Editor’s note: This is the final of three parts written by my friend Alan Noble on his experience of living in Nairobi, Kenya after the Westgate Mall attack there in September.
Last time we considered how advances in travel and technology have enabled many amazing opportunities in our world to grow closer together. But advances have also resulted in bringing the unfiltered mayhem into our experience, often live and in colour. Not only has this been described as progress, it seems to be implied that this also is true information democracy, part of the complex, changing, and smaller world in which we live.
No more apparent is this complexity than in Nairobi, where the recent Westgate Mall attack has brought this to the fore. In short order, the relatively safe place we had come to know actually now resembled the place that had been described to us when we first moved here: insecure, unsafe, with rampant corruption.
These three descriptors underline our new experience, and were evidenced at the Mall. There are guards all across this country. Day and night, at practically every gate, they are there. It gives a certain measure of confidence. Yet, we know that while they stand, sit or patrol, they do so without anything more than a club. They do not have guns. Bad guys have guns, our guards do not. So, you see, it gives us a measure of confidence—but not a lot. Safety and security are lacking.
And then the corruption. It was plain to see at the mall. News outlets have reported that the gunshots we heard during the last few days of the siege were in fact the defense forces shooting the locks off the safes to steal from them. Corruption beyond belief.
So, what does this mean to us living here? Not surprisingly, this event has transformed the way I look at safety and security, and how we now live. It has effectively enforced upon us boundaries that were previously not apparent, though subtly imposed. We could pretty much come and go as we pleased during the day, while at night we’d be more aware and cautious.
Presently, though I don’t feel unsafe, I am aware that our former boundaries no longer suit our circumstances. Instead, we are now held to boundaries within which we actively acknowledge the limitations and recognise the risks. We are on our own. If there is a fire, like recently at the main international airport, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, there is little expectation that fire brigades will come to the rescue. If there are robbers, we have been told, unless someone is dead, the police will not respond. It is within this revised set of expectations and realities that I am painfully aware that life has changed. Not necessarily because the events happened, but because now the limitations have now been revealed.
Melancholy though this may sound, it is not in fact how I live. There are many places in the world that are far better—and I’ve lived in some. But there are also places that are far worse, and I’ve been to some as well. We indeed live in a smaller world. Advances around us have provided opportunities beyond our imagination. Access to information and distant lands are moments or short hours away.
Technology and travel make it easier to connect with both the good and the bad around us. Living here in a different country at a time of great tragedy has made both the positives and the negatives of our increasingly small world more apparent. But it also makes our own personal choices clearer: Will we choose to trust God and live in the positive, or give into the despair and baser instincts fostered by the mis-use of technology and travel? It may not be easy, but for me and my family, we will choose the former. How about you?