My husband makes a point of NOT forwarding security reports to me, but occasionally one slips through the net. Security reports are put together by private security firms detailing all incidents of the previous week in Nairobi. As you can imagine, things generally hot up at around Christmas time and reading these reports can make you more than a little paranoid – I guess the idea behind them is that fear will encourage you to beef up your (private) security detail. What actually happens is that a few incidents make the majority extremely fearful, adding to Nairobi's bad reputation as crime filled no-mans-land. I wonder if anyone circulates security reports around London, New York or Madrid?
Anyway, When I got the security report the inevitable happened, I started worrying about driving home alone after the girls’ night out that I’d agreed to go on that day.
‘I’ll be home by nine’ I said to my friend, ‘what do you think? That’ll probably be OK won’t it? It’s not late’ ‘Oh, but apparently the security reports say nine is the worst time to be on the road.’ she said....reassuringly.
What didn't help is that the Saturday before, there had been a shootout in Karen in broad daylight, bullets flying near the roundabout during a car chase. I was on the phone to a friend at the time and we heard the shots simultaneously. The conversation went a bit like this;
‘Ooo, Did you hear that?’ ‘Yes, sounded like a car back firing’ ‘Yes, except it’s like multiple backfires. Then it stops, then it starts again.’ Bang, bang, bang, bang, ‘There it goes again!!’ 'It's like fireworks' ‘It must be gunshots, wonder where it’s coming from’ etc etc.
It was apparently an exchange of fire between thugs and police. A lot of the information we get later about incidents like these is mixed up like Chinese whispers.
‘One thug was shot.’ ‘No, I heard two.’ ‘Actually, it was three because another guy died later in hospital.’
After the shooting was finished that Saturday, crowds gathered. Our friendly taxi driver in Karen told my parents-in-law that he did a brisk trade that day ferrying people to the mortuary to view the bodies. The mind boggles.
In the end I figured that I’d be brave and go out on my own in spite of security fears. Our girls night was going to be a sushi making evening where I could learn to make my own sushi, sashimi, prawns tempura etc. Thus it might ultimately be a money saving exercise as sushi is my favourite treat.
On the way there at 5pm, I gave our house help a lift to the shops. I explained where I was off to, that it was an evening course put on by via a cookery school set up by a friend.
‘You English are so lucky,’ she said, ‘you can try so many different types of work. Us Kenyans are forced to stick to one thing.’
Florence sees ‘English’ as defined by expat housewives. I found myself using my lame catch-all excuse for everything (as I used embarrassingly when speaking to Dragon entrepreneur, James Caan)
‘Yes, I know,’ I said, ‘we are lucky, except we do have terrible trouble with work permits....’ I trailed off. I was going to say..... 'not all English have such a gilded existence as me' - but by then I had lost momentum.
The sushi evening was fantastic, though our German instructor, who is really a friend, was in a bit of a scary mood at first. I think she had had a long day. We trainees all brought bottles of wine with us, but then were too terrified to ask if we were allowed to open them. I was ten minutes late, and another friend half an hour late. Understandably, this didn’t go down well. At first we all stood about awkwardly watching as our instructor did all the cooking work. Later we all had a chance to get stuck in to the sushi making and were up to our elbows in rice, salmon and nori sheets.
‘That is a disaster!’ the instructor said looking at my Maki roll. ‘Far too much rice. It will never close now. You must start again!’ She certainly didn't hold back from telling it like it is.
When we did get to open the wine eventually, I made it my personal mission to make sure our instructor’s glass was topped up but she was almost to busy to sip it. Fortunately I got home safely, proudly carrying my plate of sushi and pot of pickled ginger. The traffic was so heavy that nine pm looked reassuring like six pm.
But then when we were out again on Thursday I heard the next morning there had been another shootout that night (at nine pm), two car jackings outside Karen Country Lodge, two men were beaten up in their car, one hospitalised.. in fact the list goes on and on. Am not sure exactly what happened or how much was true.
When we chatted yesterday, another friend said, ‘You know I left the party on Thursday on my own at midnight?’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘You were following us weren’t you?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘but then a good song came on the radio, so I decided to drive around the block to listen to it before going home,’ ‘You’re nuts!’ I said. ‘I know!’ she said. ‘Next time, listen to the song once you are safely parked in your drive’ I said. ‘I will,’ she said.
My husband heard gunshots on Saturday morning at five am and struggled to find out what that was about. He phoned a friend. 'Look' the friend said, 'I just can't get excited about all these gun shots. It could be the police emptying a cartridge at a bunch of shadows for all we know.'
My husband read in the Nation today (Monday) that a gang of thieves were disturbed by a curious on duty policeman whilst leaving an empty house with a stolen TV, a gas cooker, clothes etc. Tragically the policeman was shot dead, plus two of the gangsters died in the exchange of fire. Back up arrived and stolen goods were left abandoned as the surviving theives escaped.
Hearing gunshots makes living in Karen resemble the Wild West.
Added to this, I wish our power would stop going off, plunging us into total darkness all night (apparently our transformer has blown up and we are still out - could be a few more days). Fortunately we stayed home all weekend and have no more plans to go out for a while. If we do go anywhere, I’m relying on the fact that so many people on the road travelling to and from xmas parties at the moment means that the probability of us getting caught out is somehow less. One thing is certain. Life is never dull.