Published: July 17th 2009July 12th 2009
It's been a huge week here in Kenya. Not just for me, but for the country as a whole. Oooh Where to begin. . .
I'll start with giving you a tidbit of the mayhem that broke out on our ride to Eldoret, Kenya to visit an IDP camp. When people talk about learning about 'real' Kenya, they often are referring to understanding the depths of the poverty, disease, and hunger that occur here. However, there's another side of 'real' Kenya which I have been horribly ignorant about, until I experienced a bit of it first hand. Many conversations with Kenyans often drift to the corruption within the police and political system here in Kenya. 'Street justice' is often used as a means to punish suspected criminals. When I say street justice, what I mean is that if I were to point at someone and yell 'Thief!" in the street, immediately a mob of people would lynch that person and likely beat and stone them to death. This is not considered a crime. Likely, police are given shoot to kill orders on many suspected criminals. So, what if they shoot you when you're innocent?? Well, too bad - You're guilty. There is so structure to speak of. Ok so moving on - On our ride to eldoret, a Matatu cut us off to the point that they almost hit our car. The driver got really upset and ended up pulling our car over and yelling at our driver - our program director, John. We just drove off and eventually didn't think anything of it. Then we got into Eldoret. I was sitting in the front seat when all the sudden outside my window I saw a guy with a gun. Then I heard a shot, and at this point I was ducked down in my seat locking my doors. Suddenly our car was surrounded with about 20 men, most of them holding guns. They opened the director's door and dragged him out of the car, and then pulled the rest of us out of the car - guns pointed at us all the while. I was completely confused as to what's going on when I realized these were police pulling out of the car. They threw us in the back of a police truck, where a mob of people surrounded us yelling and asking if they could throw stones. After driving us to the police station, we were informed that a passenger in the matatu had called them and said we had guns in our vehicle, so they were waiting for us in Eldoret. Obviously we had no guns, so after a horridly uncomfortable and extensive search and questioning, they gave us a kind "Hakuna Matata" and "Pole" (Sorry). I kindly replied No Hakuna Matata! You just held a gun to my head! What is wrong with you?! Later we learned the only reason that they did NOT have shooting orders was because they knew there was a white girl in the front seat and thought I may be a hostage or kidnapped. My life was literally saved by my skin color - unbelieveable.
The IDP camp we went to 'houses' (tents would be a more suitable word) over 2,000 people, all who were driven out of there homes due to the post election violence after the 2007 elections. As of a year ago, there were over 200,000 people living there. Many have made it out, but so many still remain. These people have endured more than I could ever imagine in my entire life. Some of the children living there didnt even speak, and nobody knows what happened to them but it was so catastrophic that they were literally mute. However, it was the most compelling display of human spirit I have ever seen in my entire life. When our group arrived, people immediately got excited and started thinking of projects to do and how we could help. One of our roommates, Magda, is staying there to start a nursery and do HIV counseling for the next few weeks. We also learned that many children had been kicked out of public school because they had no uniform and no way to afford them. Our director jumped into action and got to work right away. With the help from Mom and Lorries contributions (Thank you!) we set up a meeting with the leaders of the camp and discussed costs and logistics, then went and bought material as well as cups, sugar, and maize and paid for labor so the kids would be able to go back to school and take breakfast while there. The people were so gracious and it was so inspiring!! I would love to be able to go back and work with these people, but moreso I hope the camp doesn't exist within the next few years.
Finally, big news has happened in Kenya as on Thursday Kofi Annan gave the list of high profile suspects from the post election violence of 2007 to the ICC. All the headlines and news are filled with this news and a mixture of anxiety, tension, and excitement has taken over the country. It is suspected that there are numerous high powered figures who funded and plotted the post election violence which left over 600,000 Kenyans displaced and over 1,200 dead. Kenya has been saying it's going to establish a local tribunal to try these people, but nothing has happened - so Kofi Annan turned over the list. As you can imagine, newspapers and TV stations are completely littered with nothing but this story, and what else was interesting was the very first paper that came out had profiles of all the IDP leaders we met with and stories on their opinions about Dr Annan handing over the envelope! (We bought them a paper and brought it to them to see themselves) There is now a high potential that these government officials will get tried by the ICC. I would love to explain more about the post election violence, as I have been doing nothing but learning all about it over the last few days, but this is starting to get long and I don't want to bore you. I do encourage you to look it up if you don't know about it, it's absolutely devastating what these people did to each other.
I leave Kenya for good on Wednesday and I am not sure whether or not I'll have a chance to update again before I get back to the states. If not, I'll just say this has been the most eye opening experience of my life. I have made lifelong friends and gained a whole new understanding of another world which I was previously oblivious to. I have no doubt I'll be back, but for now it's time to go back to the US - Chicago for a few days, then Kansas until the 26th, then Colorado then off to DC to start a new chapter with new lessons. I'll try and update again either before I leave or when I get home, but for now - it's dinnertime!