Since my early twenties, traveling to Brazil was a dream of mine. Finally, a few months ago, a good friend agreed to accompany me there. I was super excited! It was an absolute dream come true! But unfortunately, around New Year’s, she changed her mind saying that she no longer wished to travel with me. Her reason: it was too dangerous in Brazil.
We sat on her sofa in her beautiful New York City apartment and she shared her story with me. Several years ago she was traveling alone through Rio. She was shopping at the luxury boutiques and was having so much fun. By happenstance, she met some friendly locals: a lovely sister and her brother. They had so much fun together. The Brazilians invited her to dinner a few days later. Somehow the sister could no longer attend, but my friend agreed to meet privately with the brother. She was excited to eat with a local Brazilian.
To her surprise, the seemingly pleasant man slipped a “rufie” in her red wine when she stood up for the buffet. When she downed her glass of wine she spotted a white powdery residue at the bottom of the glass and then the man said to her, “Are feeling okay? You look sleepy.”
The man took her back to her hotel room and stole all of her money, valuables, and purchases from her trip. Luckily she had not been raped but she had been traumatized.
She loved Brazil (always raved about it!) but didn’t want to go back there anytime soon. Nor did she want to be responsible for my safety on our trip.
“Why can’t we just go to Europe instead?” she asked.
My heart was shattered. I had always wanted to go to South America (specifically Brazil). It was on the top of my bucket list. Countless people had warned me that it was too dangerous for a woman to travel alone through Brazil, so I had waited and waited for the right time. I fantasized about traveling with a group of girlfriends or better yet a boyfriend, but that never happened. Finally I found a travel buddy (someone who knew Brazil, had been there numerous times, and loved it) but she canceled on me on the first day of the year.
What a disappointing way to start the New Year! How was I going to tick this trip off my bucket list? How was I going to make my heart soar again? I scratched my head.
But dangers happen everywhere! I thought to myself.
As women we really need to be careful everywhere we go! Not only in Brazil!
In my twenties, I used my stellar acting skills to pretend to be crazy to avoid getting raped on a date in New York City and in college, I was almost robbed by train bandits in Morocco.
That’s right! Train bandits!! Sounds like a Hollywood movie, doesn’t it?
It was the summer of 1995. I flew down to Casablanca from Spain to visit my brother, Stephen, for a week. My brother was staying with a host family in Fez for the year. I was excited to visit my brother but a little nervous to be traveling alone, especially in an Arabic speaking country. My brother agreed to meet me at the airport. I was appreciative, but afraid he might be late, so I dawdled and was the last person to depart from my plane and the last to pass through customs. I didn’t want to wait alone at the airport especially when I didn’t speak the language, but seeing me as the last person to arrive from my plane made my brother furious. He had been on time. In fact, he had been waiting.
My brother’s host brother, Kamal, accompanied him to the airport. It was a five-hour train ride from Fez to Casablanca and my brother was sick with the flu. He had been in bed for days, but ventured out of bed to meet me. I would have been unable to make the journey alone.
My brother was adamant that we were going to miss the train because of my dawdling. As we approached the train, a man shouted in Arabic to my brother and his friend to run and my brother yelled at me to run faster; the train was departing!
But this was just a practical jokester, the man laughed heartily at our foolery running for a train that wasn’t departing. We boarded the train and found a private room for the three of us to sit and rest our luggage. We slid the sliding glass door open and our adventure began!
Through the countryside of Africa!
It was mid-July and there was no air conditioning on the train. It was humid and hot. I watched farmers toil their farms as we zipped by on the train. The soil was rich, a dark reddish brown hue that seemed distinctly African.
I was completely wide-eyed with wonder. I had finally made it to Morocco! I made it to my homeland! To Africa!!!
It was a long trip, five hours, and my brother and his host brother were fatigued from the long journey already, so they slept for most of the ride, but I didn’t want to miss a moment of it.
After all, when would I be riding on a train through Africa again?
In the middle of the night, the train stopped. The power on the train flickered off. The engine died. I didn’t see a platform or any outside lights. If felt odd to stop in the middle of nowhere. We were in complete darkness. It was very calm, yet eerie. Everyone on the train was asleep. It was so quiet.
Suddenly the sliding glass door to our cabin slid open, and a man reached in to snatch my brother’s bag by the door. I stared at him in disbelief. Our eyes caught. He was so surprised to see me awake. Without a word, he left immediately.
After several minutes, Kamal darted up.
“What time is it? Why did the train stop?” asked Kamal.
“11 pm,” I said, peering at my watch. “Someone was just in here.”
“What?” asked Kamal, as he opened our sliding door and looked down the hallway.
He swung on the door-frame.
“A man was just in here. He grabbed for Steve’s bag, saw me, and left.”
“Train bandits!” said Kamal.
“What?” I asked in disbelief.
“Train bandits,” He repeated. “They stop the trains by gunpoint in the middle of the night and take as much as they can while everyone is asleep. Thanks to Allah that you were awake! You saved us. We could have lost everything!
“ Wow, train bandits in Morocco! I had protected us from train bandits?!! Just by having my eyes open and being aware!! Just shows that no matter where you are, no matter if you speak the language or not, your best defense is being conscious of your surroundings. Simply my eyes being open were enough to protect a bandit from stealing from my brother, his host brother, and myself, and for that I am extremely thankful.
Brazil, here I come! I’m not afraid of you!