Published: February 8th 2008February 8th 2008
A Luo and a Kikuyu praying together in the Indian Ocean
This is how Kenya is supposed to be. This picture of Christine and Lydia was taken years ago on the kid's beach trip.
Solemn expressions appear painted across the faces of the Kenyan citizens who flee from the violence that has erupted around them. Hundreds of thousands walk away from a life they once knew, now refugees in their own country. Hundreds will never see another sunset. What began as fighting and protests against election results, has now turned into, what is known as, an ethnic cleansing. This is claimed to be the worst uprising in Kenyan history. Anger has fueled hatred, hatred has encouraged evil hearts, and led to cold-blooded murder. My heart is saddened for this battered country and my tears fall for its children lost.
In an earlier entry, I brought to light the suspicious and shocking outcome of the Presidential elections, which resulted in President Kibaki maintaining his position and sending the country of Kenya into chaos. Since that time, much has taken place and changed. The violent clashes are no longer confined to protests against the disputed election results. Tribes have turned on other tribes resulting in endless retaliation. A political mediator (Kofi Annan) was brought in to hold peace talks between President Kibaki and the ODM (Orange Democratic Movement) leader Raila Odinga, who was the opposing candidate
Mobs of hate control the streets of Njabini
...just a few miles from the IAA orphanage.
who is said to have rightfully won the election. These talks have not settled any terms and the Kenyan government still refuses outside help.
The most affected areas in the beginning were Nairobi (Kibera slums and other surrounding communities) and Kisumu (where I spent some time at in June). One of these cities is to the south of Into Abba’s Arms (where I’m at) and the other is to the north. Since I’ve been at the orphanage, the conflict has slowing tightened in around us. The uprisings have sprung up in waves of violence; hopping back and forth between major cities. The Into Abba’s Arms (IAA) site is located in a small urban community in central Kenya called Kinangop. The closest major city is Naivasha, which is about thirty minutes away. This is the town we visit once a week to restock groceries, fuel and money. For a few weeks, I was going there with a couple of IAA employees to get my own groceries and use the internet. Then suddenly, violence erupted in Naivasha and the city of Nakuru (further north). Over the next three days, 225 people were killed and many homes and businesses were burned. At
that point and time, violence was popping up all over Kenya, which meant it wasn’t safe to travel anywhere. The problem IAA faced was that we needed food and supplies, but we had no where to go. We are able to buy fruits and vegetables at a nearby market, but with this many children, we need large quantities rice, flour (for Ugali), and other substantial foods . So, a small group of us (James, Donna and I) attempted to go into Naivasha to obtain food and withdraw money in case the banks closed down for a while. We’d heard that things had calmed down some, so we gave it a shot.
As we drove toward the town, we could see plumes of black and white smoke rising over the tree line. Large groups of civilians evacuated the city on foot, carrying whatever they could fit in their arms. Small trucks passed us going the opposite way, carrying everything but the kitchen sink. The grass down the side of the highway was completely burned away. When we arrived at the outskirts of town, the crowd became more congested and the smoke much thicker. Soon, we hit a small road block
set up by locals. The men there told us that if we went any further that the mobs ahead would burn our vehicle…so we opted to turn around and head back. Looking ahead and down the side streets, I could see boulders covering the roads, smoke bellowing from behind the roof tops, and scores of people heading out of the city. It was my first visual of what I’d been reading everyday in the paper. We made it home with no trouble, but we still had no food or bank to get extra money. Later that evening, we heard that ten people were killed in Naivasha that day.
The violence that was flaring up was between tribes now; the election results were only an instigator. The Kikuyu tribe (which is the largest in Kenya) is the predominant tribe in the central area where we’re located. Outside of this region, many Kikuyu have been slaughtered by opposing tribes. One of these tribes in particular is the Luo. This infuriated the Kikuyu in central Kenya and in retaliation, they started attacking Luo and other non-Kikuyus in the area. Regina, who works at the IAA site, had her cousin killed by a
A closer view of Naivasha
Plumes of smoke can be seen all over the town.
Masai mob in western Kenya. He was shot in the chest by a poisonous arrow while trying to protect women and children. The group at IAA went to his funeral while I guarded the site.
