Monday, January 28

If I Wallow, Let Me Wallow

I had a meltdown of sorts on Sunday. The friend who received my frantic, gibberish, melodramatic text message that sent her into her own spiral of panic will attest to this.

All these days, even as the situation has deteriorated, I confess that I have clung, against all odds, to the notion of a better Kenya, a Kenya where this cannot happen. A Kenya where it is enough that I am a Kenyan: a Kenya where my ethnicity is about where I come from, not who I am; a Kenya which had its fair share of problems, but which, despite these, was making progress.

Now, it is fast becoming clear that that Kenya is a figment of my overly optimistic imagination.

Now, doom and gloom predominate. I’m done betting my bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun. Clearly, I’m the deluded middle class, who used to live in a bubble. Somebody just stuck a pin in that bubble.

I just had a visit from a friend who used to live in Kapsabet, a student at Baraton. Attackers came to her home but her neighbours hid her. She lost everything. Because of the generosity of the neighbours who hid her when the assailants came calling, her life and her children’s lives were spared.

In Naivasha, a mob set alight yet another house with nineteen people, most of them women and children.

A friend tells me that her family in Nakuru has sent the women away to (relative) safety and the men have remained to fight. Because what else are they going to do? They have to protect what is theirs. Her father could be my father. Her brother could be my brother. I try to imagine them wielding pangas, defending their lives and their livelihoods. My heart grows faint, my knees buckle.

Another friend sent me a message the other day. The stories about Kenya in the international press made him very nervous. He said he was very afraid for me. He offered me the price of a ticket, said I should go stay with him and his family until the madness ends.

I said “no thanks.” I said I wanted to stay, to see if there was anything I could do, any part I could play in bringing us back from the brink. Surely there must be something I could do.

I’ve been to the meetings. Good ideas and solid plans. We’ve come up with the documents. We’ve passed them along. But Kenya is still burning.

Now, I don’t feel so courageous and patriotic any more.

Now, I watch myself walking around in a daze. I’m doing the routine things: getting up in the morning, going to work, going home in the evening, lying in my bed at night, getting up in the morning, going to work.

Now, I want to pack all my beloved in a box and ship them out of this country. I know they won’t stand for it, of course.

Yesterday, for the first time, I've thought seriously about running away, getting out of here while my visa is still valid. Just in case my family needs a place to run away to, someday. On the heel of that thought came the tears.

When I travel and meet people who want to know a little about Kenya, I insist that they must come visit, and see it for themselves. The world is littered with people I’ve harassed to visit Kenya. Because everybody knows that you haven’t seen God smile, if you haven’t been to Kenya. I tell these people not to worry, accommodation is on me, I have room enough in my house to fit an entire family. So, please come. Seriously, come.

Now, these very people are offering me refuge from this place I boast about.

Because suddenly, God is not smiling.

Remember Mary Doria Russell’s book The Sparrow which I blogged about sometime ago? Well, in her version of the future, somewhere in the middle of the 21st century, Kenyans are being accommodated at refugee camps in Sudan. I still remember reading that and filing it away in the “Yeah Right” folder. As if such a thing could happen, I chuckled to myself, under my breath.

Today, yet another friend wrote for a faraway place and asked whether I was fine, what with all the horrible news coming out of Kenya. I replied saying,

“I am physically fine, but I’m nursing a wounded spirit.”

Likely tomorrow I’ll be back to my old self again: believing in and rooting for Kenya with all that I am and have.

But today, if I wallow, let me wallow.

Thursday, January 24

A Land of Wounded People

I’m back to my 8 to whenever the work is done gig which means that, most of the time, I am preoccupied with any number of things.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It is a good thing because, at least some of the time, I’m distracted by things other than the crisis in Kenya. Deadlines and reports and operating plans and bills to be paid at the end of the month have a way of distracting one. (And yet, in an odd sort of way, I see even my bills as a blessing now. They indicate to me that I have a roof over my head and access to basic amenities.)

But it is a bad thing because not keeping up with the news breeds in me a false sense of calm.

The truth is, there are still a good number of trouble spots all over this country. People are fleeing for their lives from Kipkelion, Molo and Kuresoi where the carnage persists. There was a news item on NTV tonight about a mob of stick-wielding youth attacking the Bata Shoe factory in Limuru demanding that people from particular ethnic communities be surrendered to them.

In Nairobi’s low-income eastlands estates, Huruma, Dandora and Kariobangi North, gory killings are reported every night. On KTN, the camera sweeps cautiously over the lower body of a man who was beheaded in Kariobangi North. There’s a critical mass of evidence to support the persistent rumours that ethnic based militia that have reigned terror on Kenyans in the past have been revived, in particular Mungiki and Taliban. It is they that are now reigning terror on the residents of these densely populated estates each in their turn.

At best our security forces are overwhelmed with the task at hand. At worst, they are culpable in at least some of the trouble spots. Mostly, they are on edge, in control, but barely.

David Makali of the Media Institute, speaking at a press conference called by editors to address the government’s ban on live coverage, claims that there’s “a virtual breakdown of the rule of law on a scale never witnessed before.” I’m very afraid that we’ve let our “inner monster” out of its cage and that now that it’s out, we do not have an appreciation of how very difficult it will be to round it back in again.

A political solution is only the beginning of the road to healing. We have deep social wounds that will need tending to. We may effectively have scarred the conscience of a generation. Can all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, put us back together again?

There was a feature on NTV news this evening called Voices of Children.

Anne is fourteen years old and she’s from Eldoret. She has nightmares every night. As she was fleeing from her home with her family, she saw a mob slashing an old woman and her grandchild to death. She cannot get this image out of her head.

John is sixteen. He saw his father hacked to death by his neighbour. His life was spared because he was a friend to the neighbour’s son, but he had to flee for his life nonetheless.

What is most striking about many of the stories that you hear is the common refrain: “It is people we know. It is people we lived with.”

It is true, what many have argued: this is not so much an ethnic as a class war. It is, in the end, a battle between the haves and the have-nots. But, we cannot deny that it has had ethnic manifestations. The scars born of this displaced aggression are evident all over this nation. In the end, none of us is exempt. We are all the victims. We are all the perpetrators.

But, credit where credit is due: twice this week, first in his address in Kisumu and then when he spoke at the Ligi Ndogo grounds, Raila appealed to his supporters not to attack their neighbours, explaining that, this is not a fight about ethnicity, it is a fight for justice.