Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Kenya Crisis

Hi Everyone,

sorry this is so long, just thought it best to let you know what is going on here. For those that want to know my well being, I am good and life goes on, went shopping for food today everything normal here........ for those of you that want to know more get yourselves a cuppa and (for those of you that need them) tissues too ..... sorry its not a short one!

How quickly things have changed here. One minute I am enjoying the peace and tranquillity of Kenya’s sun-kissed environment wandering when my tomatoes will ripen, the house will be finished, looking forward to receiving my long awaited sofa set and eagerly awaiting my U.K visitors. Now I am thrown into a time of killings, families scattered to different parts of the countryside in an attempt to survive the onslaught of tribal differences, injuries, hatred, loss, sickness, homelessness and a feeling of betrayal.

My friend George (who was making my sofa set) sent me a text to apologise that the sofa set would not be coming as both his house and workshop were torched to a pile of ashes, he lost everything …. my worry was for his safety and that of his family, my sofa forgotten. UK flights are cancelled and curfews enforced.

It would appear that the uprisings are not solely a result of the elections but a deep seated cleansing and division of tribes that appears to have been brewing for some time, the elections were just a platform for them to spring from.

It seems that tribes are forcing neighbours, friends and colleagues to leave the lives they have lived for many, many years to be forced back to their tribal grounds. People are being forced to move in masses from one area to another loosing family members, livelihoods, homes, cattle and a belief that they belonged where they settled being members of the community.

This is not solely extending to the poorer areas and the slums, educated and well established business people are also threatened there is no class distinction people are no longer individuals they are recognised by their tribal roots.

On Friday, 25th January, I left home for Scann, the previous nights news had shown that Nakuru had unfortunately joined the ranks of other towns as civil unrest had sparked, tension was high and people in outskirt areas had lost their lives. The news in the morning didn’t however state that the problems were still simmering. I boarded the matatu on the main road, I had noted in hindsight that there were more people than usual standing around talking. The matatu didn’t get very far before it hit a bumper to bumper jam (that is where bumpers were present). It soon became apparent that more vehicles were heading in the opposite direction and nothing was moving ahead. The road into Nakuru was closed and vehicles heading that way were either turning round and heading back or parked on the verge along with all the heavy trucks…. Sitting and waiting, seeing what was going on, this just added to the massive congestion at the junction.

As I was within manageable walking distance from Scann I alighted the matatu and started walking, it became obvious as I drew further down the road that the problem wasn’t just a traffic jam, there was a major problem. As by now I was half way between returning home and going on to Scann I stood and called ahead, they said that the place was quiet but overnight there had been problems in the vicinity. I decided that I would proceed as there was a lot of work to do with the boys that day. I managed to find a boda boda to take me the last part of the way.

On arriving at Scann I discovered that the area overnight had been subjected to many houses being set alight (Scann is on the boarder of the slums and many of the homes are wooden shacks), remnants of the smoke still swirling in the strong wind that had developed adding to the problem. As the day progressed it became apparent that the helicopters overhead were not a good sign, they were reporting to the ground forces of disturbances and fires and carrying news crews. During the day there were spats of gunfire to be heard in the area. We produced lists of the boys who were on site and proceeded to do a roll call to establish how many were present.

We elected older boys to help keep tabs on the smaller boys and put dvds on in the dining hall to keep everyone central and gave the rule that no one should leave the site. Soon boys who had been at school were drifting in with stories of their own. We settled everyone and served lunch then put on another movie, I found some bottles of Ribena and biscuits that we hadn’t used at Christmas so arranged a mid afternoon treat.

I knew that if I was to head home I needed to do it very soon, I called Nick who told me that he was at his home and was unable to leave as the trouble in his area was very bad, I tried three other taxis and pretty much the same response was received, no taxi was working as the town had been cordoned off and therefore no one was able to come. I still had the keys to the house at Scann so decided that it would be safer to stay the night with the boys and staff there, I could also provide another pair of hands in case there was further problems.

