It’s a smaller world – Part 3

by Alan Noble on November 5, 2013

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.

Westgate Mall, NairobiLast 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.

Westgate Mall, NairobiAnd 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?

Read Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t yet…

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It’s a smaller world – Part 2

by Alan Noble on October 30, 2013

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three part series written by my friend Alan Noble regarding how travel and technology have affected his life living in Nairobi, Kenya.

Last time I wrote about how advances in the world, particularly in travel and technology, have made it a smaller place. Often, those advances are good. But not always.

The joys we experience through travel and technology can and do often blow our minds. We marvel at new sights and feel “right there” through satellite-enabled video that puts us into the heart of someplace we’ve never been before. The flipside is that the same technology that makes our amazement so real likewise makes the horrors in our world – our increasingly small world – equally real. What I’ve come to learn, especially by living in another country, is that advancement doesn’t always equal progress.

The ability to watch the tsunami thrashing hotels and homes doesn’t necessarily mean that I should. This past summer I found myself gripped by the video that a witness taped of the crash of the Asiana Airlines airplane at San Francisco International Airport. I watched it over and over before I even was aware of my fixation. That advancement in technology, though an extension of our access to our world around us, is not what I would call progress.

The same applies to the recent events at the Westgate Mall, not far from my new home here in Nairobi. Many people ask if we were surprised by the attacks at the mall. We were not. We’d been given regular warnings about that place being a target due to its prime location for both Westerners and locals and its easy access. However, we were surprised and even sickened by the brazen, calculated, and brutal disregard of all people, including many women and children—who are typically left alone in assaults like these. Every bit of the focus by the attackers was on taking advantage of the sensational media attention that they garnered in the process. The technology that I so love, actually fortified the attackers with the massive attention that they sought.

Ironically, I didn’t have to travel far to experience all this. It came to me – who now lives minutes away from the scene – in the same way it came to my friends back home in the US. In this case, it didn’t matter where in this small world you lived. Technology created a level playing field for the messages and images to get out.

Having said that, what I am finding is that the repercussions of the event are radically different for those of us who are physically present in this city where the attacks occurred. In the next installment we will look at how insecurity in light of the attacks now impacts our thinking and changes how we view the world in which we live…especially our own corner of it.

To be continued…

If you haven’t done so yet, read Part 1 here

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Driving in Paris

by Steve Brock on July 30, 2013

View from the top of the Arc de TriompheDon’t drive in Paris.

That’s the advice we had from every guidebook, travel site and traveler’s forum we read before heading to the City of Lights this summer. Whatever you do, they say, don’t drive in Paris, France. Why?

  •  The traffic is horrible (true, but so is it where I live and grew up).
  •  There are scooters and motorcycles cutting in and out all over the place (true, but patience and a car with good visibility help overcome that).
  • Paris is a warren of one-way streets built for horses, not cars (true, in certain areas like the Latin Quarter but the main streets are quite wide and modern).
  • You’ll never find parking (pretty true, but for us, we found a garage, parked our car there for the entire three days we were in Paris and used the metro or our feet to get around town).
  • The drivers are incredibly aggressive (true, but they are consistent and I’ll take on a good, aggressive driver any day over a wishy-washy one who speeds up and slows down for no apparent reason).

So let me amend the advice of others to say this:

Don’t drive in Paris…alone.

I was with my family and my 18-year-old son, Sumner, served as navigator. Armed with directions and most of all, my smart phone with Google maps, he guided me into and out of Paris like a charm. We even made it around the Arc de Triumph.

If you’ve not been to Paris, you may not realize what a triumph that feat was. One guidebook even suggested visiting the Arc de Triomphe, (Napoleon’s enormous victory arch to himself) surrounded by Place Charles de Gaulle (a traffic circle of equally dramatic proportions) just to watch the fights between drivers and the horrendous traffic jams during rush hour (the photo above was taken from the top of the Arc de Triomphe at midday during “light” traffic).

For us, however, it was almost surreal. When it was time to leave Paris, we departed from our apartment near the Eiffel Tower, fetched our garaged car and prayed for safety. We crossed the River Seine and, because it was mid-morning, encountered relatively light traffic as we plodded up the famed Champs Elysees (the street shown in the photo). And then, almost before we were expecting it, we were in…and through…the circle around the Arc de Triomphe.

It was, as my wife noted, like Moses parting the Red Sea. We entered one end of the circle in a miraculous break in traffic. As we did a half orbit of the Arc de Triomphe, the cars to our right were held back from entering by a nicely timed red light. Thus, we scooted in one end and out the other without a loss of speed like a leaf floating on a slippery current.

Could I have done all that on my own? Maybe, but with greater stress. Having Sumner’s excellent navigation assistance and God’s grace to get us through it all made all the difference. Plus, having my whole family with me turned it from a white-knuckle act of endurance into a shared experience and story.

You’ve probably already figured out the life metaphor implicit here. But it was a great tangible reminder to me of how we’re better off together than when we try and do something alone. The results – and the experience itself – improve when we involve others, rely on them and make them part of the adventure.

So if you’re ever in Paris with a car, it’s OK to drive there if you have to.

Just don’t do it alone.

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A personal place of safety on a trip

by Steve Brock January 13, 2011

We travel to get out of our comfort zones and yet we find on many trips – particularly hard ones – the need for our own “querencias” or places of safety along the way.

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