NEW DELHI -- Last Sunday at 11:10am, two men opened fire on the steps of my favorite site in New Delhi: Jama Masjid, the city's largest and most famous mosque. Two foreign nationals were injured, a makeshift car bomb exploded and I was 45 minutes away, nowhere near the scene.
I do, however, visit Jama Masjid frequently; the mosque's gracious columns and red sandstone steps make for excellent people watching. On the previous Thursday in the wake of Eid, I noted the security force at each gate had grown to 15 armed guards and where there was usually one metal detector, there were now four. Still, this increased presence did not deter violence.
Police report that Sunday's incident showed no signs of terrorist activity, that it was more likely a couple of "disgruntled youths" looking to scare people before the Commonwealth Games. And people were scared.
Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK immediately issued travel alerts, warning of a "high risk" of terror attacks at the Games, advising their citizens not to travel to New Delhi.
Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs highlighted reports that "terrorists plan to attack public places, including hotels and tourist locations in New Delhi" and the UK warned its citizens of "a high threat from terrorism throughout India." New Zealand is weighing whether to send its athletes at all.
The Chairman of the Commonwealth Organizing Committee, Suresh Kalmadi has sought to reassure spectators and athletes that the shooting "is not having any impact" on the games and that security remains a top priority.
I received a Warden's Message from the American Embassy in New Delhi on Sunday afternoon encouraging US Citizens to exercise caution. "US citizens are urged to always practice good security, maintain a heightened situational awareness and a low profile," the alert read.
A low profile? I'm a six-foot American girl and though I don't wave my American flag or flash my navy blue passport, I don't blend in. So my one concession to security concerns is to avoid massive crowds. Well, except when I don't avoid massive crowds.
Sporting events, coincidentally, prove irresistible for this globetrotter. In Amman, Jordan last fall I wasn't about to miss the Iran-Jordan soccer game, an event that drew 18,000 all male soccer fans -- and me. When Jordan won, 1-0, the surrounding streets, already packed with rowdy Jordanian soccer fanatics burst into a national celebration; firecrackers went off, torches were lit and Jordan's anthem echoed. Jostled and bumped, I proudly raised my Jordanian flag as I made my way to the car happy to have shared in the excitement. Was this an unacceptable risk?
Avoiding political protests and religious sites on holidays are easy ways to dodge the threat of terrorism, but how can travelers ensure their safety without compromising their adventures? When should travelers choose to stay home? I weigh this on a daily basis.
Statistically we're more likely to die in a car crash on American roads than by terrorism. Reassuring?
Having lived in Amman, Jordan prior to New Delhi, cities that have seen significant terrorist attacks in the last five years, friends always ask if I get scared. If I get nervous riding public transportation, going to fancy hotels or shopping at the bazaars. Do you feel safe? they ask. Are there really tanks all over Beirut? And do you ride the buses in Israel?
Yes, yes and yes. But not going, not exploring isn't an option. So I go with my eyes open. I pay attention and I don't hesitate to leave; in other words, I use common sense. Could I still end up at the wrong place at the wrong time? Of course, but there's too much to see to let paranoia dominate our experiences.
I haven't decided if I'll be attending the Commonwealth Games next month in New Delhi but I have a feeling I'll be painting my face and cheering for the home team.