My ‘nicest’ moment was one with little Mwangi, he is now about 5, he was attempting, with limited English, to ask me where I was going to sleep, I told him that I was to sleep in the house at Scann, he was most upset and very strongly enacted that people would come and throw stones at the house and no one would be there to help. He told me that I had to stay in his dorm so that he could look after me and be my guard. I sat with him and explained that all would be OK and that the site guards would be there to watch over me, he still wasn’t convinced but was happy that I had decided to sleep on site.

I borrowed some joggers and a sweatshirt from one of the boys as I was wearing a summer skirt and a t-shirt when I left home and the mosquito's just love me. I sat with the boys ate ugali and watched football, it was a good evening with them. I gave the houseparents some phone credit in case there were problems at least they could call for help. I settled down for an unsettled night and that’s just what I got. I went to bed, fully clothed and ready for a quick exit, leaving on the hall light and keys in the lock.

I lay awake for a long time and just as I drifted off to sleep the gun fire started, I must admit it was a lot closer than I was comfortable with and my heart beat like a drum and my stomach churned non stop. I worried for the boys and wished that I had taken Mwangi’s advice and slept in the dorm with them. My thoughts also settled on those I had left in the UK, my family, I felt awful that they were seeing news reports and were so worried about me but I also knew that there was something beyond my understanding that knew that I was right were I was supposed to be.

After a sleepless night, I slipped out of my mosquito net at 6am and wandered round the compound, everything looked normal but the evidence of the nights destruction was apparent, gunfire was still to be heard but not so close now, the smoke that circled into the sky signified homes lost, families thrown into turmoil and the sure knowledge that many people had lost their lives that night. Slowly the boys emerged from their dorms many had slept through the whole night saying that their beds are their ‘safe haven’, others, showing the strain on their faces, expressing worries for family members in other areas of Nakuru and indeed the country.

Many boys talked of the need for peace and their need to understand why. This was a question that I found hard to answer as I can not conceive what would make one man harm another, let alone killing women and children mercilessly. I reassured them as much as possible and helped oversee the normal daily compound cleaning duties although the boys knew exactly what their roles were and carried them out without question. Many told me that they were glad that I had stayed at Scann as they had been worried about me leaving.

I called Nick and arranged for him to collect me from Scann early so that I could check on my household and leave the area before any possible further problems, Nick appeared 30 minutes later with an off duty policeman friend riding shotgun for security. Nick was taking no chances after his terrible time spent trapped in Kisumu.

After a quick stop at a petrol station for anticipated provisions, milk, bread and phone credit I found myself outside my gate, Nick told me that if I got into problems I was to call him and he would contact his policeman friend, he asked his friend to note where I lived and look after me.

Home was total contrast, apparently they had also spent a noisy night and Dominic the night guard was now sleeping in the house instead of setting off early to his home. I was struck by how quiet and normal everything here was. I tried to get a few hours sleep to catch up on the previous nights lack, however, my overactive mind wouldn’t let me. I sent text messages to people I knew would be affected by the problems directly.

One English lady called Dawn that I had met had moved to Molo in the last 4 months and now had an orphanage of 40 children that she was running. Molo that night, had had many problems, she told me that she had been given 2 hours in which she was to evacuate her property before the ensuing tribes were to come her way and take possession of what they claimed as their tribal land and rights. My mind quickly worked out that I didn’t have room for 40 children and staff but would find a way to squeeze them all in if I had to, I was mildly relieved when she told me that they were headed to an area of tribal land where they would be ‘safe’. Dawns task would be no small feat with 40 children in tow.

A friend called ‘Mama Sweetie’ and her family were also in the thick of it, her neighbours house had been torched and they were leaving theirs and heading to the ‘Chiefs House’ which is regarded as a safe haven. I was filled with pent up energy from lack of sleep and proceeded to weed the garden and tend the shamba. The day proved to be a quiet one, other than the night time disturbances and the anxious people, was a lovely day.

Whilst the day might have been lovely the reports on the news reflected a different world and the ensuing night was not a good one. To begin with Dominic had gone back to his ‘house’ to check on it only to find that it had been broken into and his meagre possessions had been stolen, including the bed and mattress that I had given him the money for and all his clothes. He came to the house that evening very quiet and it wasn’t until he spoke to Judith that I found out what had happened.

