You may have heard the term, “You’ll never know unless you ask.” In fact, it may be a term that consistently haunts you because you’ve been rejected so many times because you do ASK. But you really won’t know unless you ask.
Part of why I love traveling is not to just check things off my bucket list but to learn about the people, cultures, and issues surrounding the places I am visiting. Honestly, it’s the best education I’ve ever had. This is a big, big world and when you take the time to leave your circle of comfort, you’ll realize those news headlines are…what the...REALLY HAPPENING?! In fact, there is a plethora of awe-inspiring and humbling experiences just waiting around the corner…if you do decide to take that first peek. Be curious once again. Ask the questions. Be curious, be friendly, and be excited. Just don’t get slapped doing it. And you just might be granted access to a once-restricted realm that will blow your damn mind.
Let’s be honest. You probably can’t get access to secret confidential government information. You still can’t get with Jessica Alba even 10 years later. But you can do a whole lot of things depending on where you are. Just look at the guys and gals from VICE…they’ve managed to get footage from some of the deepest, foulest, and most forbidden places in the world.
But what’s the worst that could happen…
When South Africa comes to mind, one may think of Nelson Mandela, the Rainbow Nation, and crime. Crime because the country has one of the highest crime rates in the world. During my time there, I did meet many who had a phone or camera taken from them (albeit, it was also their fault for hanging around late at night). To be frank, I was also on extra alert given the warnings from everyone I met on the road. Don’t walk alone in South Africa. Be careful in South Africa.
Yes, crime is more rampant there than most countries, but there has got to be a reason why. While there are many avenues to learn about crime, I thought one of the best and safest ways was to perhaps ask the police. So I went to the Cape Town police station and requested a ride along.
Smiles up. Posture straight. Notebook ready. With a deep breath, I naively entered the gates of the police station thinking I was going to get what I want. As soon as I crossed the border, the dim and sinister atmosphere immediately turned my once-cheery appearance into a defensive demeanor to mirror the ambiance around me. No smiles. No police donuts. No police chief - I was told to come back tomorrow.
And so I did show up bright and early in the morning. Only to wait for several more hours in the cool-looking dungeons of Cape Town Police Station. The next several hours consisted of long glares at the only Asian around with the occasional “what the hell are you doing here?” Eventually, I was granted a ride along the following morning after several meetings with lieutenants and finally the police chief.
The following morning brought me buddied up with J & M, two members in charge of the PR for the Cape Town police. At first glance, both looked intimidating with their police uniforms and trench coats. But as soon as they opened their mouths, I found out they were jokesters who made me laugh the entire time I was there. They drove me around a bit and explained to me how most of the crime in the city is merely petty theft and due to the installation of citywide cameras, much of the crime has decreased in the past 5 years. We visited the communications tower and observed how emergency calls were relayed and officers dispatched. They even treated me to a Gatsby sandwich (Cape Town local sandwich) at a local eatery. It was quite the eventful morning, and all I had to do was just ask.
And that is the power of just asking. It’s quite easy actually once you get the hang of it. When you present yourself as a nice and curious person, I’ve found out that most people are willing to share with you a little part of their world. It was the case when I wanted to learn more about human elephant conflict and asked to shadow a conservationist in Zambia. And when I wanted to learn more about the HIV problem in South Africa, I walked into a local HIV clinic and interviewed the doctors, nurses, and patients there. Furthermore, the same goes when you just want to learn more about another person from another world – just say hello and ask.
So really…the worst that can happen is to never ask at all. You don't really need to be a real-life journalist or documentarian to learn about the issues facing this world. Countless problems plague this world and most people are more than willing to share their stories or life's work...some times it's as easy as saying hello and just asking.