It was early Thursday morning, and I was in Kibera on a borrower visit with one of our trustees and two other Fellows. It was around 10AM when I take out my phone to check the time. I see a text from my sister asking if I know anyone in Garissa. Garissa? Why would she be asking me about a random city in Kenya? I shut my phone thinking I’ll respond later so I can focus on the visit. About two hours later I see a new messages, “Just tell me you’re okay.” That message certainly caught my attention.
I asked the group if anything is happening in Garissa. The trustee mentioned there was some sort of hostage situation at a school up north. Selfishly, I immediately thought of how this might affect me. Will Kiva HQ pull us out of Kenya? How will this change my life in Nairobi? Then I think of what this means for Kenya. Is this the next Westgate? What is going to happen to all these people walking around me simply going about their lives?
Once I get onto a computer and see the full scale of the attack at Garissa University, all my nervousness about safety in Kenya comes back to the surface. A few hours later I receive various security alerts detailing how the attack in Garissa was a decoy for a larger attack on Nairobi. Security is always a top concern for anyone staying in Nairobi, but I had pushed my trepidation down in preparation for my fellowship. Now on top of having to stress about being mugged or carjacked or kidnapped, I have to reintroduce terrorism back into the mix.
It was heartbreaking to see such a horrible attack happen to such a beautiful country and such wonderful people. The true sadness is that local Kenyans seem to have become used to all of the alerts and warnings. Yes, there is a greater military presence in the city and a reopened dialogue on overall security processes, but how long will this renewed enthusiasm last? When will people start dismissing the precautions as inconveniences? Once security becomes lax again, is it only a matter of time before another attack comes slipping through reopened cracks?
I do not mean to say Kenyans are not alarmed or outraged by the recent gruesome attacks in Garissa, but it appears Kenyans have just folded these occurrences into their expectation of what it means to live in Kenya. I am not accustomed to terrorism a few hundred miles from me so of course I had a bit more heightened response. My family and friends immediately asked me if I wanted to leave Kenya. How lucky I am to be able to book a flight and head back home when things get too tense here. But for locals, this is not an option. Kenya is their country and it is where they want to stay.
And for me, there is so much to love about being in Kenya that overcomes much of my anxiety and compels me to stay. There is a lot of work to be done, and I know that every day we spend here we come one step closer to achieving our mission. Meeting all of our partners, trustees and borrowers in Nairobi and across the country motivates me each and every day. In spite of all the difficulties and tough circumstances, everyone pulls together to make a difference in their lives and the lives of others in their communities. Security concerns will always occupy part of my mind, but the satisfaction I get from the work we do in Kenya keeps me excited to stay here.