Safety in Africa
By Marisa Notier
The Notier Notes
Our Sunday Scoop
You might have heard a few horror stories about Africa - violence, war zones, corrupt officers and guards, and when it comes to travelers, robberies where people's bikes have been torn apart, and all their stuff stolen. Traveling by motorcycle can always be risky, but we had heard that Africa was on a whole new level. At the same time, we always wanted let the cities and the people within present the truth of the matter, good or bad.
Thankfully, I'm happy to say that so far in Africa, nothing major has happened to us. Someone once tampered with our bike one night in Tanzania (but Tim heard him and scared him away), and there were a few places in South Africa where we didn't feel safe. But besides that, we've been very fortunate. Of course, we're always aware of what could happen, and are always trying to stay one step ahead the game.
South Africa might take the cake for one of the most dangerous countries we've been through. Road safety is pretty good, infrastructure is great, and the people are so wonderful and friendly, but the crime rate there is through the roof. Every hotel and campground was walled in, some with pretty high-tech surveillance. Every house that can afford it has signs advertising the private security team that they employ in emergencies. In fact, I heard a statistic that security is Africa's number one industry. And just from looking around, it seems to be true.
We started our journey in Cape Town where I bought some pepper spray to keep with me. I also carry an alarm key chain on my purse that I can just pull to turn on a high-decibel alarm. I have every emergency number in my phone to the US Embassies in all the countries we go to, and I've also registered with the embassies to receive their safety emails. Those have been great to warn Americans about potential protests, and even things we may not think of, like how wearing camouflage clothing can get you arrested out here (which makes sense in countries with a military presence on the street).
As we moved north from South Africa, things started to look less fortified, but of course, certain precautions against attacks and theft were always in place. Every house will have bars over the windows, and parking lots to supermarkets, banks, and other general stores will have armed security guards on watch at all times. Apartment buildings will always have a night guard.
In Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, everyone etches their license plate number onto their car's side mirrors, windows, and windshield. This is so that if these parts are stolen off their car, they can't be easily resold. But I mean, windshield!
Every time you hop in an Uber, it may be a million degrees out, but they'll tell you to keep your windows rolled up. This is so that people walking by or riding by on a motorcycle can't reach in the car and snatch your phone, purse, or anything else you have in there.
Our home here in Kenya has some extra safety features as well. We have panic switches in every bedroom that sets off a siren and lights on the top of the house.
And then there are those weirdo doors. We've noticed them throughout East Africa, and they take a bit of getting used to, but I guess in the end they make sense.
First of all, they're always metal. And although they can usually be locked from the outside, most of the locking is happening on the inside. This is just an extra layer of protection to make sure the locks can't be tampered with. But since it's on the inside, that means that in order to access the padlocks, you have to stick your hand through a hole.
That's right. You open the flap and then put your hand through the hole in the door to blindly mess around with the key and padlock. Not so easy, especially with one hand. Then once you get the padlock off (and assuming you don't drop your key inside which would just be the end of everything), you have to undo the deadbolt, and you're in! Easy as pie, right?
Now having said all this, we actually feel quite safe here in Nanyuki. It's a pretty well-off town with lots of foreigners, and we live down the block from the police station. Also, we pay a monthly fee for a private security team to patrol the area at night, and we have a neighbor who lives in front of our house and literally keeps "guard" over everything 24/7.
Plus, last week, we had a bonus moat of raw sewage that temporarily kept out any potential thieves, and we have three guard cats to keep us protected at all times.
So we feel very safe and are extremely comfortable. Goats 'baa' throughout the day in our neighbor's yard, and cows leave their special pies in our front yard when they graze on the grass. Life is pretty simple here. People are friendly and we don't feel that we are in any danger. But we like to adhere to common sense, and to not draw attention to ourselves. No flashy jewelry, we don't take out thick wads of currency to pay for tuk tuks (small three-wheeled taxis). We just try to blend in with the crowd. It is a great feeling when the women at the grocery store know you by your first name, when they ask how your spouse is doing, and when you feel like you have slowly immersed into the daily lives of everyone in town.
We sometimes feel that we are no longer outsiders, and a natural safety net is being built from the trust and care that naturally evolves when you become part of the community.
I hope everyone out there stays safe, and is also counting their lucky stars.
Next week, I'll go over some of our adventures in Uganda! See you then!
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