Fortified by experience, and my share of luck, I’ve spent years waving away concerns of loved ones at the news that I was off to a purportedly dangerous part of the world. Recently, however, a drip-feed of horror news from abroad – of terrorist outrages, US mass shootings, and alarming, high-profile epidemics like Ebola and Zika – has started to erode my nonchalance.
Far from being a defence against lazy preconceptions, my travel history has started to become an emotional burden, as the litany of tragedies affecting places I’ve previously visited grows longer by the year: a bar in Bali, blown up by an Al-Qaeda cell in 2004; an Ethiopian cafe in Kampala, immolated by an Al-Shabaab explosion in 2010; a balcony restaurant in Marrakech, bombed in 2011; the streets of Paris that became scenes of carnage in 2015.
Only a couple of months ago, I received an email from a journalist friend inviting me to visit Tunisia to report on the sad state of the country’s tourism industry a year on from the massacre on the beach in Sousse, in which a lone gunman’s rampage left 38 tourists dead. Although devastated by the savagery of the attack, the Tunisian authorities earlier this year said they were convinced that the sharp decline in tourists was a disproportionate penance, punishing the entire country for the act of a madman. Tunisia, they insisted, was open for business, and desperate for custom.
But, I confess, I hesitated. For me, as for many, prosaic considerations of where to go on holiday have started to defer to one simple question: is it safe?