The following day, Daniel and I traveled just down the road to enroll Maggy (the teenage girl that Jen sponsors) at a local high school, pick up some fruit and vegetables from a nearby open market, and purchase some pangas (machetes). While at the market, a local man warned Daniel that he’d overheard some people discussing Christine, and something about coming to get her at our site. Christine (see first picture) is the head Kenyan in charge at IAA and is from the Luo tribe. Of the members and children at IAA, Christine, Caren and Sheila are all three Luo, James is a Turkana, and baby Ruthie is from the Kisii tribe. Everyone else is a Kikuyu. That leaves Donna and me, who are the only two foreigners in the entire area. As foreigners, we were not being targeted, but we still had to be very careful and not get in the way. Quick note: If you’ve forgotten who all of these people I’m
referring to are, then see my last entry Within the eyes of a child...
. After returning back to the site, we discussed what we were going to do about the threat. We soon decided to wait and get Christine out of the area the following morning. That would give her enough time to pack her stuff and prepare for the evacuation of the kids in case of an emergency. At this same time, Jane Jackson (head of IAA - presently in Texas), was making calls to the US embassy in Kenya, speaking to an American Army Colonel in country and whoever else she could find for assistance. Later that evening, we received an e-mail from one of Jane’s friends in Kijabe, which is only forty-five minutes away. They informed us that the Kikuyus in their region (Limuru), were giving all non-Kikuyus 72 hours to pack up their stuff and leave or else. Then we got some more bad news. Peter, a local Kikuyu man who is sponsored by Donna, warned us that he’d heard that a mob was talking about possibly coming to the site that night to get Christine. Also, he told us that there was a mob stirring in the nearby town of
Njabini, which is were the kid’s school is located. This new information got us worried, but all we could do was pray. James and Daniel slept in the church to keep watch. I stayed in the boy’s room as usual. The boys and I circled up, joined in a group hug and did some powerful praying. I didn’t get much sleep that night, but no one came to the site, so I’m not complaining.
The next morning was a relief to arrive. James, Ann and I took the kids to school, but ran into a little problem on the way. As we neared Njabini (again -where the school is located), we began passing debris in the road, such as carts, branches and stones. Then as we pulled into town we saw a pile of debris on fire in the center of the street. Just past the fire was a line of stones blocking our path and behind that was a wall of men as thick as night. James stopped just in front of the fire and we paused for a few seconds in astonishment. My eyes were glued to the crowd that soon turned their attention on us. As
men starting walking toward our van, James whipped the vehicle around and headed back toward home at full speed. After making some distance, James said under his breath, “Did you see that?” “Heck yeah I saw it!” I exclaimed “It was a giant mob.” “No, not the mob” he replied, “the fire.” “Yeah, I saw the fire. It was right in front of us.” “No, the body that was in the fire” he said under his breath, so that no kids could hear. I turned to James with my eyes wide open, questioning what he’d said without a word. I knew by the frightened expression on his face that he was dead serious about seeing a burning body. My attention had been too occupied with the hundred plus men walking toward us to even look down at the fire. My mind slowly wrapped around the gravity of the situation and I thanked God we’d gotten those children back to the site safely.
