I have been in Pretoria for just about 2 days now. It is cool, overcast and windy. It is supposed to be spring and the Jacaranda trees ought to be filling the streets of Pretoria with their purple flowers. But instead they are dry and leafless. The fields between Jo’burg and Pretoria are brown and yellow. Everything screams for rain. This is not the always-blue-skied-and-warm Pretoria I remember.

I have been tying up loose ends, still picking through the mailbox that overflowed during my week off the grid, now nearly a month ago. I am also getting organized for my coaching exam that I hope to do within the next 2 months, in between getting ready for my next assignment that starts on Wednesday.

This morning I watched the news about Kenya. I have stayed many times in the section of Nairobi that is called Westlands. I remember that mall being built. It is exactly the kind of place to go for some distraction after a week of hard work. The scenes, panic and pronouncements by officials make me think about the illusion of security.

Life is not safe. It never was. In the past people succumbed to marauders, pirates, natural disasters, honor and revenge killings, scurvy, microbes, reproductive hazards, arbitrary laws, landlords, and fundamentalists, just to name a few. Now all these things are still happening; they may be called by a different name. Thanks to ‘development’ these may happen to smaller proportions of the population but since there are more of us, the numbers are higher. And in their accounts the media scare us to death.

Experts talk about the lax security at malls and how predictable this was; any place where people gather in great numbers make good targets for spreading mayhem and terror. So we put security guards at entrances – low paid people, with no authority or power, not the kind that could protect me, take on people armed with AK-47s, or fight back. I don’t think I have ever seen a well-fed and muscular security guard on my travels.

At any rate, I don’t think it makes any difference. Security, whether lax, as it is in most places I visit, or strict as I imagined it to have been at the Navy Yard, seems to do little to stave off attacks by individuals determined to cause mayhem and terror. The hotel in Uganda had two bored people sitting by a metal detector. I’d put my stuff into a plastic tub and walked through the detector which would always go off yet no one paid attention. The staff would not even look in my purse and simply move the plastic tub across the little table next to the metal gate. Sometimes they waved me through and I didn’t even have to put anything in the bin or even walk through the metal detector. And so we can go through life scared all the time or live and be lucky enough not to be at the wrong place when disaster strikes.

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September 2013
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