Several months ago I wrote about the year I spent in Nairobi with my family. I remember consciously trying to focus on the good parts about living in a third-world country when I was writing. I didn't want to dwell on the negative too much because it would have been far too easy. I wanted to convey all of the wonderful things about living abroad and about Kenya - things that are wonderful despite its obvious problems.
Because if we're really being honest, living in a third world country isn't fun - for both expats and citizens. There are very good reasons that the people in these countries experience great pain, sorrow and low quality of life - these are the very reasons their country is referred to as Third World.
There's a lot I didn't mention, a lot that I edited out of the day-to-day living and experience.
I didn't tell you that at the top of the staircase in our home there were steel bars and a very stout door with bars and a strong lock. It was our own private jail. This was so that in the event that someone broke into the house, we could lock ourselves in upstairs and the intruder wouldn't be able to hurt us. We were also advised to lock it nightly - just in case something happened while we were asleep. We had a guard at the top of our driveway 24/7 and a very tall fence with barbed wire surrounding our home.
I also withheld that we were not allowed to drive anywhere without a radio that went directly to the security staff at the embassy. If your car was to be overcome by a mob, if we were caught up in a riot (and there were frequent riots), if we got into a car accident and a mob of people tried to make us pay out on the spot for damages - we would have a means of contacting someone who could help us. The police certainly couldn't be counted on.
I didn't tell you that my choir teacher was killed one evening when she went to the movies with her friend and a man carjacked her vehicle. He shot them both, threw her body into the street and drove away.
While navigating traffic through a roundabout, someone once reached through an slightly open window of our moving vehicle and stole the cap off my brother's head. We didn't drive around with windows down much after that. We wondered if we were lucky that he only wanted the cap.
I purposely failed to mention the near-constant rioting over elections, corruption and various political snafus. Along with it there was frequent police brutality and mob justice. Think Mexican jail is bad? You don't want to hear about Kenyan jail then.
I also didn't tell you that (perhaps most disturbing of all) in the months after I left, my physics teacher and his son were in a car accident. The details escape me, but they were not given priority medical attention for some time as a result of the disorderly handling of the wreck, complicated by the fact that they were Americans, but not diplomats, and the other car in the wreck was able to leave the scene on its own. They were left at the scene, injured. They eventually made it to a hospital, but my teacher did not survive. He was an entirely wonderful human being and I can't help but think that if he had received immediate medical care that things might have turned out differently.
What you also may have put together by now is that while I was failing pre-calculus in the spring of 1997 several terrorists were eyeing the building my father worked in, plotting ways to blow it up. As it turned out, it was far too simple a task.
To be sure, terrible things happen all over the world. Bad things happen to good people every day. Moments of great injustice happen in my city, even in my tiny suburb! There is no perfect nation, no utopia. It was the frequency of these things in such a small geographical area that boggled my mind though.
These are the things that were happening in Kenya ten years ago. It was a lifestyle of constant second-guessing and hyper awareness. It wasn't safe.
It would seem that this is still true, only on a much more appalling scale this week. Similar story; different year.