I offered for him to stay at the house at least until the madness had stopped as it was not safe for him to be going back and forth, as he is too was from a tribal land far from here, which could make him a target. We sat and ate dinner as usual although Dominic was quieter than usual, deep in his own worries.

At around 2am, what sounded like a mob gathering was heard not too far away, the noise was joined by a great deal of gun fire. The gunfire appeared to be used to disperse the crowd. The usually silent neighbourhood was shaken by the commotion, guard dogs barking added to the racket. Both Judith and I found ourselves standing at the door looking out and whispering to Dominic who was outside. Kim for once was cowering instead of joining the other dogs in their mad spate of barking. For safety I unlocked the door from the inside and asked Dominic to lock it from the outside so he had a means of retreating into the house in case there were major problems. We still had the back door that I had secured but left the keys in so that if we needed a hasty exit we could use that route. Dominic armed with bow and arrows, panga and wooden fighting stick assured Judith and I to go back to sleep. Unbeknown to him after Judith had wandered off to her room I sat in the dark of the dining room worrying about his safety. I eventually went to bed when the noise abated but sleep just wouldn’t come. I was not comforted by the lack of Kim’s barking at sounds in the night, for once I missed it, she was unusually quiet in the surrounding unsettled atmosphere. It was reported that that night 7 people lost their lives due to the fighting. Many properties on the other side of town – actually where I was staying last year were burned to the ground.

I have thought about the sanity of going back to the U.K, but I strongly feel that there is so much here that will need to be done when the fighting stops and I know that I am here for a reason, maybe this is it. I know its crazy, but sometimes you just have to do what you are driven to do although there appears to be no logic in it. One thing my Kenya experience has given me is a new confidence in my ‘inner voice’. I find myself paying more attention to it and whilst you are all probably questioning why I am still in Kenya risking my safety and worrying the hell out of my family, in all this I still feel safe and know there is a purpose to it all. I hope that my family will understand I love them but for now I need to stay here as I feel my reason for being here has not yet been realised.

I am sending this email in order to give you details not in an attempt to make me into some super heroine or to worry you but to help you understand what is going on and how it affects me. The news reports I know are horrific, but they are in areas that I don’t frequent, I now venture out to shop for food and to Scann only after checking on conditions in town from my friends. Socialising is put on hold the dusk curfew is ensuring that, not that I did much anyway. I am taking care and trying to ensure people around me are taken care of.

I would like to show everyone that living together as one people and not tribes is still possible as I have four other people at present living in my house all from differing tribes, living together as one, forgot myself that makes 5! I am typing this at home so that sitting in the internet is time short spent, so sorry no individual emails at the moment. xxx

My love and thanks for all the well wishes and prayers.


Saturday, 19 January 2008

No volunteers

Hi Everyone,
Well I hope that the first few weeks of 2008 are proving to be more positive than ours are.

The house that I have bought with the idea that I am able to accommodate volunteers in order to help with the everyday running of the place is nearly finished........ problem is NO volunteers!! Am trying to network with organisations out here to see if there is another avenue I can look at for a small income.

Am working really hard at it at the moment and will see if it bears fruit. Talking of fruit we have hit a wet spell which I am told is not the wet season coming early just a 'blip' (my word not theirs!). I went to ask the agricultural supplier if it was worth considering planting anything at the moment he told me vegetables......... um.... but be prepared for a lot of watering once the rain stops again (sounds like hard work - but might save me some money on market shopping!). My maize is producing large 'ears' of corn just waiting for signs that it is ripening. My tomatoes are doing well lovely and plump tomatoes although don't show any signs of ripening, may have to bring them inside in bundles and force with banana.

Nick my Nakuru taxi driver and good friend has returned from his trip to Kisumu where he was unable to leave due to the severe problems there. He tells of terrible fighting, food and fuel shortages (many houses still use kerosene lamps for lighting and fuel for cooking). He is well but obviously upset by the experience.

Kim the dog has just had her first season, what a nightmare, talk about PMT. she has been digging her way to England! ! ! Other than having to keep her chained to stop her venturing out and listening to the howling, when she is let loose to play and run around she is manic. . . . . . lets hope she settles down as she is a real whirling dervish (not sure of spelling!).

