A recent email communication from a friend in the States arrived the other day letting me know that he, his wife and their two young daughters would be vacationing in Nicaragua and hoped to stop in to see me on their way to the coast. As soon as this news was made available to his friends and family back home the inevitable concerns cropped up. Emails arrived. Nicaragua, are you kidding? Isn’t that place really dangerous? Isn’t there some kind of war going on down there? You’re taking your children there?? Where is Nicaragua anyway?
I swear I don’t usually resort to double punctuation to express complete incredulity so please excuse this one-time infraction. I’ve been a Granada seasonal resident for nearly ten years now and I spend nearly half the year in Nicaragua, so I am already accustomed to the questions, the funny looks, the incredulity that this seems to inspire in others. My friend has traveled before but he did provide a link to the U.S. State Dept. website that family members had sent him alerting travelers to all the varied dangers that lurk beyond the continental United States.
I guess he was hoping to get my perspective and probably some sort of reply to the grave concerns of both parents and in-laws. I clicked on the link and read the traveler advisory for people insane enough to voluntarily leave the U.S. and go to Nicaragua. Pretty scary stuff; the usual compliment of murder, mayhem, rapes and kidnappings. Not a place I’d choose for a winter getaway especially with small children in tow. But wait a minute- I already live here.
After 10 years I’ve never experienced a single moment when I felt in danger in any way on the streets of Granada or anywhere else in Nicaragua. I could refer to a short list of stories I’ve heard from others; (some first-hand but mostly not) of purse snatching, muggings, theft (including multiple accounts of being drugged by prostitutes) and even a recent murder. In nearly all of the serious incidents the victims were engaged in risky behavior and it was only a question of time before something bad happened to them, especially in the murder case.
When something bad happens to an expat or tourist in Nicaragua it becomes tantamount to ‘The Shot Heard Around the World’. The mainstream media loves this stuff and they give it maximum play for some reason. Maybe it gives readers a break from the daily body count back home and helps reinforce the notion that bad things happen somewhere else, preferably far away from home.
I sent my friend a pretty standard soothing reply then I began to wonder about the common misconception held by most Americans that the world is a dangerous place, while the United States is perfectly safe. Maybe we simply crave the comfort of the familiar. With that in mind I decided to ghost write a reasonable traveler advisory for the U.S. State Department.
United States Traveler’s Advisory:
“Travelers foolish enough to visit the United States should exercise extreme caution at all times. While generally, perhaps even foolishly considered perfectly safe by its inhabitants, the country has numerous issues that are of major concern and potential threat to personal safety.
Please be advised that the United States has the largest incarcerated population in the world by far and for good reason. Racial issues are still a major factor in the disproportionate number of incarcerations but several million Americans are presently serving prison terms for a variety of serious violent crimes including murder, manslaughter, armed robbery, rape and violent assault. Drug-related violence and drug use in general is a widespread and serious and growing problem throughout the country. The United States is the largest consumer of both legal and illegal opiates in the world and the often touted ‘war on drugs’ has done nothing to eradicate the growing and insatiable appetite Americans have for a variety of illicit drugs.
Violence, especially gun-related violence is quite high, especially for a developed nation with a high standard of living. The United States has a peculiar, mythic and phony folkloric relationship with weapons and violence and not surprisingly leads the world in guns owned per capita by a very wide margin. At the time of this writing there is roughly one gun owned for every man woman and child in the entire country. Given the enormous spike in gun sales the current trend suggests that within the next decade or so guns will even eclipse not only the total number of citizens but the number of household pets as well. A significant portion of the population thinks this is just fine and dandy. Attempts to institute sensible, even minimal gun control laws have failed repeatedly.
The ability to purchase firearms in the United States is largely unencumbered by any reasonable qualification requirement or restriction. Any Tom, Dick or Harry, no matter how mentally unfit or unstable, can legally acquire a personal arsenal, including military assault rifles and is more than welcome to do so. Recently passed legislation has even made it possible for college students in many states carry concealed weapons into the classroom. If you find this troubling, you are welcome to take a vacation in Belgium or any other country for that matter. This is the United States and we don’t care what you think.
Travelers still intending to visit the United States do so at their peril and are best advised to avoid any form of risky behavior that may increase their chances of a dangerous encounter. Strong evidence supports the belief that what constitutes ‘risky behavior’ includes but is not limited to the following;
Attending a public school, college or university, including an elementary school.
Patronizing a movie theater or shopping mall
Running in a marathon
Visiting public monuments, parks, tall buildings or generally just walking down the street in either daylight hours or at night.
Visiting an airport, flying in an airplane or using any sort of public transportation
Shopping at 7-Eleven or similar convenience store
Please be advised that allowing small children to play with toy guns in public parks invites the risk of having them shot by local law enforcement.
Unlike most other countries were violent crime is often associated with political or sectarian conflicts or more typically monetary gain, serious violent crime in the United States, especially incidences of mass murder have become so commonplace and for no apparent reason that the general population has become largely detached. Due to the serious psychological instability of the perpetrators, these crimes are particularly difficult to guard against so you might as well not even bother worrying about it. Or just stay home.
Mentally unbalanced, disgruntled employees settling grudges against employers and co-workers by committing multiple murders is now fairly routine. Random crime, including car-jacking, rape, gang related violence, home invasion and assault are also such routine occurrences throughout the country that it hardly seems worth reporting.
Not unlike underdeveloped and third world countries, crimes such as corruption, fraud, especially massive corporate bank fraud have become so widespread and accepted that they are indistinguishable from legitimate forms of business. Unlike third world nations, corruption occurs on a much grander scale. These crimes go largely unreported and unpunished. The same is true for government corruption at both state and federal levels.
Despite the statistics for crime nationwide, we in the United States continue to believe that our country is safe and your country (wherever you may happen to be from) is a lawless, dangerous place where travelers are lucky to make it home alive and in one piece.
Visitors to the United States are advised to remember at all times that we are a pretty trigger-happy lot and we are armed to the teeth. Otherwise please enjoy your stay.”