the measure of a risk
I’m sitting at my computer, reeling from a week of traumatic events that hit a little too close to the two places I call home, a little pressed for words but feeling an overwhelming desire to communicate what it is I’m feeling.
When I decided to move to Kampala, I, along with all of my close friends and family members began to think in measurements. How long would I be away? How much would I spend a month? Would others visit? More importantly though, for the first time in my life, I began to measure risks. I measured them in the form of dangers I may encounter, opportunities I may lose, and financial burdens I may develop. I measured them in terms of not seeing my family, in terms of maintaining a relationship and preserving my friendships.
In general, moving from the safe haven that was the small-town-feel of big-city Ottawa was a decision ridden with uncertainty.
I knew Kampala would be different than home, that was a given. Living in a developing country while fascinating and intriguing and thought-provoking is simultaneously challenging and hazardous and intimidating. Though a lot of fear stems from stereotypical assumptions about what it means to live and work in a developing country, there are certain aspects that one would identify as holding more risk than back home: taking a motorcycle taxi on roads that don’t seem to hold traffic regulations, walking down the street as the sun sets, putting your trust in complete strangers.
On Wednesday of this week, a local Ottawa bus collided with a via rail train on a route I have been on, on a route that people I love frequent daily. Six people died, others scarred with physical and emotional injuries. As I reached out to ensure everyone I knew was okay, the scale on which I had based my risk measurement shook and shattered.
Ottawa was home. Ottawa was safe. Bad things don’t happen at home.
Today, in Nairobi, Kenya, a place that feels worlds closer than Canada right now, a terrorist attack on a shopping mall has left at least 30 dead, many injured and hundreds reeling from shock. Immediately, again, for the second time in a week, I reached out to those I know in Nairobi, those very likely to frequent an upscale mall like Westgate, to find out they were safe.
Again, I heard the words: “Everyone is safe.”
I found relief in this, but it was temporary. Not everyone is safe. Everyone I know is safe.
The reality is, everyday, all over the world, terrible things occur. Everyday we choose to leave our homes, to take on tasks we believe to be a mundane part of our daily rituals: boarding a bus or shopping at a mall. We don’t measure these as risks because in our minds they are simple aspects of being alive and should we begin to acknowledge them as more than this, what should that mean for the way we look at and live our lives?
This week I’ve begun to realize that measuring a risk is the definition of uncertainty: it is to make a graph without all of the variables, to take part in a conversation without knowing the language. We can’t measure risk because risk is in every thing that we do, every action that we take. To risk is to be human.
On Wednesday, I sent all of the love and hope that I had to my home in Ottawa. Today, I sent it to Nairobi. Now though, tonight, I feel the need to send it all over the world, knowing very well the little impact it can or will have. I send it because all over the world, people are leaving their homes in despite of the risks they face or the tragedies that may occur.
Today, I was asked if I was considering coming home early. And while my heart aches for everyone I love across the world, I know that the safety we place in our home is really only a reflection of the comfort level we feel there.
Because those “bad places”, the places we think hold so much more risk that we think for some reason it’s calculable, well those are people’s homes and that comfort we feel so strongly, so tangibly that we can almost clutch it in our hands, they feel it too.