It’s only natural that you keep your wits about you at all times. Knock on wood, I’ve always been cautious, so I’ve never been pickpocketed or mugged (or worse). In the past couple of days, expatriates have told me to zip up everything, keep valuables out of sight, and roll up car windows and lock the doors when driving around.
I get the “out of sight, out of mind” principle, but it’s a bit harder for me to get used to the idea of rolling up my windows. Apparently, some muzungus have had items stolen through open windows, and people have even tried to open their car doors.
I finally met my roommate, who is absolutely wonderful. Always cheery and earnest, I feel like I could talk with her for hours. She is Rwandese, and wants to practice her English. I told her we could alternate between English and Kinyarwanda, which would be good for both of us! (Out of ease, though, we both readily switch to French.) On Friday, during a marathon conversation, she gave me some advice. “Always lock up your things,” she said. “There are some people you cannot trust.” She told me how, a couple of months ago, she came home from the field to find that all of her money and her camera had disappeared from her room. In his haste, the thief had forgotten to take the camera charger, so the camera was of little use. The only person who had a copy of the key was the house cleaner, so she went to the house cleaner’s wife to ask about the camera. The police eventually became involved, and the house cleaner finally returned the camera.
There is a new house cleaner now, but my roommate still religiously locks her armoire and her bedroom door, and advised me to do the same. He is not allowed to clean the bedrooms (because he might steal something) and only comes on the weekend, when we can supervise him directly.
Today, the danger of theft was again a reality. We are the only people on the second floor of the two-story building, and the bottom floor is occupied by two Rwandese girls and the building’s owner. The building is also protected by a wall and a (very cheery) dog, so strangers cannot enter.
No one comes up except to visit us, so we routinely leave the front door of our apartment open to draw in fresh air. I am cautious about what I leave unsupervised in the common spaces, but today, as I was washing the dishes, I left my computer in the dining room, by the front door, playing music (I figured that since I could hear it, I was keeping tabs on it). One of the Rwandese girls from downstairs came in, asking for my roommate, who was asleep. She said she would come back later. I didn’t think much of this, but when I decided to take a shower, I brought my computer into my room.
When I finished my shower, I went into the dining room to find that several of the cupboards, which are difficult to open, were ajar. My roommate emerged from her room, and I asked her if she opened them. The look on her face was enough of an answer—someone had clearly come in and tried to steal something, likely my computer. My roommate clicked her tongue and shook her head in disapproval. “People know there is a muzungu here, so they think you have good things they can take.” Luckily, my precautions weren’t in vain, but I’m not going to risk it again. I’m locking everything.