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.


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