Thursday, November 15, 2007

Barbed Wire Lives

The one question we get more than any other about our lives in Nairobi is, “How bad is the security situation there?” Although it seems like a simple question to the uninitiated, safety in Nairobi is actually an unendingly complex issue that no two people answer the same way.

It doesn’t help that the US government has erroneously listed Kenya as a “dangerous” place to visit thus needlessly worrying people about what is, in reality, a beautiful and amazing country. Part of the problem is the media: one of the first things anyone hears about life in Nairobi is the semi-regular occurrence of carjackings and muggings. These realities colour people’s views about what would otherwise be a lovely place to live – because they do happen. I’ve known people who have been carjacked and someone who was almost mugged outside of the restroom of a popular expat coffee house.

Here is the reality – most carjackings happen to matatus. The spouse of one of Hubby’s colleagues has been carjacked five times, three of which were as a passenger in a matatu. Moreover, with a bit of common sense – locking your doors, not rolling down your windows, and not stopping on the side the road – you can help to avoid this fate in your own personal vehicle. There are also schools here that offer courses in defensive driving and classes specifically geared toward avoiding being carjacked and what to do if you are.

Driving around Nairobi, one of the first things you notice is that all of the houses are like miniature Fort Knox’s. Our own apartment is guarded 24/7 by guards and is surrounded by not only barbed wire by also an electric fence. To get into compound just to see us, the guard will call up to verify that the person has permission to visit – this includes everyone from people from Hubby’s office to food delivery people.

Home invasions and burglaries here are frequently “inside jobs” where a maid, gardener, or other employee is responsible. Which doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t trust people or open up your home and hearts to the wonderful local people. What it does mean is that just like everywhere else in the world, there are some bad apples in the bunch. Locking out the outside world to fear and whispers of potential wrong doings is the fastest way to miss out on the amazing things that happen here everyday. Plus you’ll go crazy which isn’t much fun either.

The simple answer about security in Nairobi is that it is a big city and one has to be smart about living in it. Unfortunately, you can’t leave your guard down here and you always have to be aware of your surroundings, but the same can be said of most large urban areas. You watch your purse when you walk around or are sitting in a café. You don’t flash money or expensive jewelry around where people might be tempted.

And keep your wits about you. As Hubby says – don’t be stupid. Most crimes here, like in many places, are crimes of opportunity – leaving money in their car where it can be seen, leaving a door to a house unlocked, or leaving a purse sitting on a chair unattended.

All that said I wouldn’t change our experience of living here. Yes, knowing these things go on outside our peripheral view can be scary. But so can watching the evening news or going to the dentist. Some things are simply worth it.

No comments: