A couple of weeks ago, I received a message via the contact form of this blog. It was sent by a guy from a country he himself describes as follows: “I’ve been to Italy, so if you can imagine a country which is 10 times safer even though Italy is pretty safe yet have much worse pizzas, then you got it.”
He continued to tell me how secure he felt in his home country: “I have never had a robbery, been attacked, highjacked or kidnapped or anything else, i can even leave my door open all day without something happen[ing].”
The reason he wrote to me is because he had met someone who lived in Nairobi whom he really wanted to visit, but he had some concerns: “So i dont know if i make sense, but my mind is sort of not prepared for how to react on terrorism attacks, car highjackings, robberies, armed robberies, kidnappings etc, cuz as i’ve read that’s just common life having a gang of black students attack you in your home with knives and guns, there. […] I’d like for you to clear things up for me what is media, what is real. I know a lot of places there but you can’t really say you know anything before you go.”
Now, I am not publishing this to put somebody on the spot. I know for a fact that many people from Europe have similar ideas and fears when thinking about Nairobi. So I decided to share my answer to his questions. Here’s what I wrote:
“I understand your concern for safety. Africa is often portrayed as one big black hole of suffering and poverty in the European media, and as white Europeans, we are definitely seen as rich by most people here. Which (admittedly) most of us are, in comparison.
Of course Nairobi is not [his home town], and there are certain safety measures I am taking here that I would not need in Berlin (where I used to live before I came to Kenya). These include living in a gated compound with a security guard; not walking around outside after dark; and dressing down whenever I go to certain parts of town.
While this is not the most fortunate state of being, I can assure you that it is just a minor inconvenience and you get used to it very quickly. Also, Nairobi is a huge city, and it’s not advisable to enter some neighbourhoods, but others are super nice and green and upscale.
That being said, I can only encourage you to come and see for yourself. You will come to a country that I am sure you’ll find most welcoming. People here are friendly and helpful, and I have never actually felt threatened or insecure. While it is true that you stick out as a white person, this usually just means people will be extra friendly to you. If you move around with locals, you’ll be extra safe and get to know places that you would not otherwise get to see, and that are definitely worth seeing. […]
This might not be any help to you, but before I first came to Nairobi, many people at home asked me: “Aren’t you afraid of the violence, the crime, the terrorism?” Two weeks after I arrived, the Paris attacks happened, and somehow I actually felt safer in Nairobi than I might have in Berlin or Paris. This feeling of relative safety never went away for me.
So, if you follow some very simple rules (dress down, don’t go to certain neighbourhoods, don’t walk around at night), you should be absolutely fine. I would advise you to not let your fear get the best of you and deny you a possibly wonderful experience!”