After successfully getting visas to India and Kenya, getting immunized up the wazoo (cough, cough!), and obtaining an unlocked GSM phone for communicating locally while traveling (my first eBay purchase), I got an email from the VMware Security and Safety team (who knew we had such a department?) asking if I was aware that Kenya was classified as a “high risk” location. I was already beginning to worry that I did not have any contacts in Kenya beyond the MFIs I would be visiting. (I have no such worries about Bangalore – I’ve been there, I know people and VMware has an office there.) People I talked to who’d been to or lived in Kenya told me not to worry, just be vigilant. And don’t walk around after dark. Other people said “Are you nuts? Don’t you know they kill people with machetes over there?”
Then I had a phone interview with a gentleman who provides IT support for MFIs in Mombasa, the second largest city in Kenya after Nairobi. The purpose of the call was to learn more about the Mifos user interface, but he started by apologizing for being late because his office had been broken into and computers stolen. At the end of the call he apologized for cutting the conversation short because he must leave the office before dark. Even the locals are worried for their safety!
I began to think about the travels I have done over the years and the situations I found myself in that were, in retrospect, not particularly safe. In some cases I was naive and in other cases, downright fearless, not to mention stupid. Nothing bad ever happened, but I chalk that up to a fair amount of luck. And lots of good happened. But these days, I’m not willing to rely on luck to keep me safe.
I thought about what foreigners lose sleep over when they consider traveling to the US. Are they afraid of rampant gun violence? A drug culture? What would I tell someone about safety here? Of course it’s safe, I would say. Some places you just need to be vigilant. And be careful when walking after dark. (Where have I heard that before?) Then the Boston Marathon bombings occur.
It makes one realize that safety is a relative thing. Threats to our security are something we all learn to live with, to one degree or another, from looking both ways before crossing the street to locking up our house at night. We may even be unaware of our insecurity – I never realized how unsafe I felt in US cities until I visited Japan for the first time and was completely relieved of that anxiety. It was an amazing feeling!
But I don’t want to be sorry that I didn’t take opportunities to explore the world, learn about other cultures, and perhaps do a little to make the world a safer place through engagement and understanding. Thankfully, the VMware Security and Safety team has resources to help me be safer in such high risk locations. And I plan to take full advantage of them. Better safe and not sorry!