The boys at Scann are doing well, the mass circumcision that was done on 23rd is now a distant memory although some took a while to heal. They are all back at local schools, only the boys at university who are waiting for the OK to return due to the unrest which is still in Eldoret where they are at university. My duty today is to do haircuts, in all the unrest haven't really got to spend much time at Scann to do the shaving. I went yesterday but found that the blade was blunt so headed into town to get it sharpened.

I have offered my services at the showground with the children's hair as those that are there long term have no such facilities and the children are getting pretty shaggy. Not sure if they will appreciate me doing the shaving but can only offer! There are temporary school rooms being erected at Showground for the families that show no immediate resolve of getting them back to their homes or re settled. Whilst the news is reporting on major disputes still going on around the country Nakuru is quiet and seems to be the 'safe' place where everybody is coming for help.

My son's friend Justin and his girlfriend were booked to come out on the 1st March for two weeks only to hear that flights up to the 28th February are cancelled, he is waiting with baited breath to find out if they can actually come. The main problem is that until Nairobi settles travel into Kenya is limited due to Nairobi being the main entry airport! Anyone else interested in a visit when things settle down just shout...............

Love to you all, try and keep you posted as well as I can on the situation here.
Peace and love to everyone. (Makes me sound like a 70's groupie!)

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Normailty in the midst of craziness

I had forgotten that I had arranged for my friend George (the carpenter) to make me a dining room suite. It arrived today, it seemed so surreal with all that has happened recently. It is lovely and I am so pleased with the work he has done. At least now I don't have to eat off my lap sitting on the step between the dining room and lounge. I actually felt a bit guilty that I am here receiving my furniture and there are so many people lying on the ground at showground. My consolation is that I am giving George work so he can feed his family.

I didn't go to the showground on Sunday or Monday as I was feeling sickly on Sunday so thought it best to stay away. Had also heard that one of the other 'sites' had had bad outbreak of diarrhoea amongst the children. Didn't want to add my bugs into the 'soup'. I went in today with picture books for the children to sit with me and look at, also a bag of baby clothes from a well wisher. In 2 days the people that I had known in the nursery had changed, not a bad thing, it means that they have found friends or family to take them in or been found temporary accommodation.

My 'new' friends were rather boisterous as there were more older siblings about. Lots of hair stroking, ear pulling and general poking going on. One little girl that didn't speak from the time she grabbed my hand as I arrived until I prised her off me to leave, made me want to give her a big hug and take her home. She looked about 4 years old and had such a lost look about her. I promised to see her tomorrow - if she is still there. I managed to get all the children in a big group outside and we looked at the books, played and laughed a lot, it was nice. Still don't know anything about the girl may find out more tomorrow.

I met Ivan who runs the baby orphanage I visited last year a few times. He was there to pick up some very young children from a grandmother. The parents had both been killed in the skirmishes in their village and sthe elderly grandmother was left with the three, a small baby and two toddlers. The grandmother was ill and needed care, hopefully when she is well she will be able to take in her grandchildren, tears all round. Ivan informed me that there had been found to be a ring of people traffic-ing children and the security was being tightened. Glad to hear it. Apparently men in town have also been told if they want a woman all they need to do is go to the showground and pick one, what a terrible state.

The new Parliament sits for the first time today, everyone is edgy - the next few days could be bad again, so have been out and bought provisions. Will try and keep you all posted, everyone is upset by the way the elections were run. I am not sure there is a quick fix. I am taking care and caring for others, just wish I could do more. I changed my Happy New Year greeting here for everyone to 'Safe New Year' it caught on well! All the people I know here are watching out for me, they let me know if I should stay home or venture out......
Love you all.
Hugs all round. Susannah

Mackenzie, congratulations on the potty training!!!!!
Anyone whose birthdays, weddings, divorces, etc etc I have missed I am so sorry..........

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Sorry it's been a while - Back tracking. 10th January 2008

Hi Everyone,
what can I say its been a bit difficult to get on line here and when I manage the connection goes down. For a number of days I had only been out to town to shop for necessities when the local 'duka' had run out of what I needed. Nakuru had become a bit of a ghost town people staying away more due to bad rumors than actual major problems, although I wouldn't have considered venturing out after dusk. Secure in the knowledge that my guard 'Dominic' turns up every night and the house is a mini 'fort knox'.Things are now back to some form of normality, the shops are re stocking with items and people are out and about their business, although there is still a lot of groups of people discussing the terrible things that have befallen their distant friends and relations in the worst hit areas.

