Caribbean jails have "tourists" from Britain- a restaurateur, France-a truck drive, Greece-a domestic servant, and Holland- a housewife; who turned out to be drug mules. Those bucolic sleepy looking places are more alert and sophisticated than you think. This is true of the law and the lawbreakers.

I was quite amused when the guard at Tiwaniku, an archaeological site in Bolivia, tried to call me aside, to sell me some of the artifacts he was supposed to be watching and protecting from people like me, tourists. I shook my head "no", and smiled my thanks. I was part of a large tour group, but was a woman alone. I had wandered off to take a picture of the group, with the excavations in the background. Such predators know how to single out the loner, and make their play. In the past ten years, I have wondered how many others may have purchased either stolen national treasure, or fake ones, from this guy.

Women tourists from those safe metropolitan cities like London, Paris, New York and Toronto need to remind themselves of a simple fact. There has never, I repeat never, been a time or place in the world, where a woman out alone, away from her group, was safe after dark. Dianne Fossey would tell you if she could. She had lived at the game reserve for many years. Stay with the group. Attach yourself, by conversation, to a family with young children. Anyone watching, potential predators would think you are part of the family. There is safety in numbers. Hunting packs know that. They pick off the ones that are alone. Easy prey. The beach that is safe and pretty in the daytime, can be deadly at night, if your group is not there to sound the alarm, to protect by their presence.

Finally, How Stella Got Her Grove Back may be a great read, but that is not how you meet guys, usually. You are not going to the islands to correct your restrained sex life. There is a lot of beautiful water, good fresh food, vistas to see, and the sense of relaxation one gets from watching the water at daybreak and sunset. There are great photographic moments, but if romance buds, try to let it be among your own people.

Those of us who are from those places tourist visit, and now live in the places tourists come from, will have to spend too much time explaining why something happened to this beautiful child of promise, and that our homelands are really safe. Reading this essay on caution, and following this free advice, may help other, future tourists to stay safe.

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