The problem that arose now was that our older children (Nelson, Francis, Caren and Eunice) were in boarding school on the same campus in Njabini, and Caren was a Luo. After much discussion, we came up with
the plan to use a police escort to negotiate through the angry crowd, retrieve the children, and return them to the IAA site. After that, Caren, Sheila, Christine, and now James as well, would leave for a safe location in Nairobi. Feeling that this was the best decision, Daniel, Donna and I drove to the police station to pick-up some officers to accompany us. After joining up with the officers, we made our way down the debris covered road and into Njabini. At the time, I felt somewhat safe. We had two officers armed with AK-47s on board the van and I brought my fake Journalist and Press IDs, that I acquired in Thailand, just in case. As we pulled up to the spot were the fire once burned, I noticed that the body was gone and the flames had subsided, but that the mob had grown much larger (over 200 hate filled locals). The main road was completely blocked by stones and people, but there was a narrow dirt path parallel to the street that passed along side some shops. It was only blocked by several large stones and was the only possible means of bypassing the mob. Daniel
steered us in that direction and stopped just in front of the small barricade (he kept the vehicle positioned so we could pull away and not be blocked in). The crowd slowly moved toward us carrying sticks and other objects. I sat in the front seat on the side facing the mob. I didn’t dare lift my camera or make direct eye contact. The officers announced to us that they were going to exit the vehicle, move the small barricade and escort us through the crowd that had now moved into our path. The very second the officers emerged from the van with their weapons, the mob burst into an angry frenzy. Shouts filled the air as crazed people shook their fists and sticks to the sky. The officers walked over to move the stones that prevented us access to the side road. As they started removing the stones, the angry crowd began grabbing more boulders and barricading the section of the road just further up. It was at this point, that I realized that bringing the police officers was a huge mistake and that our effort to reach the children at this time was hopeless. And then suddenly, my thoughts were backed up by a barrage of stones that were hurled at us and the officers by the insane mob. With out warning, one of the officers was struck in the leg and hobbled back startled and dazed. Enraged, the officer quickly whipped his AK-47 into firing position and began shouting furiously at the crowd. My first thoughts were that someone was about to die. Then the other officer drew up his weapon as well. To my amazement, the hated-filled mob closed in on us; arms up in the air screaming “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!” (of course in Kikuyu). More stones sailed through the air; one tagging the sign just in front of me. My eyes tracked every single stone that was released into flight toward us. It was as if time began moving in slow motion. I sat there, unable to do anything, but simply watch the stones in mid air and prepare for one to come crashing through a van window. I’ll never forget this moment and those murderous glares from the mob that penetrated my courage like bullets. The officers swiftly leap back into van and shouted “Go! Go! Go!” A rock hit the back of the van with a great thud that rattled our bones. Daniel released the clutch and sent the vehicle hurdling over some stones that obstructed our egress. The next thought that relayed to my brain was…get a picture…this is awesome! My adrenaline surged through my veins, but my outer expression remained calm. I turned to exchange glances with my fellow passengers. “That didn’t quite work out as planned,” I exclaimed to Donna. “You’re tellin’ me,” she replied back in a composed manner that told me so much about her. Donna remained calm throughout the whole debacle and let her faith in Jesus be her courage. She told me later that she knows where she is going and that nothing that they can do will take that away. That is exactly how I feel inside my heart and I know that my family knows this. They worry about me I know, but at the same time, they are comforted by the fact that I’m a Christian and that a better place awaits me.
After returning the shaken officers to their station, we returned to IAA and devised a new plan. Peter, a local friend to IAA, volunteered to take Christine, Sheila and James on his friend’s motorcycles to Nairobi. This would allow for more maneuverability in case there were illegal road blocks and also let the locals see that they were no longer at the IAA site. That plan worked and the crew made it to safety without a hitch. Next, a friend in Nairobi (Johnny - a South African business man) drove his car up and delivered us food and phone cards. He informed us that he pasted through one area outside Nairobi where there were burning tires and cars along the road. Besides that, he didn’t run into any trouble, which was a blessing.
Now that all of those in possible danger were gone, we turned our attention back on the kids at boarding school. Daniel felt confident that if him and Peter, who are both Kikuyu, went together and explained that they were just getting their children from school, that everything would be fine. So, they left for Njabini to give it a third try. While they were gone, I began repairing the barbed wire fence that surrounded the property. Much of the wire was sagging badly and needed to be tightened and re-nailed. A post had rotted and fallen; pulling down a whole section of fencing. I rounded up some of the boys and had them help me cut and sink a new post. We then restrung the barb wire and soon had the perimeter back to normal. By the time we finished, Daniel, Peter and the kids had returned. It felt like such a relief to see their smiling faces pile out of the van. We all ran over and smothered them in hugs. All I can say is that God is good…but wait, that wasn’t all that He did for us.
After returning from his successful mission, Daniel informed me that he’d spoke with some locals and learned that there really had been a small mob that past night that was coming to get Christine. While they were discussing how they were going to get her, some locals who were friends of IAA mingled in and stalled them. They told the irate gang of locals that they lived near IAA and could go scout it out. Then that they would return and report the best way to get in to get her. The crowd agreed to it and turned their attention to other matters. Those friends of IAA stalled them out and gave them miss information to postpone the raid. There’s no doubt in my mind that God orchestrated those events and allowed us enough time to get Christine and the other non-Kikuyus out safely. It could’ve been a really bad situation. There is no way the members of IAA would ever hand over anyone to an angry mob and that would spell trouble. Thank God it never came down to that.
