relative safety

The Kenya you know. Police patrolling on election day in 2013.
Trucks carrying riot gear were not far off.
The riot gear was not used.

I don't normally write about current events, but this one is something that comes up in conversations we have with people in the US, and recently it has come up in the media.

(I'm not speaking of anyone in particular, but the trend.) People often ask us if we are safe here. They express concern over the fact that we are living in a war zone (we aren't). They cancel their visit because it's not safe here. And what about Ebola?

coffee overlooking the Great Rift Valley

They aren't getting all of these dangerous ideas from us. We try to provide some realistic perspective when any bad events happen. (Yes, it said "coastal Kenya" and it's only a milimeter away on the world map, but it takes 6 hours to drive to Kilifi from there.) We have been closer to riots by common citizens here than to any kind of terror attack. And, you have plenty of riots and terrorism and violent crime in the US, too. (I personally was closer to the shooting at Ft Hood than I ever have been to a shooting in Kenya.) And as for Ebola, well, it reached the US last year and was transmitted there, but Kenya has yet to see a single case of Ebola ever.

(As a sidenote, we aren't totally reckless. We do try to be vigilant, also. We lock our doors. We avoid large gatherings when possible and heed any warnings we get from the US Embassy or Kenya police friends.)

A peaceful protest. They never make the news.

No, the idea that we aren't safe isn't coming from us, but we know where it comes from. When Africa makes international news - any part of Africa - it's because of a major terrorist attack, ethnic cleansing, disease outbreaks, or some other Very Bad Thing. This is what gets high ratings. This is what is reported.

President Obama was here in Kenya over the weekend. It was a much anticipated, much celebrated visit. The news last week (and even this week) has been all Obama, all the time. After he left for Ethiopia Sunday, the news media were beside themselves, with nothing left to talk about until they got their post-visit commentary going. Leading up to the visit, American media described this trip as excessively dangerous for Obama, with CNN calling Kenya a "terror hotbed" and Politico publishing that coming to Kenya was more dangerous than visiting an active war zone. [Washington Post and Kenya's Daily Nation stories and a response by a Kenyan former CNN anchor, linked to by WaPo]

A typical late afternoon in Lamu

Is it any wonder Americans fear for our safety more than we do? If you haven't read those stories, CNN later rephrased their online article to express than the East Africa region is the terror hotbed, not Kenya specifically. But the damage is done. They used catchy words, got viewers/readers, and now people are more convinced that Africa in general, and Kenya in particular, is inherently unsafe.

Yes, Kenya has security issues. The legal system doesn't work properly. The police and elected officials are corrupt. But statistically speaking, you are more likely to be killed by violent crime in the US than by terrorism somewhere in the world (which includes Kenya) that's not a war zone. As far as intentional homicides (not terrorism), the US has only slightly better stats than Kenya, and you are more likely to be murdered in Chicago or Los Angeles than in Nairobi or Mombasa.

Also in Lamu, playing a game similar to pool

It is sassy of me, but when people ask about our safety here, I always want to ask how safe they really are in the US. The same day that Kenya was described as a terror hotbed, there was a shooting at a theater in Louisiana (which was great fodder for those tweeting #SomeoneTellCNN). Churches, malls, schools, and restaurants have been attacked (terrorism, hate crimes, or just general violence) both in Kenya and in the US.

Danger and safety are subject to perception. We may feel safer than we are because we're in a familiar place. Or the converse, we may feel more in danger than reality because we're outside of our comfort zone. For more perspective, check out this missionary's story of a home robbery (spoiler: it has a surprise ending).

"askaris" (soldiers, police, or security guards) on duty
in front of banks in a shopping center
(green uniforms in the foreground, blue in the background)

My requests

Take news reports with a grain of salt. Believe your friends/family overseas more than you believe the media. You know that stories are sensationalized. Realize that this applies to international news as well. And, realize that good things that happen in the world are rarely included in American world news reports. We will try to do our part in sharing the good things that don't get picked up by your news outlets.

Second, bookmark this hashtag and peruse it occasionally. #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou

And third, realize that the world isn't safe. It's not a Kenyan problem or an African problem or an American problem. In a sense, we aren't safe anywhere. But in another sense, we are safe everywhere because God is with us. A Very Bad Thing could happen to us - anywhere in the world. But God will still be with us. And that's what matters.

Kilifi Creek (bay) at sunset


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