The RIK And The Issue of Trust

Last night I was talking with my dad when our phone connection got cut off (as is common). The last question he asked before we lost connection though was a question I have been fielding a lot recently, with the unveiling and roll-out of the Rural Internet Kiosk (RIK) in Ukunda: how do you prevent people from stealing it? This is not an uncommon question regarding many projects Peace Corps volunteers work on here in Kenya, where the concept of trust, though the same as in the West, is at a different level when it comes to perception of ownership than of that in the West.

What does this even mean? Well, the concept of trust is the same here as in the West (and I will speculate, all around the world), but differences lie with value-appreciation. I think I will comfortably say that you trust others to perform actions or trust them with physical objects, of which there is an mutually-shared appreciation for the value of the action or the physical object. The same holds true in America as well, but because our level of individual ownership of.. well, anything really… is much higher, our level of trusting these valuable objects to others must be higher. Examples of acceptable trust in Kenya include trusting someone with your mobile phone; trusting someone with sugar, knowing they will reciprocate in kinda at a later date, or maybe trusting someone with a black-market copied-CD you just got (in the form of sharing it with another individual). When the value increases though, the situation changes.

Trusting someone becomes a less sure notion when one is trusting another to use your piki piki (motorcycle) or trusting someone to use your digital camera for example. Here there may be less of a mutuality of value-appreciation towards the objects. Sure, individuals all around Kenya can tell you the cost of a piki piki (maybe not so much the cost of a digital camera), but knowing the cost does not translate directly into understanding fully (“to grok,” is the verb I would like to use for those read in Heinlein), the process it takes to achieve that much money, especially in a culture such as that observed in Kenya where long-term financial planning is not quite as prevalent as in the West. Thus, trusting someone with one of these items is not quite as common whereas in the West trusting someone with a digital camera is usually a non-issue due to the ubiquitous nature of the item and therefore a higher-level of culturally-inherent trust.


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