Yesterday a woman died on the D.C. Metro. I have no idea who she was, or where she was going, but she was certainly just minding her own business on her way somewhere (or from somewhere) when the Metro car she was riding in filled with smoke and, ultimately, she lost her life.
As everyone knows, last week 12 people were sitting in their office, writing stories, drawing cartoons and, again, minding their own business, when terrorists charged into their offices and summarily executed them in Paris. The next day four people were murdered while they went grocery shopping in Paris by another extremist terrorist.
Today people will die in car accidents in D.C., they will be shot in D.C., they will be mugged, robbed, or raped in D.C.
Yet, I’m pretty sure if I told everyone we were moving to Paris with the State Department no one would say “Aren’t you worried about the danger?” And I know no one said that to me when we moved to Washington. So why is everyone so worried about us moving to the D.R.C.?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% sure people will die in Kinshasa today as well, but the point is what is the difference?
I’ve been pondering this question as I do more in preparation for our move, and as I hear the terrible news both far away and close to home. It strikes me as an odd juxtaposition against the slightly askance look I get from people when I talk about moving to DRC and one of their first questions is always about whether we are worried about the danger there. The Congo is, to be sure, a place with a violent history, with political unrest, guerrilla groups and millions of poor and unemployed who make many areas dangerous by their sheer desperation. Statistically it is more dangerous than D.C. or Paris. But statistics mean very little unless you look at them with a critical eye.
When I was much younger and afraid of flying my grandfather once told me that more people in the world die from being kicked by donkeys than die in plane crashes. I’ve never checked on that statistic, and it turns out it may have been made up by an “expert,” but even if the donkey statistic is true, does it matter to me? I’m sure lots of people in un- and under- developed countries have donkeys. However, I do not, on a daily, weekly, monthly or even yearly basis come in contact with donkeys (I can think of three donkeys I’ve come in contact with in my lifetime – none of them even kicked me, let alone tried to kill me). I do get on planes though, pretty often. So, am I more likely to die by getting kicked by a donkey than in a plane crash? No, clearly not.
Which leads me back to the dangers of the DRC. If we were going to live in the city proper on our own without any of the support we will have, I’ll admit it would be crazeeeee. But we’ll have 24 hour security when we live there. We’ll be traveling on diplomatic passports and driving cars with diplomatic plates. We will know the places to be avoided – and will be required by the Embassy to avoid those places. We will live in the most affluent part of the city – full of other affluent people and, no doubt, policed significantly more than anywhere else. And, perhaps most importantly, we’ll be aware. Aware of our surroundings, aware of who, what and where to look out for, and aware of how to get out of those places and circumstances as quickly and effectively as possible.
How will know how to do all of this? We get to take FACT training. That’s “Foreign Affairs Counter Threat” training to you and “Crash Bang” to everyone in the Foreign Service. We’ll learn skills to better prepare us “for living and working in critical and high threat environments overseas.” B has to take this course, and it is “highly recommended” that I take it too. And I will, in FACT, be taking it. FACT training teaches emergency medical care, improvised explosive device (IED)
awareness, firearms familiarization, and how to perform defensive/counterterrorist driving maneuvers, among other things.
No one gave me any training to move to D.C. even though, statistically, I’m sure it is more dangerous than Charlotte. So this is why I’m not freaked out about the “dangers” of Kinshasa. I know our friends and family who ask about the danger are only worried about us, and I love them for that, but we will be aware of our surroundings, we’ll wear sunscreen, we’ll avoid snakes, guerrillas and, I promise, donkeys.