Nick 'my friend and Nakuru taxi driver' is still not back from Kisumu where he visited on a trip between Christmas and New Year. There the trouble has been extremely bad and other than supplying him with phone credit and keeping in touch with messages of hope for him I have heard little, he was hoping that there would be some fuel to the area and he would find it safe enough to travel back to Nakuru today or tomorrow. I wrote the following concerning my efforts to help the situation, little as it is it is all I can manage but it seems well received......

8th January 2008
Having listened to television reports concerning the refugees (or IDP's - Internally Displaced People) arriving in Nakuru after the towns and villages they were living in were ransacked due to the political situation here, I decided action was needed.

Most of the people coming to Nakuru were being attended to in an area called ‘show ground’ this is a bit like the Common in Southampton, an area where Nakuru Show is held and where the boys at Scann were doing their BBC filming last year. It is an area of land that is available for shows and events and is enclosed and entered by admission gates. This is now home to many many hundreds if not thousands of refugees, men, women and children of all ages and tribes.

We were encouraged to give donations of food, clothing, blankets etc etc, I decided as on a tight budget I would provide what medical supplies I had and myself. I was not prepared for the number of small children and tiny babies that I came across. After collecting Ruth (the Bead Lady to those that read my emails last year) she came with boxes of her children's clothes to donate we took a taxi to the donation point. After completing a form I asked if they needed any help. I was eagerly ushered to see a lady in Red Cross uniform who then said I was to take pouches of milk and distribute them to the nursing mothers.

This didn’t seem like a hard task until Ruth and I were faced with the reality, we entered the actual arena where the tents had been erected for temporary accommodation and respite from the burning sun. Wandering around were so many displaced people some with household items piled close by, others with small bundles under their arms, all they possessed. Many, many children with expectant faces looked at us as we went round looking for nursing mothers, do you have any idea how difficult that task was. How can you tell unless the baby is feeding (as the majority of the time they have the babies so tightly attached to them with wraps or lying on blankets covered from the sun).

Eventually the children discovered we were giving milk and they followed us around in droves, it was hard to tell them that they would get different milk later when they are hungry. Mums even took to harsh words when we wouldn't give to toddlers, but there was only so much we had to give.

The next delight was distributing sanitary pads to the women that needed them as obviously they would have no shops to go to to collect anything like that. We were told to split packs and only give two per woman, that went down well. A number of ladies requested pants as the pads were stick on and they had none........ a big problem. I found myself taken to one side by a large contingent of The Nakuru Woman's group, they said I should give at least a pack each woman, 2 just wasn't hygienic. I pointed out that I was aware of this, I had a choice, provide the women in the ground with 2 each or hand a packet to each woman and only give to about 1/4 of them and the others would do without. They silenced and wandered off.

Ruth and I continued our work until the supplies of milk, sanitary towels and soap had been evenly distributed, actually all day. We went home feeling like the problem was too big for us but at least we were helping.

9th January

I went to Scann to see the boys and whilst there was asked by Yasmin to source small baby clothes for the new born's at the IDP camp. I took one of the older boys from Scann, Kibet and headed to the Matumba (local market stalls) they didn't have enough supply so went to a whole sale which provides the bales of items to the stalls, they quoted crazy money and there was no guarantee of how much or what was in the bales. Yasmin decided to buy wholesale and new and supply to the maternity unit at Nakuru showground.

I collected a few items en route, baby one piece body suits, blankets, pants to keep the nappies in one place. I also went to a whole sale shop and bought 36 various pairs of ladies pants!!!!!Arriving at the show ground I found they had now tried to provide a 'nursery unit' this was a long building that was used as a store, one end still was. The new mothers and those with young ones that we had seen in the arena the day before had been taken in.

There were so many, they had been given thin mattresses and they together with their babies and numerous children now had a 'home'. The place was filthy and had no windows only grills. There were a number of mothers who had been so traumatised that they were unable to tackle the simple task of tending their babies.

