Safe and decent: rules for inside and outside of a classroom

Another Blogapalooza night:  write about fear.

I don’t get afraid much. I’m a risk taker. But there have been a couple of times when I was scared out of my wits. And there's a theme here...

The first scary situation. The first scary situation taught me that safety is paramount.

I was 18 back then, on a six-week trip to Israel with several high school students from Chicago and an equal number from Israel. Not being a fan of overnight camp, this was my first serious foray to group living and traveling. Over time, I got to know everyone fairly well. But the one individual I remember the best was Jason. Jason was serious and always immersed in books, with his fancy camera tightly strapped to his scrawny body. No one was going to touch that camera. He came from an affluent Chicago family and sometimes boasted about his prominent relatives. I thought he was a bit odd. I don’t remember his being particularly friendly with anyone in the group, though I do remember his arguing with one of our trip leaders about curfew, trips to Jerusalem, and eating chocolate for dinner.

I’m pretty sure that Jason’s incident took place near Masada. We were climbing and there was an area that was roped off, roped off because it was still a land mine—not all of the grenades had been found. We were told to stay away from the area, and we did, except for Jason. He saw something he wanted to photograph. I don’t remember “the something.” What I remember is seeing Jason inside the cordoned off area, camera unstrapped from his body. What I remember is hearing our leader, Simon, telling Jason to walk backwards slowly, to try to cover the same ground coming back as he came in. What I remember is not breathing until Jacob cleared the territory and that’s when Simon started screaming.

I raised my two children the same way I set boundaries for my students, not with a lot of rules. Just be safe and be decent. Not hard to remember, but covers a lot.

The second scary situation. The second scary situation had a similar theme and taught me trust.

I was 42 and visiting South Africa for the very first time. Kind of ironic because I really was very afraid of animals back then. But, I couldn’t say “no.” My husband’s grandmother had died and had left enough money for ten of us to travel first class to South Africa, including safari time.

The beauty of going on safari in South Africa is that visitors can go on night drives. We were primed to see a kill at night. Early one evening, we sat eagerly in our rover, waiting for the lionesses to descend with their pride. In about an hour, two lionesses lumbered down the rocky terrain, cubs in tow, with the male lion slowly lumbering behind. Things were going according to plan, until the lionesses stopped right beside our vehicle. My father-in-law and I, sitting at the outer edges of the rover, were lunch. These lionesses were about a foot away. There was a gun on the dashboard, but the guide didn’t reach for it.

“Stay still,” the guide muttered.
We stood still and so did the lions.
And so did the gun.

I guess these guys know their stuff because I’m writing this column. I trusted them that day because I had no choice but to trust them.

What I learned over time was to trust in the process. These men loved the animals; they knew their ways and they respected them and the land. When they finished a safari, some guides returned to their tribes to be with their families and their herds. One of our guides was a chief. He worked as a guide on the “outside” in order to buy more cows for his family.

These guides were not going to pull the trigger on a “sitting” lioness. We were in her territory and we had to follow the rules.

I sat as still as ever whenever we went out on a game drive.

Safe and decent. Rules matter.

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