Over my years of travel, I have been shot at, and I have seen and been in a number of unsafe situations…but I have always been protected somehow!

Going to a strange city and staying safe has become second nature to me. I usually stay close to the centre of the city and am very careful not go down dark streets at night. I also always carry a card of the hotel or host where I am staying.

When I first started to travel a friend gave me pepper spray to carry in my backpack. I went to Moscow, Russia, and while trying to go into a restaurant the security system went off. Police came running. Now in Russia, that is not a situation you want to be in! They put me through a full security check, took my pepper spray and let me go. That wasn’t fun; I was petrified!!

Now more!!

When in Nairobi, Kenya, I was getting into a car to go to the airport. Two guys came from nowhere and shot at me, missed me and hit the car window. I was staying at a little diplomatic hotel where the Sudanese government was having a conference. One of the bodyguards (they are very large) came to my rescue, picked up these two guys and just threw them against the wall. It was the time where mobs were stealing gas from gas tanks and if you were going to the airport you just had enough gas to get there!

In Nairobi also, when my charity was funding AIDS projects, I was for some reason on a bus to get into a certain community; taxis wouldn’t go—too risky. Well, some great big guy got on the bus and started to rob people. I spoke up that these people needed their little bit of money and please leave them alone. He jumped off the bus, and I thought I was dead at the next stop. But apparently someone told him what I was doing, and he seemed to respect that.

Once in Vietnam, before the US were back in, bodies were still.being picked up on the street every morning. I was staying at a hotel and had prepaid from Canada. When I arrived at hotel the room they showed me wasn’t any bigger than a closet. I said I’m not staying in that room and asked for another room. I sat in the lobby for a number of hours waiting for this to happen. Now, I have two passports: it’s very difficult when you travel to get support or help from the Canadian government, but the British government answers their phones! the end result I got the a suite where the Generals had stayed, with red velvet drapes and a big crown over the bed. It looked like a brothel. Very fancy. I just stayed in the lobby of the hotel. It seemed to be the safest place until that happened!

When travelling to Israel early in 1980, I rented a car and had my wheels locked on the sabbath. No one would help me, so I walked to the police station where I was strip searched by three young punks (nothing else). I was furious and informed the date I had for that evening of the incident.  He arranged for me to sit beside the Chief of Police at the dinner where we were, and from then on I had security with us until we left the country.

Back to Russia

I was leaving Moscow for Bali with just carry-on luggage…I repeat: just carry-on luggage! Security said I owed 300 US dollars for overweight luggage, which was just nonsense. They said they wouldn’t give me a boarding pass until I paid at the VISA window. Well, I refused. I knew I had to stay out in the open. The airport would send people every few minutes to try and collect. I just kept saying ‘no’, but I knew I had a limited time to get my boarding pass. They finally gave up and gave me one.

Papua, New Guinea 

I went to to Papua, New Guinea to fund a project. I was supposed to get on a small plane to go into the jungle. I kept asking about the plane, but it never showed up. I realized how dangerous this place was and went to the airport to get on a plane for Australia. The airport was packed and full of men, and all planes were full. In those days I travelled with three 100 US bills, which was my get-out-of-trouble money. I just kept giving money away, and finally got on a plane. This was probably the most scary situation I have beeen in! I could have been killed or raped. It was the wild, wild west; no law or order at all. Guns all over the place, and people yelling and screaming. 

Dublin, Ireland 

Many years ago I was speaking at a conference in Dublin, Ireland. I was staying at a little hotel. The first thing that happened: we went for dinner and a gunshot took out the window of the restaurant we were going too. We still went in and three hours later the restaurant was robbed. We went back to our hotel and my room had been ransacked, but nothing taken, just a big mess. Well, that was it for me. My speech was the next morning. I stayed up all night with a priest from Northern Ireland. We got drunk on single malt scotch (those were the days I could do that). I made my speech the next morning and then went to sleep.

As I said, I have felt truly protected. I have been in crazy, unsafe situations but I’m still here. Please don’t do what I have done sometimes, far too risky!

As many of you know, I usually speak my mind, but not sure I would recommend everyone do this! Use common sense and realize that most people do have a good side somewhere in there. BE SAFE.

P.S. The best way to be totally safe when you travel, is to go on a tour. I have never been very good on tours; the last one was 40 years ago. It was a trip around Norway on a bus. Among the travellers was a woman who delayed the bus at every rest stop, because she would open up her suitcase to change her clothes!



Add yours

  1. Dearest Betty, There are so many beautiful parts of Canada, America, and the world but PLEASE no matter how protected you may feel, be cautious. The world is not what it has been in the past so please anticipate the future and keep safe.

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