Saturday, February 15, 2014


There’s a fine balance to things here, on so many levels.  The idea of Security has most recently been on my mind.  If you believe the talk amongst the expat world, there are gangs of roving thugs with machetes, sticks and rabid dogs just waiting to scale your fence every evening as you slumber.  Seems over the top, and yet, it’s not entirely untrue. A gang of thugs did just rob a man outside my office Wednesday morning and a vigilante mob formed, stoning one of the robbers to death. A crowd gathered to see the body. A naked man was roaming outside my gate the other night; I had to call the security company to haul him away.

I remember coming here as an intern and having the Embassy warn us about packs of wild dogs that roamed the city. You shouldn’t walk at dusk, they warned, you’ll definitely get bit. And yet, the sunshine and the beautiful air – it is irresistible. I walk nearly every night or early morning around my neighborhood, and have yet to get bit. Instead, I’ve gotten to breathe in the frangipani, stretch my legs and release my body from the front of a computer screen. This bit of glory is probably the best part of my day; should I pack up my mental health on the chance that a dog will find me tasty?

It’s good to be aware that these things happen, but I find myself wondering how far is too far - and at what expense? Because this is the first African country I’ve lived by myself in, and most of my life and living situation here is new, everything seems risky. I’m unsure what’s overreacting and what’s…just being cautious.

The unknown is hard, but listening to expat regale stories of kidnappings and snakes in pianos, just feeds my paranoia. I know they are just trying to offer helpful advice (ahem, don’t get a piano), but mostly it comes off as alarmist. My old roommate and I used to call over the top fear-mongering the “Fox News Effect”. As in, the local news segments that started with “What You Don’t Know About Your Shower Could Kill You.” I often walked away from those news shows feeling like ignorance was bliss. Luckily, there’s always someone around who wants to tell you what could kill you. Normally, I’d have enough context to know which to be concerned about, and which to turn off. But here, I don’t have enough experience yet.  

In the meantime, every day I’m pulled between a state of fear to fairly calm. I try to be smart, while not letting the paranoia run my life. I’ve updated my electric fence, gotten a dog, a night guard, put up more yard lights. Most nights, it works – it calms me enough to get me to sleep. Other nights, I’m up every two hours, listening for the naked dude at my gate (and not in a good way), or dreaming of venomous piano keys.

Recently – and I knew it would – my circuits overloaded with anxiety. I was sitting out another power cut, chewing my cuticles over what thing would crawl over my walls now that the electric fence was off, hating the dread in the pit of my stomach.  As the sun set, I watched in fear as the shadows elongated across my porch. A long evening stretched before me, and I mentally began to tick off the places and friends with whom I could seek refuge.

Suddenly, I was sick of feeling this way. I like my house and didn’t want to leave. I realized that I was the only one making myself feel this way, listening to the Fox News of my mind.  Yes, the lights were out, but I had flashlights, water, food. My dog for company. My guard at the gate. I was safe, but making myself feel miserable. By this time, I should know it’s an unrealistic expectation that the lights will stay on all the time. Why was I wasting energy cursing the darkness? 

I got up. Sunset had turned to dusk. A quiet golden light was sifting through the garden. The shadows were still there, but punctuated by the last dying light of day. Enough, I muttered. I opened my gate, stepped out into the road, and headed out for a late evening walk.

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