Scott and I have forged a friendship with a couple that he works with; their names are Steve and Lizzie. Steve works for Tanari and Lizzie is facilitator for a local camp. They had their first baby about three months after we had Emma. Last Sunday we had them over for lunch. We went to go pick up Lizzie in their neighborhood, Gachie. Gachie is a bedroom community for Nairobi, cheap rent close to the city. It’s also a hotbed for crime. Driving through their neighborhood is always stressful; knowing that there are carjackings quite frequently and also the road seems more for people walking and livestock and less for cars. I frequently gasp as Scott has to nail the brakes to avoid hitting a goat or a person that is not getting out of the way.
After we collected our friend from her house on the drive to our own home we talked about how she had not gotten out of the house yet with their new baby, except to go to the doctor. Although Steve and Lizzie are of a similar educational level to Scott and I because they are Kenyan and the Kenyan pay scale is so much lower to the American pay scale they cannot afford a car and many other luxuries that Americans consider necessities. We talked about riding a matatu with a baby, Lizzie said,
“I can’t even imagine trying to hold your baby and protect your purse at the same time.” I was relieved to hear her say this, because I spend most matatu rides with both arm tightly across my purse as it sits ‘safely’ in my lap. I turned around and said to her,
“You know when I was in Tanzania I wasn’t afraid. And when I first moved here I wasn’t afraid. But now I am afraid.” She nodded with her eyes wide and understanding.
When I got here I asked around to find out how safe it really is in Nairobi. I heard stories of US ambassadors wives getting shot during a carjackings, I heard countless tales of, ‘don’t go there at night.’ I soon learned that much of the western community just doesn’t go out at night. I thought this a little foolish and Scott and I decided to just live our lives and try not to think about it.
The corner of our neighborhood that reside in is flanked by two slums. We live in the ‘dangerous’ part. About two months into our stay here my friend Jill and I were coming home from a bible study, at nine at night, as we turned the corner near our compound there were cars lined up on the road and a police man stepped out in front of our car. Jill began to brake and pull off, I said, ‘Just keep driving this doesn’t concern us.’ The police man was waving us through, as we turned the corner we saw a body, twisted into an unnatural position, lying on the ground. Our hearts pounded in our ears, silencing all else for the last few moments of the drive home. When I walked into our apartment, Scott looked up at me with true relief across his expression. He had told me that about twenty minutes ago he had heard gun shots and was worried about my whereabouts. The next day we found that some thugs had tried to carjack a car right at that corner, but the car belonged to a minister of parliament, and her bodyguards won.
I know several of my students that have been carjacked on their way to school. I know someone who was kidnapped on his way to pick up his sick daughter at school. This is the most frightening part of all of this. You usually think of carjackings and kidnapping happening to negligent people, took a wrong turn into the south side of Chicago at night. But, no, these were fathers taking their daughters to school at seven in the morning. I also used to think of crime victims as that person over there on the nightly news. But, no, this is that girl in my fourth period class who speaks in an American accent at school, but switches to British inflected tones around her mother. This is that girl with long brown hair in Art Exploration class who’s best friend just brought her cupcakes in class for her birthday. These are the people that are the victims of these violent crimes, right next to me.