We’re staying in a pretty nice part of town right now. There are actually sidewalks in these parts so you don’t have to weave through cars as you walk. So I’ve been getting up at 6am and running a couple of mornings a week. I ran often in Juba and when I stayed in Nairobi. I tried to run in my previous desert home, but because it was SO conservative I had to get up so silly early that there were no other people around and I never felt safe or comfortable enough with it, especially since the street dogs ran around in packs of ten to twenty dogs. While running in various African capitals the last few years there have been a few sketchy moments, but nothing too jarring has happened. I always carry pepper spray and pause my music if something seems fishy.
I was running on Saturday and along the one side there was the highway (quiet, because it was 6am) and on the other side there was a fence and some trees. I think its part of some stables and a horse-riding center. I heard some dogs barking from the fence side and thought, “Oh, probably just some guard dogs. But there’s a fence. No problem.” And slowed down a bit, but kept going. Not the first time guard dogs have gone crazy when I’ve run by.
There was a second where I saw them appear behind the fence, and the next second there was a street dog snarling beside me with two other dogs just behind.
I’ve dealt with street dogs periodically before, usually they’re quite timid and scared. But they can be alarmed when I’m running so if they start barking at me, I always just stop, walk, and look back until they’re not interested in me anymore and I slowly start going again. This was the first time, though, that I got it wrong. That I thought, “No, I’m fine, there’s a fence. I’m safe.” It is a far different experience to go from thinking all is fine and the next second finding a snarling dog right next to you.
I stopped running immediately, whipped out the pepper spray and pointed it in their direction, (pooooossibly some unsavory words slipped out under my breath…) and slowly backed on to the road and away. After a minute or two, two of them lost interest, and the third watched me for a bit until I turned the corner and was out of sight.
I finished my (adrenaline fuelled) run and got back to the house very thankful that I still had my face. Though, admittedly, a bit shaken up.
The last few weeks in my desert home when I was being periodically detained and interrogated, there was another ex-pat friend of mine who was going through the same thing. One night they had us there until well after dark, and then released us to go. Thankfully I had some friends that lived nearby, but my friend lived in another part of town. That night as she made her way back, just a few minutes from where she stayed she was attacked and almost raped and was able to flee because she had pepper spray with her.
I never carried it with me until she had that incident. I’ve never had to use it for a situation like that, thankfully. But I have had to pull it out a few times now. Once in South Sudan when a drunk man wouldn’t let me pass and tried to attack me, and now again with the dogs.
And one thing I’ve learned and keep learning over the last few years is that the bad/hard things we fear are never the ones that happen. There are many things that have caused me to be anxious and many scenarios playing over in my mind that have kept me up at night the last few years. I never thought I’d be forced to leave my desert home the way I did. I never thought I’d have to evacuate from South Sudan. These were never things that I feared. Rarely do the things we worry about happen.
There’s a situation the hubs and I have to deal with this week and it was weighing on my mind as I was out for that run. And I was completely caught off guard when I found myself in danger, in just a matter of seconds. I found out later that the situation we have to deal with isn’t as serious as I thought it was. A big part of my anxiety about it has been solved before we even start.
We try really hard to be safe, to be wise. But we weigh that with not being too cautious, not to a fault. If our safety was our highest priority…well, we wouldn’t be living in North Africa. There is some sense of comfort in the fact that the situations I can think up that could go wrong, never seem to be the things that happen. So there is nothing fruitful in thinking these things over too much. I’ll still be cautious where it feels right, still read the local news, still always carry pepper spray with me. But I take a lot of comfort in the fact that in all the unsavory situations I’ve found myself in the last few years, that I was covered, protected, looked after. God gave me what I needed, showed me so much grace, and gave me some rich lessons in those times. It is so true that his goodness knows no bounds.
We shouldn’t focus on sheltering ourselves from harm. We have to put ourselves out there. As we continue on I’m feeling safe under His covering (with pepper spray in hand) and refusing to respond in fear to this crazy world.
(But, yeah, ok, we did find a cheap treadmill and will have that in our flat when we move in a few weeks. No need to become dog food if I can prevent it.)