Jackie Mroz is a graduate of the University of Oregon. Jackie is spending the academic year (2010-2011) in Kenya, interning with the Foundation for Sustainable Development. Jackie received a $2000 scholarship from Sara’s Wish Foundation.
Here are Jackie’s travel safety tips:
- Follow your gut. If something feels unsafe or “not-right”, leave or seek a safer spot.
- Register with the U.S. Embassy and do some research before you leave. The US government puts travel warnings online for countries that they feel are unsafe or unstable for citizens to travel too. It is important to be aware of any of these warnings. Registering with the US Embassy is important in the case that an evacuation or information about your whereabouts is necessary. Also, getting to know the culture, language, and transportation options will reduce the number of surprises a traveler is faced with when in country.
- Get to know people in the community. Getting to know the local people is not only respectful to the community in which you are staying, but is a safely measure that should be taken. Finding people you trust and can go to in a dangerous situation is key to staying safe. Also, your new friends will be able to help you navigate the community in the safest manner. You wouldn’t want to find yourself in a situation that could have been avoided had you just talked to a neighbor or friend about its safety or reliability.
- Matatu’s are individually owned and operated vans that are used for traveling longer distances, such as from one community to the next. Unfortunately, the drivers often pick up up to 21 passengers in order to make larger profits. Often, you will find people sitting on top of each other or hanging on to the side of the van while it is in motion. If you must use a matatu, sit near an unbarred window, preferably next to a door or in the front seat. If it gets overcrowded, get off and get on another, less crowded one.
- Pikipiki’s are individually owned and operated motorcycles. They are very common in Kakamega for getting quickly across town. If hiring a pikipiki driver, find one that will allow you to use his helmet. I would not suggest riding one in the rain. Lastly, when negotiating price, check the driver’s ability to drive. If he is under the influence, do not get on the back of the bike. I suggest finding a pikipiki driver that you know and trust, exchange phone numbers, and call him when you need a ride (like a taxi).
- Boda boda’s are bicycles. They are relatively safe and cheap. The same travel tips for a pikipiki apply however. Remember, most boda boda drivers will ride on the side of busy street where cars, taxis, and vans zoom by. A bicycle ride may seem innocent, until you find yourself fallen off because a person walked in front of you, or the driver was not paying attention to the pothole he just hit.
- Don’t go out at night alone. In the US we generally say this rule applies for women. However, in Kakamega, I would say this applies to everyone. Most locals don’t even like to be out at night alone. Follow their example and go in a group, if necessary.
- Always have contact information on you. If you live with a host family, memorize their number and make them aware that you plan on using them as an emergency contact. Keep a notecard with you agency/program contact information on it. If an emergency were to arise, you would not want to have to think about what phone number to call. Having a quick reference list will ease the stress of the situation and get help to you faster.
- Don’t carry valuable or any more money than you will need during your time out. This will help you feel less nervous about being out and about. Pick-pocketing is common. In the unfortunate event that you are a victim of it, you may need to call for a ride, or not be able to buy your lunch, but you will still have the bulk of your money and valuables in order to enjoy the rest of your trip.
- Blend in. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Try to learn some key phrases, buy some local garb, and make friends. But remember you don’t know the area as well as the locals. Don’t be afraid to be assertive when it comes to your safety.
- Keep as many valuable in your carry-on baggage as possible. When packing your bags, remember your checked bags will most likely be searched. It is not uncommon for items to go missing after these checks. Keep as many valuables as you can with you when flying into or out of Kenya.