The day the rose colored glasses came off

As this blog is intended to be about my life abroad, the good and the bad, I have decided to post about something that happened to me recently.  As everyone who decides to move abroad knows, security is often a issue and of heightened concern.  Nairobi, among many other cities around the world, has a very high crime rate.  Most of this is petty crime (pickpocketing and cell phone theft) but there is also a level of violent crime as well (armed robberies and carjackings).  I was fully aware of this when I decided to live here and am very conscious of day to day security concerns and I take my personal safety very seriously.  (As some of you know, I left a position that required me to move to Juba, Southern Sudan because of a lack of security measures implemented by the organization I was working for, so I am not one to jump into a high risk situations without precautions in place.)

Sometimes organizations place volunteers and development workers in areas that are of questionable safety because they are more affordable.  In my opinion, I was living in one such place.  (For sake of fairness I will say that some of my colleagues still live in the same area with no harm coming to them.  But their houses are located in, what I would consider, a safer section with more lights and on the main road.  I was directly across the railroad tracks from Kibera, Nairobi's largest slum.)  I decided to move because of this and annoyances that included a lack of a working toilet (after weeks of trying to coordinate with the maintenance person to fix it), disappearing askares (security guards) who were rarely seen when returning home after dark, and an assault on a friend outside of my complex one evening.  Fortunately, through friends, I found a new flatshare rather quickly (affordable housing in Nairobi is not always easy to find) and set a move date.

Due to safety concerns surrounding my living situation another friend offered to let me stay at his apartment while he was traveling.  Since he works for an embassy the security for the complex was quite high and included several layers of guards and gates to gain access to the house.  However, despite the appearance of security, it is always important to remember to be on guard.  Saying this, the night before I was to move into my new apartment I stayed at my friend's house where I was present during a robbery, which is unfortunately an increasingly common event in Nairobi.  My friend's apartment and one downstairs were both burglarized by an armed gang.  Fortunately my friend was not present for the event and both the other resident and myself escaped with our lives.

As I don't want to become a horror story for all to retell I am not going to give details about what happened, but know that I am fine.  However, I will give people a few pointers of what not to say to someone who has recently survived something traumatic:

1) If you don't know the details or severity of the event, don't assume that it was trivial and that they will be "back to normal" within a few days.
2) You don't know what methods people use to cope so don't assume that if they are not holed up at home or you see them out socially that it must not have been that bad.
3) Don't assume that if your friend is living abroad that they will automatically want to come home.  I know it is meant with love and concern because people feel that the life in the States is safer than the unknown, but it is a very personal decision and not one to be pushed on someone.  Remember, as "easy" as life is in the West, violent crime is still common and can happen to anyone, anywhere.
4) If you do not know the person but happen to learn of the incident (I'm talking to you, Mr. Immigration Officer) then do not look at the police affidavit and comment on the fact that it mentions violence and ask specifically what happened, listing possible scenarios.  What does that have to do with replacing a visa in a new passport?  Nothing, absolutely nothing.
5) Even if you are a friend or an acquaintance never ask the person (especially in front of other people) what the perpetrators did to them.  If they want to tell you they will, in their own time. 

In saying this, the person who has gone through something traumatic does want to know that you care and are thinking about them, so don't stop calling and checking in on them.  These things leave lasting impressions and take weeks, months, or even years for some people to get past.  If you haven't heard from them in awhile, just drop them a line or shoot them an email and let them know that they're not alone in this.  That said, I have some of the best, most supportive friends that anyone could ask for in Nairobi and I greatly appreciate all of you who showed up at 6am after a late night without question, sat through police interviews with me, let me crash at your place, harassed me to come out instead of sitting at home alone, called and visited, or just sat and listened.