My safety isn’t constantly at risk. In Kenya in the village, Cindy and I had to be home in our house each night before dark (about 7pm). It just wasn’t safe to be out and we needed to be home behind locked doors and gates. Even behind locked doors, you never knew when thugs might come to your house at night with a gang of men with guns (like when they robbed David and his wife in their home, or Paul and Josaphat, or the multiple attempts at the Sisters’ house). You never knew if your matatu or bus would be the one stopped by thugs in the woods to rob everyone. In Korea, on the other hand, it feels like it’s always safe and tons of things are open late or even 24 hours: grocery stores, clothes vendors, cafes, bars, coffee shops, internet cafes, spas/saunas, etc. I can even leave my bag at my table in the cafe, leave for a few minutes to go to the restroom, and then return and see my bag and belongings safe and sound. Such a different reality here than the worries inherent in the rural life of much of Africa.
Brett IM’d the other day… we both left Africa within a week of each other and are now doing some little re-adjustments to life in developed worlds. He was asking about safety. “Isn’t it weird not worrying about getting robbed?” What a funny question, Brett, but actually YES. It actually IS very weird. At first I hadn’t really thought about safety as I’d walked around at night both by myself and with Beal and Hanna. I think I noticed it for the first time my second night in town when I was walking solo after dark. There were other people out. I had my purse (with sunglasses, money, ATM card, ID, camera, notepad, snack, etc). And I heard quick footsteps behind me. What did I do when I heard the quick footsteps behind me? I immediately clutched my bag and turned quickly to assess the danger. It was the perfect reaction – I’m relatively well traveled and know enough to follow my instinct and watch out for myself. Of course, in this situation, I just felt a little silly realizing no one was going to rob me… it was only some guy hurrying somewhere who couldn’t care less about me.
In Kenya, one of the unofficial national mottos is “pole pole” – slowly slowly. Or, “there’s no hurry in Africa.” The first time I remember hearing the footsteps of someone running on a city street was when Cindy and I were accosted by robbers in Kisumu. (It was that whole scary messy “I will kill you!” episode that reiterated the need to be home before dark and never walk with a purse or valuables). The second time was when a thief grabbed my digital camera through the window while I was taking a photo from a moving vehicle in Nairobi. He ran, while the camera was strapped to my wrist, and the camera lens broke off in his hand – bastard. Otherwise, no one really runs in normal day to day life. There is, indeed, no hurry in Kenya.
Here in Seoul, everyone’s in a hurry and people seem to run everywhere… they always seem to be in a rush to get to some unknown location. People here also carry more electronics than I could ever hope to own and they carry them openly without fear of getting them robbed by thugs. Everyone seems to carry both fancy mobile phones and iPods or other MP3 players. Many additionally carry digital cameras, portable Play Stations. and even 2″ mini TV/video things to stay entertained on the subway. Whoa.
Mini video player
Surrounded by technology in Seoul… mini movies and a mini Play Station. In Kenya, no one can afford gadgets like this, and if they could they’d likely be stolen. In Seattle, we just read library books when on public transit. Guess I need to get used to the idea that people aren’t going to attack me or steal from me. And guess I need to get used to the idea that in a developed country, I’m going to be the (materially) poorest one around my peer group for a while.