Reflections on a Visitor

We are in the US right now, staying in an extended stay inn. It has been a fairly good place for us— decidedly unfancy, but we are decidedly unfancy people. Last night at 3am we had a visitor. We had a knock on the door… followed by more knocks. I ended up getting up and looking out of the peephole. I saw a man there who did not appear to be drunk but did appear to be a bit angry. He said he is back. He gave his name and said that he had stopped by earlier in the day (we did not recognize the name and had no visitors earlier). We I told him this he was thoroughly unconvinced and wanted to see my face to verify I was not the one he spoke to in the afternoon. I wasn’t going to open the door to anyone at 3am. I told him he had the wrong place. He seemed sure it was the right place and shared something rude that I had apparently told him. I don’t use that language and had never talked to him before.

I started mulling whether to call 911. I don’t want to be one of those people who escalates all unwelcome encounters into an emergency. This is especially true if my calling 911 reinforces in his mind that he has the right suite. I waited about 1 minute and then looked out the peephole again. He was still there but now using his telephone. Since he said that he had talked to “me” before by phone, I think he was trying to call to prove it was me. Whatever that call did, it immediately redirected him. He left hurriedly away to parts unknown.

Reflecting on this. I don’t know what his intentions were. I don’t know if he was a real danger or not. It is foolish not to see a situation like this as potentially dangerous. Again, however, it can also be foolish to assume danger so much that one escalates an interaction unnecessarily. “Stand Your Ground” rules, while meaning to protect families, have been used to protect people who doe exactly that sort of escalation. Clearly there is a healthy balance between “Stand Your Ground” and “A Stranger is Simply a Friend I Have Not Met Yet.”

The encounter did make me think anew about the safety of where I am. It feels pretty safe. However, this place has no on-sight management at night. The property can be freely accessed at night (an unimaginable idea if it was in the Philippines), and all of the suites open up to the open air. That means that there are definitely potential risks. The risks are not higher after our visitor, but those risks inherent in the set-up are more obvious and visceral now.

However, it is also quite possible to focus now so much on the risks that one forgets the aspects of safety. First, the main door is quite solid with multiple locks. It would be very difficult to gain access to the room without my assistance. Second, our suite is actually safer than most of the other suites at the facility because Neither of our windows are accessible. All windows there are designed to prevent access, but ours have the additional safety of only being accessible with an extension ladder. Most other rooms, the windows are much easier to access. Third, it is easy to dial 911 from our place. Fourth, we have neighbors here in such close proximity, that if a stranger escalates on his own, it is likely to wake up our neighbors, and they may be able to act on our behalf… at least contacting 911 if we could not.

We don’t think about safety usually, unless one is hyper-vigilant due to a traumatizing past, unless that view of safety is challenged. Some may think that because we live most of our lives in a developing country (Philippines) that we have dealt with much more problems with safety. In fact we haven’t. Perhaps this is because the Philippines normalizes many things associated with maintaining safety. Unless one is VERY poor, one has a courtyard with fence and gate. Commonly the fence has metal work on top to prevent climbing over (I remember in Brazil, there being shards of glass cemented on top of walls, something I have seen in the Philippines as well, but only rarely.) 24 hour security guards is normal for places that can afford them… and noisy guard dogs.

Only twice in all of my years in the Philippines have I felt being in any sort of danger. One time was back in 2005 when I was on a medical mission in a far corner of the Philippines. A guy who was quite drunk became very interested in me (as a foreigner) and kept trying to get me to leave the medical mission to go drinking with him. I (wisely I think) chose not to, and the other members of the medical team as well as our hosts appeared to agree. They told him to go home. The guy went home and beat his wife (a bad thing) and then our medical team tended to the care of the wife. The only other time was one time was I was in a bit of a back corner of the public market in Baguio, and there were four teenagers who “kept not looking at me.” It is a subtle thing, but one does start to get a feel for pickpockets who watch and follow you by appearing not to be watching and following you. I could be wrong about their intentions but I felt it best to move to a more public part of the public market quick.

But that is it. I am quite thankful that I haven’t had more reasons to be distrusting. Reality does not change but our perception of that reality does change. Finding the right balance between naivety and paranoia may mean the difference between being effective in missions and not.

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