I take matatus back to Eastlands at 11pm; few wazungu (= plural of mzungu) live in Eastlands. I walk through the streets of town after dark by myself. Most other wazungu think I’m crazy, as do the upper class Kenyans. I know I’m taking a risk, but I stay aware, and so far I’ve been fine.

Why do I feel fine? Maybe it’s because I wear old, dirty clothes that make me look like I’m poor and should be begging for money myself. Maybe it’s because I carry all my belongings in a ripped plastic bag I got in the market. Maybe it’s because I walk with confidence and know exactly where I’m going and what I’m doing. But I think the real reason is because I have dreads.

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Let’s face the stereotype. In Kenya, dreadlocks used to be, and still are to an extent, associated with street violence. Today, this comes in the form of a violent gang called the Mungiki in central Kenya. I know Kenyans who shaved off their dreads to disassociate themselves from this stereotype. Sure, there are many well-off Kenyans who still have dreads, but dreadlocks and the associated Rasta mentality it is more easily adapted by the lower class, the street beggars, just the type of people that most wazungu are afraid of at night.

A Kenyan friend told me that I could walk anywhere in the city and be twice as safe as your average mzungu. People, especially those on the streets, treat me differently simply because of my hair. They smile and greet me with a loud, “Rasta!” If I walk somewhere at night, people think, “This mzungu is a Rasta. She’s doing something that most other wazungu don’t do. She must have her shit together. We don’t want to mess with her.”

I have a variety of answers to the question, “Why did you get dreads?” My new favorite answer is, “Safety.”

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