“Is this common?” I ask Dotto, our fixer as we are stopped by white uniformed policemen on Ukewere Island. “Yes”, he assures me. “This is common. They are looking for people who drive illegally without a license.” Three minutes later we were on our way but it was just one incident in a long string of incidents big and small that made me realize I need to figure out how to balance alertness with a sense of calm.
Our security training has put me in a more cautious state of mind and over the past week we have seen all sorts of things that Jean Francois and Cath schooled us to be aware of. In one room of our hotel the deadbolt didn’t work, in others skeleton key locks, the easiest to pick open were the only form of supposed security. Bars on windows in two rural hotels made me realize how trapped I would be in a fire. As we returned to one hotel in the evening, we noticed that despite an impressive gate at the front door, there was easy access through an open back door that led out into the local neighborhood.
On the ferry ride to Ukewere we acquired a fan of our fixer, someone who knows Dotto from his social media posts and who had an uncanny ability to find us, popping up when we ate dinner or lunch or at the district commissioner’s office. Then there was the early morning shakedown by a young man who wanted us to pay a tariff for using a local road (we did so he would drop the chain across the road but not without vigorous objection from our driver Rashidi.)
So, my question Is this common? has become my way to start assessing the level of concern I should have. I was later told we paid an official tariff for using that road, so perhaps it wasn’t a shakedown even if it felt like it. Also, when there is no control over certain situations in a hotel – (all the rural hotels were one story) which would I rather have, bars on the windows or no bars? The answer for me is I’d sleep better with bars than without, hoping that fire is less of an issue than the opportunity for someone to gain entry to my room. It’s going to take practice but I have a new-found diligence that I hope to employ in my daily life. As for that room with the iffy deadbolt? That needed to change and fortunately, we were able to switch rooms. – Loretta Williams