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My View From The Sidelines

When we told people we were moving to Nairobi, a lot of people reacted with a strong concern about our safety. I explained that Nairobi is fairly safe. Yes, there is crime, but that is true in any city. Yes, there is a threat of terrorism, but no more so than in New York. Some people understood. Others did not.

All of that has been go through my mind as I hear Kenyan reaction to the recent shootings in the U.S. I have noticed two overarching thoughts from Kenyans. The first is that the U.S. isn’t a safe place to visit and they should think twice before going there. 

They’re right. It’s not safe. There is a big and very real threat of terrorism from abroad. There is also a threat of terrorism from within. Let’s call things for what they are and correctly label all Planned Parenthood attacks as terrorism. After all, terrorism isn’t limited to acts committed by immigrants or Muslims. Terrorism is the use of violence and intimidation, by anyone, in the pursuit of aims, any aims. 

There is also a complete break down in general safety. There is the threat of getting shot randomly when you go to work, to school, to the movies, and the list goes on. This will of course be swept under the rug as the American media shifts focus to San Bernadino and forgets about Colorado and the other shootings this year (353 in total from what I’ve read). There will be a lot of argument but I doubt we’ll get closer to solving this problem anytime soon. 

This kind of violence doesn’t happen in Nairobi. There is crime. There is violence, but not like this. And yet, many Americans have a negative perspective about Nairobi.

This leads to the second thought. The U.S. media, time and again, paints Africa (all of Africa, because it’s just one big giant country and all the people are the same, right?) as “hotbed of terror” or as “war torn.” I cannot express how embarrassed I feel every time I read such a headline.

This inaccurate and elitist view (stated as fact) combined with the nation’s failure to address the issue of gun violence gives a very bad impression of America.

We are seen as hypocrites who can’t get our act together. That’s not an inaccurate perception.

I find myself worrying about visiting home next year. International travel to and from the U.S. will be even more of a nightmare. (It doesn’t matter if you’re American. If you have an unusual name and a dark complexion, you have a good chance of being given a hard time.) With race relations deteriorating, I worry about visiting family in the D.C. Metro area. Also, you don’t have to go far from D.C. to be in gun country—and I’m not talking about the responsible gun owners.

I’m not worried about going to New York, but it could be naïve of me to not worry.

I’m fairly certain that people here will have concerns about my safety when I make that trip. I don’t know if I’ll be able to say anything to reassure them.



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