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Thoughts on fear: McFlurries and the Bolivian Rain Forest

I’ve just returned from Nicaragua, but my mind is on a memory I have when I was only 22. After I graduated college I worked for a summer at Upward Bound, a program that works to give kids in high school better opportunities to attend college. That July the entire group took a field trip to Washington, DC for a few days. Many of the teens had never even left the state, so to go to a big city like DC was a big deal.

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We arrived at a shopping mall in DC with the kids. Upward Bound provided meal vouchers for everyone, and I must confess my privileged white butt was a little disappointed about having to eat at a mall, but some of the kids were excited to eat at the mall they’d never been to before. I tried to get in on the enthusiasm, they could have sushi for example, or try Washingtonian Chinese food!

Then one of the girls in the group decided that, despite the glorious wealth of food court options available to her, she was going to go for McDonald’s. This kinda infuriated me.

So now is not the time to rant as to why I hate McDonald’s, but anyway, if I could find her now, I would like to give her an official apology for my slight eye roll and over-encouragement to eat anywhere other than MickyDees, and that is because I’m learning that all people have a certain point when they are officially out of their comfort zones, and they just want something  familiar. Be it your native tongue or a freaggin’ McFlurry, comfort exists in the things that we know, especially when we are surrounded by things that we don’t. And just because one person is comfortable volcano boarding, taking the bus or trying new food doesn’t mean everyone will be.

I have experienced uncertainty and fear several times since I decided that I was going to go to Nicaragua by myself. A colleague speculated that I might have even made myself SICK from obsessively googling about crime and safety in Nicaragua, and I did get sicker than I’ve been in years, spots and everything. I don’t regret the obsessive googling, but I do regret watching a movie called The Jungle which chronicles four young men getting lost in the Bolivian rain forest. Spoiler alert: It’s based on a true story, and only two of them make it out alive.

I knew I wanted to do this, though. It was important to me. I wanted to go somewhere new and be out of my comfort zone and practice Spanish and make decisions without anyone else’s influence. Despite these practicalities, fear would find me before bedtime and whisper things like “You panic too easily. You need another person to help you. Remember how you freaked out on your move to DC? Remember your horrifying couchsurfing experience in Melbourne? You are too emotional to do this kind of thing. You will draw attention to yourself.”

It went on. “Your Spanish is not good enough. You will be taken advantage of. You will get horribly lost somewhere. No one will find you.”

I have thought endlessly about fear over the last three months. I haven’t been a constant shaking ball of panic, but I have been trying to learn more about it. I’m seeking stories about fear from others, too. What is it that makes us scared as human beings? What makes us excited? Why does uncertainty cause so much apprehension?

Had I not spent weeks in the lead up to my trip second guessing myself and researching the country, I might not have realized how safe it actually is. In particular, this article from Forbes showed me that over two million Americans have visited Nicaragua from 2009 to 2016, and only SEVEN have died violently. That’s pretty slim pickings. I mean, how many Americans die violently each year in AMERICA?! Researching helped me put things in perspective. I handled my fear of uncertainty by making myself more certain of what I was getting into.

If you have thoughts on fear, send them my way. I will be writing about it until I get to the bottom of it.
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