The Day I Was Mistaken For A Terrorist

For some reason, people sometimes mistake me for a terrorist. Once I got interrogated by an air marshal for merely looking out a window, and the following year in London I totally freaked out several people on a bus.

The second incident was, I suppose, partially my fault. I boarded a city bus with a large suitcase, which I put on the luggage rack. Since the rack was right next to the door, I moved a little away from it so I wouldn’t be in the way.

For a couple of minutes I stood there, keeping an eye on my bag and not listening to the buzz of voices around me. One conversation, however, began to get my attention.

“I just don’t think it looks right,” a worried woman’s voice said.

“Well, then mention it to the driver,” a man said.

“I don’t want to make a fuss,” the woman replied.

“Look, you’re worried about it just sitting there. You don’t see the owner. So go up to the driver and mention it,” the man said. He didn’t sound worried himself. Instead he sounded a bit condescending.

I turned to them.”Are you talking about my bag?” I asked.

A wave of relief washed over the woman’s face.

“Yes!” she cried. “I didn’t see you put it down and nobody was standing around it, and I got very worried.”

“Don’t worry, no bomb in it, just a bunch of dirty clothes,” I said. Then I turned to the man next to her. “But you didn’t seem worried.”

He shrugged. “Nobody would need a bag that big to blow up a bus.”

I laughed. “Well maybe I’m a really inefficient bomber and I don’t know how to mix explosives correctly.”

“Oh no,” he dismissed that idea. “That is a huge bag. If it was filled with explosives you could barely lift it.”

I studied them for a moment and said, “So how do you know I’m really not a terrorist? All you have is my word.”

They looked back at me – middle-aged, middle-class, white me. The woman suddenly looked embarrassed. The man looked defiant.

“You don’t fit the profile,” he said.

“Remember Timothy McVeigh?” I asked.

He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “The right wing loons in your country rarely do such things. Most terrorists look nothing like you.”

I smiled at him. “Who’s to say I’m not a right-wing loon?”

“WOULD YOU PLEASE STOP THIS CONVERSATION?!!!” A woman squawked from a few rows back.

“Sorry ma’am. This was all hypothetical,” I said.

She immediately looked relieved, just like the first woman. All it took was a reassuring word from a complete stranger – a light-skinned, well-spoken stranger.

She, too, had missed the point.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

New adventure festival celebrates South African explorers

What do you get when you mix the Banff Film Festival with TED Talks in a celebration of adventure and exploration? You get an all new adventure festival called FEAT that will make its debut in Johannesburg, South Africa later this year, promising us “1 night, 12 adventurers, Seven minutes each.”

FEAT, which stands for Fascinating Expeditions & Adventure Talks, is being billed as the ultimate armchair adventure experience, and with good reason. The festival will feature 12 outstanding explorers, all of which are from South Africa, who will have exactly seven minutes, no more and no less, to share an experience from a recent expedition. This format means that the speakers will have to stay on topic, remain focused on their message, and tell their tale quickly if they hope to share these important elements from one of their adventures. What they share is completely up to them. It could be something they learned about the world around them or even something they learned about themselves, but no matter what it is, they have just seven minutes to convey that experience through their own words and a some carefully selected photographs.

Some of the guests for the evening include Kyle Meenehan, who once circumnavigated South Africa on foot and Mandy Ramsden who is the first African woman to climb the Seven Summits. They’ll be joined on stage by Pierre Carter, who is hoping to paraglide from the top of the highest mountain on each continent and Riaan Manser, who has ridden his bike around the entire African continent and circumnavigated Madagascar in a kayak as well.

Tickets for the event will go on sale Monday, August 2nd, at Computicket. The actual event will take place on October 7th at the Wits Theatre in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, and if you’re going to be in the area in early October, I highly recommend you plan on taking part in the festivities. It seems like it is going to be a fun and fascinating evening.