Sunday, February 18, 2007


Today’s topic is SECURITY. In America we don’t think too much about security unless we are flying and then in the airport there becomes quite a visible reminder that the world in no longer a safe place. We live in a safe haven in Bloomfield where the keys can stay in the car in the driveway if we want. We rarely lock the house and never worry about being mugged in Canandaigua or Rochester. You can go anywhere without fearing a pickpocket or purse-snatcher. Certainly there are large American cities where this is not the case, but for the most part we all feel very safe.

Not so in Zambia. Security is a HUGE thing here. Continual vigilance is necessary. I think the reason is because there are so many people who are without jobs, or food or real necessities that they are desperate for any way to get them. Theft is the biggest crime issue.

To insure the safety of what you have there are many precautionary measures you must follow. We have been quite careful to diligently follow the “rules” that everyone here follows.

Lock all doors. First of all we never leave anything visible on the car seat. They are stowed in the boot of the car. Car doors are always locked, as they are in the US when away from home. Now the house locks are a bit extreme. First you must know that EVERY house has burglar bars. So opening the windows requires maneuvering around the bars. The iron burglar door has 2 huge bolts that slide into the door frame and then a hearty padlock holds them locked. Then the door is locked. The same thing is true for the back door. Our landlady apologized for not having 2 separate padlocks for each door and suggested that we get another. The windows must all be shut and locked upon leaving the house. So in order to leave it takes about 10 minutes to “lock up.” Once we head toward the street we must stop and open the gate to the street. All the houses here are protected by huge cement walls all around them. Monster metal gates must be opened and closed each time you leave your house. At night or in the morning you must unlock the monster padlocks (3 in all and with 3 different keys) in order to come or go. If you have money you can hire a gatekeeper. For $50 per month he will guard the gate and open and close it for anyone coming or going.

In the downtown area we really should go with a Zambian. Thieves are abundant and will not hesitate to snatch a purse or slice a pocket to get a wallet or cell phone. Much as we would like to, it is impossible for us to “blend in” here in Zambia. We stick out quite visibly. That means we also are easy targets. I never carry a purse when I go into crowded shopping areas.

Even in the large home where we have stayed each time we have come, we always have locked our bedroom door EVERY time we leave it. The front living room was always kept locked. Now the freezers and food pantries are kept locked.

Since crime and theft have become major issues over the last 20 years or so, all the homes in the city have erected block walls completely around them. You never can tell what kind of house is behind the wall. Furthermore on the tops of the walls (while the cement was wet) they have stuck large shards of broken glass. This prevents anyone from climbing up and over the wall. My landlady has instructed me to be sure to remove all laundry from the line before retiring for the night. All tools like shovels or ladders also must be brought in. We actually try to hide all of our valuables in the house when we leave. We are told horror stories of how thieves in neighboring Zimbabwe will release a gas into homes that insure that the people sleep while burglars walk away with everything they own. If guns are used, they are usually for threatening the victims and if no resistance is shown they are not harmed.

We are told to watch carefully if we return at night to be sure no one is following us down the street as we approach the gate. Thieves will come steal your car while you are stopped to unlock your gate. We are needing to look into getting “gadgets” that lock onto the steering wheel and prevent car theft.

Vigilance is the key. My friend Edah now locks her freezer and keeps food supplies in an unused old but locked refrigerator. She says it happens because people are simply hungry.

Zambia is filled with people whose existence is simply to find enough food for themselves and their families. Anyway they can they try to earn a pittance…. Selling food by the road, raising chickens for eggs or meat, crocheting totes out of plastic grocery bags…day to day or meal to meal…many struggle.

In the meantime we grumble because we have so many locks …. !


Jetchro said...

you mean you don't fit in with those cool safari hats on?

Zach and Kate said...

Now that was funny!

Melvin said...

Security was also a big issue in the 1970s, when I lived in Zambia.
We were robbed a few times. It sounds like things have gotten worse.