Before I left for Africa, many adults in my life were anxious for my safety and somewhat disapproving of my choice to go. My grandparents had no idea why I wanted to go there in the first place, and some family friends told me that they prayed for my safety every day. This was highly frustrating because not only did they refuse to understand that I would be safe with my organization, but also it was clear that they had made snap judgements without knowing ANYTHING about the country and city where I would be living. Their anxiety reflected a very real and ingrained issue of prejudice. I was excited to have the most amazing experience and prove them wrong; unfortunately, this wouldn’t turn out to be the full story.
Mombasa, Kenya has a high rate of violence and crime. However, I was living in the nicest residential area of the city, with 24/7 guards and security measures protecting the house. I trusted the people I was with and the Kenyans working in the house. Of course, you never want to expect that anything bad will happen to you. On my 7th night there, however, someone broke into our rooms and stole from all of the girls’ rooms while we were sleeping. My phone was stolen, and collectively there were 2 phones, 3 pairs of expensive sunglasses, and over $800 taken without anyone in the house of 13 people waking up. Everything was done in a very systematic and detailed way that led us and the police to believe it was definitely an inside job, whether that meant a worker, friend of a worker, or fellow intern inside the house. This was a traumatic experience for me for several reasons. First, having your phone taken in a foreign country and losing everything on it is very upsetting and hard to deal with in a practical sense. Second, if people entered the house from outside, they entered through the balcony door which was right next to my head as a slept. Third, with how much time the robbers took and the horrifically violent things we had seen at the hospital, we were terrified to think of all of the worse things that could have happened to us.
Enjoying Kenya in the same way I had before became a little harder after that night. I was too scared to sleep in my room for the nights following the robbery, and my roommate almost decided to go home three weeks early because she didn’t feel safe. However, my organization and the police dealt with the issue in the most prompt and thorough way they could. Although I was still scared, I knew they were doing everything possible to keep us safe. They hired new security, installed new cameras, got a guard dog, installed a better electric fence, changed all the locks, and more. Some interns started to point fingers at the staff working in the house, but all of us who had been there long enough knew it would not be them, and each member of the staff apologized to us personally because they were so shocked that it had happened.
Even though I had a harder time feeling safe at night, this event did not change my experience of Kenya and my desire to make the most of my trip. I worked at the hospital with a new sense of understanding and purpose, and I remained open to friendship with everyone I met. Although I took new measures to keep myself and my belongings safe, I recognized that being distrustful and doubtful of the people around me would get me nowhere. On my safari the next weekend, I got to fully experience the beauty and wonder of Kenya and its wildlife. In the end, one of the interns in the house was sent home due to an unrelated incident where she stole another intern’s headphones. Many of us think she was the original thief, and even if she wasn’t, the incident showed that immediately blaming the workers for a robbery would be a mistake.
After being robbed, I didn’t tell many people. However, word got out through my parents and friends, and it’s not like I was going to lie about it. The reactions that I got were extremely disappointing. Everyone who had been anxious for me to go had their beliefs confirmed, or so they thought. My grandparents and others keep telling me “I’m sorry you had such a horrible time over there!” while I desperately try to explain that I had an amazing time, despite an unfortunate event. I hate that when they think of Africa, the memory of me being robbed will be added as a reason to be scared. Going forward, I will continue to show them the beauty of Kenya and all of the lessons I learned there from the amazing people I met.