The last week we met Irina in the first part of this interview, where she told us some of her experiences and how is to live in such a way like she does. In this second part i wanted to ask Irina not only about her travels, but also about what involves to be a woman who travels alone. This question isn’t meaningless as long as it’s related to an event ocurred some weeks ago in Ecuador, where two Argentinean girls where murdered while there where traveling. About this case, I recomend this article from the journal El Periódico (i’m sorry it’s only in Spanish) where there’s also a writting dedicated to both girls by a Paraguayan woman who also exposes this kind of sexist violence and it’s treatment by the rest of society.
Briefly, i’ll resume to you that in the context of this case some voices began to appeal to that suposed “common sense” (so recurrent in this situations) that makes nothing but blaming the victims suggesting that women have to take care of themselves wearing in determinated ways, not going out from some hours and, of course, never traveling alone.
According to this, i asked some questions to Irina -who about traveling alone and “exposing herself to risks” knows something- and her answers, as well as surprising, also have been a great lesson to me. We all have a big mindset built with prejudices wich we have accommodated ourselves to, but they are anything else than an innecesary weight to carry with in that journey of the personal development that we all do. And in fact, travelling this world of ours, so complex and diverse, is the best way to get rid of it.
However, let Irina explan it to you.
Q: Have you ever had problems for being alone? And problems exlusively related to being a lonely woman in a strange place? I mean problems that you probably didn’t have if you had been a man.
A: Simply: no! I tell you one of my favorite stories. Imagine a blonde girl, speaking the language of the surrounding people only on a basic level, sitting around a fire. It is October and already a bit chill. There are eight Russian guys around her, all around 30-50 years old, strong men. They are armed. The girl needs to stay overnight with them, since they are 10 km from the next road in the middle of the bush at a lonely river. There is no place for a tent. There is just a site caravan, where three of them sleep. The other sleep in the cars. The men are policemen, special forces. They are on a hunt. Ha, what kind of story goes on in your head now?
The men hunt illegal salmon poachers! They are salmon protectors! Two of them picked me up while still on the road and invited me for dinner. We drove even further into the woods until we reached that lonely place. Now, they are feeding me caviar, fish soup, the occasional vodka, bread and cookies. I can tell from there eyes, that they are good people. They will catch the poachers during the night. So, one bed in the caravan stays free and I got to sleep there. Vitali is heating a little stove inside the caravan and is boiling some hot tea. All of them are really sweet to me. They take care as if I was their daughter. They respect me, they admire my way of travelling. They usually don’t meet women like me and they are the politest Russian police men ever. I sleep like a baby, although Vitali and Dima are snorring way too loud! The next morning I get to see a poor poacher and in the river I see salmon who go up the river! They are alive and well, just like me. Vitali offers to drive me 25 km to the next village and organizes a stay at a friends bed and breakfast.
It was a strange place to stay alone as a woman with eight Russian police men in the middle of nowhere. At the same time it remains one of my favorite stories and it shows me that people are good!
Q: Do you feel vulnerable as a woman when you’re out? What do you think about the opinion that women shouldn’t travel alone knowing the risks that it involves?
A: You automatically assume that there are risks! That’s really sad. If people still keep the tradition of telling their kids that other people, cultures or sexes are dangerous, then your sons and daugthers will carry that seed into the world. The seed of fear and mistrust, that only leads to hatred and subsequently to war and a miserable life. Start with your own brain and ask yourself: Why do you think like that? Why do you assume that the world is dangerous? Where do you get all that horror pictures in your head from? Who tells you that all men are potential murders and rapists? Why does a single story in the media influence your opinion? Who wrote this story, can you trust the data it is build on? Do you know the background of this story? Is this story related to traveling or could this horror happen next door? Do you want to allow horror stories to make up a big portion of your brain capacity?
Why should we allow that women are afraid? But we can only stop that by stopping to tell the story of fear!
