This is the fence that protects Jodie and Daniel’s house in Arusha, Tanzania. No gate. No guard. Just a wooden fence and a door with two locks.

Jodie and Daniel are wazungu, but they choose to live modestly. Their place has one bedroom, one living room, half a room for the kitchen, and a toilet. They’re located in a more rural area on the outskirts of town that has a village-like feel to it. They shop at the local shops, they eat at the local restaurants. They are currently earning Tanzanian salaries.

Jodie and Daniel feel safe in their house. I did, too, when I lived with them for three weeks.

Before Jodie rented this house, she was warned by a friend that it wasn’t safe enough. She needed a gate and a guard. She must constantly watch out for thieves. We’ve all heard stories of foreigners being shot for US$100. Those are some pretty unsettling stories, and they scared us. Did we really need that much protection? Our friend was adamant: yes.

By getting a fancy house with a gate and a guard, though, we immediately segregate ourselves from the locals. Our skin color already does that enough. One of the nice things about this house in Arusha is that we live just like everyone else. We suffer from the same power and water shortages.

But we’re not just like everyone else. We don’t flaunt our wealth, but everyone knows that we have laptops. If they wanted to steal them, that wooden fence is not going to help much.

Balancing safety and reality in African can be difficult. I want to be safe, but the more Western precautions I take, the more I separate myself from reality. As a foreigner, I know that I am an immediate target. Even if I have nothing of value on me, people assume I am rich because I am white. My skin will always make me a target, but my actions can help alleviate those assumptions. The more I live like a local, the more people treat me like one, and the safer I feel. People watch out for their peers.

Sometimes I wonder if having a gate and a guard increases your safety, or makes you more of a target.

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