Thursday, June 20, 2013

Safety First

I know many of you have been worried about safety while I’m in Kenya. Well, I’m here to tell you not to worry, because I’m probably safer here than I am in America. Many buildings here are built like strip malls in America. The hotel we picked is in conjoined with a bank, and there is a guard outside the hotel at all times. In addition there are normally two armed guards (as in the kind in military uniform with humongous guns) outside the bank during business hours. Nobody is allowed to go to my room without me present, and I’m actually not allowed to bring anyone to my room for safety reasons. If I have guests at the hotel (which is very, very rare) they go to the receptionist desk and the person present calls my room to alert me of the visitor. I am to enjoy a cup of tea or a meal with them in the hotel café or other public place. By now the managers and many of the people working at the hotel know my patterns, and I’ve actually had several people comment if they haven’t seen me during the day or missed me at dinner. So they definitely keep an eye out.

As far as getting around I am rarely, rarely alone. On school mornings Henry (who works at the church) “picks me” and walks with me the 0.6 miles to school. In the afternoons my friend Fred or John walk with me back to the hotel or Pastor Samson brings me in his car. During the day I stay on the school/church property, which is gated. The gate is open during the day, but the property is still very safe.

Saturdays are normally the same as far as getting around. I spend a lot of time on the church property, go on an adventure, or go to Samson’s house (or all three).  On Sundays one of the church members usually picks me on foot in the morning. After church, Samson’s granddaughters and I normally take a matatu from the church to his house. Sunday nights either Samson drives me back to the hotel or I take a matatu to the hotel with one of his granddaughters.

If you’re wondering what in the world is a matatu? It’s a 8 or 9 passenger van that normally turns into a 10-12 passenger van. They pick people up and drop people off along the side of the road. You can go short distances for 20 shillings. Depending on where you sit you may be moving around as people get on and off. It’s basically a crazy Kenyan version of a bus or a taxi. They are less crowded if you are going long distances. Apparently there is a noticeable difference between the short and long distance ones, but I haven’t figured out what it is.

I only go two places by myself. First is the supermarket across the divided street from my hotel. I go here regularly after depositing my big bag at the hotel. Most of the guards and receptionists have learned my patterns by now. However, some of them are new, so I always say I’m headed to the market on my way out. The second place is a little store literally just outside the church gates. The store is very tiny so you just walk up and let them know what you want, and they bring it out to you. I was with other youths the first time I went, but I’ve only been here two or three times by myself. I always let one of the teachers or pastors know before I go.

When walking I normally have people that greet me and want to shake my hand (Kenyan people are very, very friendly). A couple times a week I have someone ask me for money, especially street kids while I’m on my way to the super market. Also many times school children will be very excited to practice their English and will say “how are you” as I pass. The Kenyan people say that mzungus or white people talk through their nose and they have a high voice used to imitate the sound. I do sometimes hear people using that voice when I go by, and sometimes people will shout mzungu. I’m not naïve enough to think everyone is going to be excited about seeing a visitor, and I know some people will say negative things different Kenyan languages. However, I’ve never been approached in a negative way, except for a drunk man complaining he had to sit next to me on a matatu ride haha.  

Samson, John, Pius, and Fred are very, very diligent about keeping me safe. Not only to be good hosts, or because they don’t want to have bad phone conversation with my parents, but also because if something happens to me the Kenyan government will be upset with Samson. The government would want to know why I was not accompanied if something happened on the street. The government would be suspicious of me as a foreigner if something happened behind closed doors in my hotel room.

I asked about going to another supermarket, but I’m not allowed to because it’s too far from the hotel, and I would pass several drinking places on the way there and back. I’m also not allowed to pet dogs or cats. Right after picking up a cute little kitten (belonging to a lady living at the church) I found out that the animals are not vaccinated in Kenya and they can cause great harm if they bite you.

If someone is looking to go on a long-term mission trip either by themselves or with a small group I would highly, highly suggest going through First Baptist Ruiru. (Especially if the person(s) is college age or has never stayed in a foreign country alone before.)
Thanks ~ Lulu

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