We need to start telling positive stories as well. We need to tell young women and men that there are no risks to see the world. The risks are the same everywhere, so it doesn’t matter if you are at home or abroad. The “risks” stay the same for every individual, for men and women. The risks are: getting run over by a car, getting raped or murdered (the percentage of the latter ones is low). You can prepare for other risks like malaria infection, HIV, getting eaten by a grizzly… and so on. To be honest, I don’t think too much about risks and I live a happier life that way. And I don’t want young women to get into a state of fear. That’s discriminating! Why should we allow that women are afraid? We can only stop that by stopping to tell the story of fear! To both sexes. Because it is also discriminating to men, if you teach young boys and young men that they are potential rapists. How insulting is this?! Instead tell the positive experiences people had while travelling the world.
Q: What do you think is the origin of this story of the risks and what would you do to eradicate it, or them?
Let me explain this from an evolutionary perspective and on brain level. Our human brain is a big fan of classifications, since it saves energy. Our brain doesn’t need to develop new synaptic connections and pathways if we use old pathways and if we keep everything in place in our brain. So, we classify into men and women for example or into Muslim and Christian and so far. This type of stereotyped thinking is going on for a long time and the pathways it is build on were developed in our childhood and depend on the culture and situation we grow up with. Only recently (from an evolutionary perspective) did some cultures give value to open-mindness, thinking out of the box, multi-culti and individualism. People who developed this new way of thinking had advantages: they could communicate with a much greater proportion of the worlds population and were able to develop a transfer of technology, knowledge and trading goods. It means you are more likely to become wealthy (not only on a financial level) and live a richer life. At the same time it continuously challenges your brain. You need to process every situation or every person you meet individually! But this recquires training and energy.
We should overcome stereotypes in order to reach personal freedom”
Since many people don’t train this, the existing stereotypes remain. So, we are still separated in men and women and many still believe in the old stories, because we are not able to create new stories. The pathways are still strong: from seeing my body, your brain automatically says woman. Fair enough. But your brain goes much further. It takes everything you learned about women and projects it to me. If I don’t fit that role, if I instead do things that you think belong to a mens role, then your brain is confused. And more often your brain even refuses to create a new connection. That would take energy and your brain doesn´t like that. It gets angry and says: “I don’t like that, keep it simple, man!” It is also kind of an insult for your brain, because everything it had learned is now proven wrong by that woman who is standing in front of you.
One very, very strong pathway with a long tradition is that of women being vulnerable and the weaker sex. This picture is ancient. If this picture was able to survive the last thousands of years, does that mean that it must be true? Or do we just want it to be true? It makes life easier, more controllable, for the state, the church, all kind of governments. From the perspective of the newly developed open-minded culture, we should overcome this idea in order to reach personal freedom. This is going to be a long fight. A fight against our own brain structure, against all the institutions that want to control and separate us. We can start by looking at a new person as if it was a blank page. Ignore the outer shell, ignore the gender, ignore the religion and just look in the eyes, listen to the voice and built new connections in your brain that will surprise you. Don’t judge. Do this to every person you meet and to people you already know. It’s a lot of work and sometimes frustrating to overcome your stereotypes, but it’s worth it. Because you will find a beautiful, diverse world, where everybody has the same basic needs: food, shelter and love.
Q: Finally, do you have some advice for any woman decided to travel alone?
A: Yes. Don’t travel as a woman, travel as a human being! You are an individual, you are a blank page to every new person you meet. Don´t judge anybody, get rid of your stereotypes. Throw all stereotypes over board. Look people in they eyes and in their face. Embrace the beauty and diversity you will find. Tell people that they are good, and they will be good to you! This is no hippie-stlye esoteric spiritual stuff. I’m a scientist with a great interest in humans and their different cultures. But this may also be a stereotype, in fact. So create your own picture of me, build new pathways in your brain. Enjoy this world.
Don’t travel as a woman, travel as a human being!”
This is Irina. And I think she’s not only an incredible human being, but also an example for what we call humanity. It’s an example of the inevitable evolution we are commited to as individuals. It’s the progress that lead us to trying to understand and go after that idea of freedom, and to become more and more aware and respectful with our own existance and, therefore, with each others one. And that involves to rebel against some institutions that want us to be sad, submissive and distrustful. Involves to travel, to meet, to learn. Involves that some day, tired of just surviving, we all will begin to live. Just like Irina does.
So live, and enjoy this world.