Fight or Flight

The textbook definition of “fight or flight” is the body’s “…physiological reaction to a perceived harmful event, attack or threat to survival” (Cannon, Walter (1932). Wisdom of the Body. United States: W.W. Norton & Company).

We’ve all experienced it.

That sudden feeling of general uneasiness when your breath quickens and your heart starts to race.  Sometimes your hands feel clammy, and sometimes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.  Sometimes both. These moments are fleeting (thank goodness), but when it happens it’s as if I am suddenly alert and hyper-aware of everything going on around me and simultaneously not aware of anything at all.

I’m not a nervous traveler (I should pick a new hobby if I were), but there are times that I wonder in all sincerity, “How the hell did I get myself into this mess?”

Sometimes I think this when I’m trying to walk our two dogs at one time.
There was also the time I thought it during a traffic accident on the road from Agra back to Delhi.

India, for all of its economic successes, continues to lag behind when it comes to rule of law and anti-corruption measures throughout all levels of the Government. During my first business trip to the sub-continent, I was asked to follow two “rules” if I wanted to get out and explore on my own:

  1. I was to utilize the services of a driver or taxi and limit my rides on tuk-tuks (motorized rickshaws) for liability reasons; and
  2. If I was ever in a traffic accident, I needed to leave the scene immediately.

I often disregarded Rule #1 (especially if I was just going to a nearby market) and I ALWAYS followed Rule #2.

Me in the back of a tuk-tuk in New Delhi, India

In the back of a tuk-tuk in New Delhi, India.

It is not unusual for drivers to settle conflicts quickly by paying an agreed-upon sum to settle the debt.  As a Westerner, my price would have been inflated.  If I refused and the police were summoned, it was likely that I – as the Westerner – would be named the faulty party (whether I was or not) and would be taken into custody or expected to pay a bribe to avoid the penalty.

I’m not saying it’s right, it just is.

During one of my many returns to Delhi, my friend Kathrin and I took a day trip to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal.  Agra is about 5 hours from Delhi and our driver stopped at a guesthouse along the way back for some chai and dinner.  It was after dark as we left the guesthouse.  As we turned onto the main street, a motorcycle came out of nowhere and there was a small collision.  I watched as the biker “fell” off this bike in grand showmanship the way soccer players sometimes feign injury during a match.

Oh, no.
No, no, no no, no!
Both of us jolted upright. This was not ideal.  We were two Western women in the back of a hired car somewhere between Agra and Delhi.

The driver got out of the car and started yelling at the biker.  There was a lot of shouting and pointing.  I felt my blood run cold and my breath caught in my throat.  I panicked and said to Kathrin that we needed to get out of there ASAP.

A few (calmer) hours earlier at the Taj Mahal

A few (calmer) hours earlier at the Taj Mahal

I whipped out my wallet to count in the darkness how many Rupees I had on me in case we had to pay our way out. I really, really, REALLY hoped it wouldn’t come to it.  There was nothing else around except for the guesthouse that we had just left. I could still see it from the car window. I I felt frozen in that moment and wasn’t prepared to make a mad bolt across the street just yet.

The drivers shouted at each other a moment longer. Then they stopped. I honestly can’t remember if anyone gave anyone anything or just decided it wasn’t worth it.
I’ll never know.

Our driver then got back in the car, started the engine, and peeled off onto the night.

I finally exhaled and slept the rest of way back to Delhi.

Have you ever been in a travel situation that made you incredibly nervous?
What did you do about it? Share your story below!


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