Living without fear

Depending on where you are from in the world, safety may not be a conscious and daily concern you have. But for those of us from countries with high crime rates and risks to personal safety, this is a major aspect of daily life. I’ve been living in the Netherlands for almost six months, and I am still fascinated by the difference security makes day to day.

Image: Ton Toemen

This is something I notice everyday. I think many people may take their safety for granted, especially if safety is something that has essentially been a guarantee throughout their lives. This has not been the case for me. The threat of crime, and particularly of violent crime, has been a feature of my conscious experience for as long as I can remember.

I am 23 years old and before moving to Tilburg, I had never ridden a bicycle in public, listened to music on the way to class, or even walked home from a friend’s house – or walked anywhere! Living in South Africa as a woman, riding a bicycle in public would mean being open and vulnerable to being robbed, raped or assaulted. Listening to music with earphones would mean I couldn’t hear my surroundings and visibly had a phone that could be stolen. Walking, anywhere, would mean risking violent crime, which, for women, almost always involves rape.

This is a horrifying way to live, but I only realise just how horrifying now that I can do all of these things without fear.

Of course, objectively, I knew that the threat of violent crime would be much less in the Netherlands and that I could relax some of my daily precautions once I moved here. But now that I’m living here and settling into the routine of everyday life, I am reminded all the time of the difference between living in fear, and simply living.

I enjoy having the safety to cycle to campus with my handbag open in easy reach, listening to a podcast and feeling secure that I will be safe. I enjoy walking on an open campus that doesn’t have gates and fingerprint entrance turnstiles to keep criminals out. For the first time in my life, I leave my bedroom window open, I sleep without an alarm system and security cameras, and I open the door to unexpected doorbell ringers.

When I write these simple things out, they sound like an expected part of life, almost not worth mentioning. And yet, the assumed safety and security of life in the Netherlands is a constant surprise and comfort to me. Nowhere is entirely free of crime, but to me, the Netherlands sure seems pretty close to it. I think that reminding ourselves of the security we have can make that security taste a little bit sweeter and remind us to take advantage of safety when we have it.

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