I watched over two such women, making sure the babies were taken to feed and watch them doing this process. I relieved them of their babies whilst they were taken to the shower and toilet. These two women were under close watch as the babies were beginning to show sign of weight loss and floppiness, no crying or sleeping just watching. Together with the help of another lady volunteer called Elizabeth and Kibet we swept and washed the floor with a stick and rags. Elizabeth offered us a lift into town as I promised they would have mops and disinfectant for the next day. I went home more exhausted but had been able to entertain some of the siblings whilst working.

10th January

Today, I went to Scann to drop off some paperwork then travelled into the show ground alone. I went into the nursery to find that one lady I was helping had been taken to hospital and the second went during the day, her baby's health had deteriorated overnight and when I saw her I recommended that the baby was taken to the clinic for medical attention. I spent the day caring for babies so the mums could have time for washing and tending to washing and changing their other children.

I also became main children's entertainer.... which was OK unless the children were from rural areas and had not been in contact with any white people, those ones screamed and ran or just didn't come anywhere near. They soon learned that the other children were happy climbing over me, playing with my hair and stroking my arms whilst I played funny faces and games with them. I worryed about random toddlers that seemed to spend all day trotting around joining the Q for food and snacks but seemed to have no one specifically looking out for them.... scary, they were changed when I arrived everyday so they must belong to someone. There was a lot of community spirit here, one woman will change another toddlers clothes or nappies if it needs it, suppose that comes from living in a community where polygamy is not uncommon, they all help each other.

I have spent some time 'talking' to traumatised children, they stare blankly and need guiding to stand up and walk, eat and drink, there are two that are what would be lively 8 and 10 year olds sitting like vegetables, occasionally a tear will roll down their face, I sit hold their hand and talk rubbish (not even knowing if they understand) so they have someone near them. It is so so so hard. Elizabeth was held up today and she had the mops and disinfectant in her car.... rags to the ready we sent everyone out on the grass for open air lunch and swept and mopped the building, not a small task.

Today many journalists arrived and one by one they appeared in the building, they all immediately sought me out thinking I am co ordinating the programme for the women. I have to tell them all I am just another pair of hands look for the lady with the Red Cross badge! Many women now turn to me when they need a hand which is nice, they trust me with their babies, a couple have asked me to take their babies. They must be so desperate knowing that life for them will be harder than it was originally and some of them had such poor lives to begin with.

Today I left early knowing that there was little more I could do as they were rearranging the building, trying to keep babies of same age together in one area as it made doctors rounds and caring for them easier. The mums were not happy as they had already established their 'homes'. Time to leave.

Sorry for the heavy insight but thought I would try and share some of what it is like at the moment. Hope for better things for everyone but with the knowledge that it probably will be a lot worse. I am fine, tired and knowing that I need a break and heading out for a few glasses of wine with Ailsa who is visiting for two weeks from Scotland, (any of you who remember she was the i-to-i coordinator from last year that I became friends with), I can't believe that her two weeks are nearly up and she leaves this weekend, she has spent most of her time in the house as I have but staying with Veronica and texting each other! Bad time for her to come over.

Ok well I am off to have a well earned shower....... believe me holding babies that don't have nappies with nappy pins or plastic pants are destined not to keep anything where it should be, I smell lovely!!!

Love to you all, don't worry I am fine.

Susannah xxx

Thursday, 3 January 2008


Hi All.

Well as I expect you are all aware there is a slight bit of unrest over here at the moment. I have asked my brother (the one writing this email) to let everyone know that I am ok and it is all quiet over this side of town for the time being. I am keeping my head down, only venturing out for food when I have to and to top up my credit on the phone.....although being limited.

I am staying in the confines of my home busy knocking up curtains as well as preparing for any unexpected visitors that I may get from the Centre that live the other side of town who may need a bed for the night.

So UN Aid Susannah is up and running, mattresses, blankets and some extra provisions. I have my guard on at night and the gates are locked ......and I also have my big chopper to hand. As soon as things have settled a bit I will venture to the Internet cafe so if you don't hear from me personally I will get my Bro to keep you informed of events as I am sure he doing most admirably at this moment. Lots of love to everyone Susannah x (aka as Bro! lol)