On that very same night mentioned, an angry mob in Njabini burned down a local flour plantation owned by a Luo man. It may have very well been his burnt body in the street that next morning, but I honestly don’t know. It’s so sad how hate can blind people so much that they’ll take away the life of another. Each day when I flip through the newspaper I read heartbreaking stories on every page. A major bridge blown up in Mombasa, railway lines destroyed in Nakuru, more than 600 teachers in the Rift Valley Province evacuated, a priest was pulled from his car and stoned to death in Kapsabet, two MPs (members of Parliament) assassinated, over 300,000 people displaced throughout Kenya, over twenty men, women and children burned alive in a church, a father burned in a car while his two sons were hacked up by machetes, over 1,200 rape cases reported in Kenya post election, criminal gangs take power in Naivasha, Telcom communication building burned to the ground, thirteen tractor trailers loaded with goods set ablaze by mobs, roadways throughout the country barricaded, the city’s only Fire engine and houses go up in flames in Nakuru, 242 rape cases reported in Nairobi - 90 of whom are children, gangs and militia are taking advantage of the chaotic situation, 19 people, 13 of whom were children, burned alive in two houses in Naivasha, Kenya’s education sector in crisis as students flee from clash areas, more than 60,000 students miss classes in the Rift Valley Province, a gang of youths threaten to burn down a primary school with the children still inside, cities in chaos, more houses burned, more people killed (now over 1,000), more citizens displaced, and on and on like a bad nightmare. The papers talk of this situation soon being considered genocide…but when does cold blooded murder become genocide? How many have to die? When will the world put its foot down and say that enough is enough?
The children of Kenya have been through more than any child should and have shown much courage. The evening of the riot in Njabini, guns shots from the street echoed through the classrooms of the boarding school students. Nelson told me how scary it was for the children and teachers. Their night watchman was a Luo and had fled to safety. All of the children and teachers laid flat on their stomachs in fear of stray bullets. Being an older classmen, Nelson helped to calm the younger children and escort them over to the dorms. He said it was a long and frightful night, but that God had sent his angels to watch over them.
In the midst of all of this hate and evil, I’ve seen great hope and steadfast faith. That Sunday following the chaos that struck our area, I saw a mob much more powerful than the one I’d seen in Njabini, but this time it wasn’t stimulated by hate. It was a mob of young children gathering to worship at IAA and they were moved by love. Songs of praise echoed off the concrete walls of the church and all ages danced in the aisles with joy. For the Devil’s evil efforts could not break the spirit of these children of God. An uprising of hate surrounded us, but inside those walls, inside our hearts, we were impervious.
On Saturday evenings, the children of IAA have their own worship service. We all come together and dance and sing and pray. Even the toddlers join in the rejoicing with their hands clapping excitedly and off beat. Smiles are shown on each child’s face and every eye reflects the love in fellowship. In these touching moments I can feel my heart laughing with joy, because we are all so blessed to be children of Christ, and nothing can take that away.
These last few weeks have taught me what faith is all about. Into Abba’s Arms has received so much support and prayer. Those at home have shown us that we are not alone and we thank you. Your e-mails and prayers bring so much comfort. The conflict here is not over, but has settled in our area for now. We are doing good here at the site and have all that we need for the time being. Our food and supplies are stocked and we now have electricity flowing (which we received only two days before the conflict hit our area). It will probably be some time before I post another entry, so don’t worry. I know that God has me here for a purpose…there is no doubt in my mind. I’d like to end by thanking God for watching over us. He is our strength and gives us courage. May his angels watch over these children of Kenya. Amen!
Note: I just wanted to let you all know that I'm getting all of your e-mails - they make my day! I would love to respond to all of them, but my lack internet access doesn't allow for that. Just know that they are greatly appreciated. Also, if you get a chance, watch the movie "Hotel Rwanda" starring Don Cheatle. It will give you some perspective of what is going on in Kenya. It is not as bad as the genocide that took place in Rhawanda, but it displays the hatered that has raged here.