I’ve written before about how I feel security will likely kill me in Africa. At times I feel like things are too secure. You know, like kids who are too clean, so when they finally get a cold it’s life threatening? Sometimes I feel that way about security in Africa. Now, I’m not unrealistic, I know there are security concerns and I appreciate the efforts taken to keep us safe. When I was in Kenya during the terrorist attack I did not complain about the pat downs, metal detectors and running all of our personal belongings through security scanners each time we entered a hotel, restaurant, university, store or church. Yes, when I went to church in Nairobi it was full airport-style security.But some of the other security precautions here scare me to death. I hate being in buildings where I see all the doors chained and locked, forcing everyone to enter and exit through only one door. The other day I went to someone’s office. The wooden door was open to let in the air, but there was a metal barred door which was closed and locked. The woman had to find the key, then reach her hand out through the bars to use the key (from the outside) to unlock the door! What if she dropped the key and couldn’t reach it? What if I was a criminal and wrestled the key from her hand leaving her locked inside without a way to let herself out? I would much rather get robbed from having too little security than burned alive while locked inside a building.
However, today I have a slightly better understanding of some of the other daily security measures I see here. When you go to the shopping here there are a lot of rules. First, you cannot enter a store with a parcel. You may enter with your purse, but nothing else. If you bought something in store A and want to visit store B you must check your package(s) at the parcel counter. You are then given a ticket or token which you use when you finish your shopping at store B to collect your previous purchases. I understand the concept, but find it a little absurd at times. For instance, I see people bring their lunch and check it. There is no room in the bag in which to stash anything, so it seems a little unnecessary. The problem with checking your bag(s) is that you might return to the parcel counter to find 20 people waiting in line to drop/off pick up. More than once I’ve dropped off a bag, the store hasn’t had what I needed, so I returned to the parcel counter 30 seconds later only to wait 10 minutes behind everyone else.Another thing I find a little crazy is that you make your purchase and get a receipt, just like you do anywhere else in the world. Then, as you exit, there are security guards standing there checking your receipt, examining your packages to ensure what is in your package is what is on the receipt. Then they write some kind of incomprehensible scribble, hand you back the receipt, and you are then free and clear to depart. But, in some stores, they examine your bag, examine your receipt, scribble on the receipt, then crumple up the receipt and throw it away. Again, I have no clue where the logic is behind this whole process. The point is the check-out counter is never more than 5-10 feet from the security guard at the door. Couldn’t he just watch the people, not check the receipts, and let us leave? No, that would be too easy.
So for the last five months I have been pondering the parcel checking, receipt checking phenomenon. I still don’t completely understand either of them, but I now know why there are so many security guards. As I was leaving the mall today I was walking out toward the parking lot and suddenly saw a woman race past me carrying two packages of diapers and a can of baby formula. Three store employees were chasing after her shouting. The woman started jumping in and out between cars as the guards pursued her. Then several alarms went off. The pursuit ended quickly with them wrestling her to the ground, confiscating the goods and dragging her back to the mall. As they walked her back into the building there was an uproar from the crowd. Everyone was angry and shouting at her. If they had the supplies I think they would have tarred and feathered her right then and there.
That’s why today was the best day ever. I have now witnessed myself that apparently there is a need for lots of security here because people do attempt to buck the system. But trust me, after seeing all these security guards, security systems, angry guard dogs and everything else, there is no way I would ever try to pull a stunt like that. Seeing those things is enough to deter me. And I expect it minimizes most crime here as well. But I suppose there are always a few people who either like to try their luck, or may be in a more precarious situation where desperate times call for desperate measures.