Thursday, January 31, 2008

January 31, 2008 - The Price of Violence

When Kristoffer came home from work today he shared many things that people are talking about at work. One thing is how much money people are making from committing violent acts against specific groups of people. He was told that people are paid 2,000 shillings (approx $30) for murdering one person, 1,000 shillings for burning something down, and 500 shillings for getting someone to flee from his/her home. It is alleged that funding comes from both sides of the spectrum, both the opposition and the government. This news is beyond sad. Whether or not it is true, the rumors are enough to terrify people in his office, particularly those who are Kikuyu.

Kristoffer also learned about his officemates’ neighbor, who has children aged 5 and 8 and who is Kikuyu. She had to move her children to another school for only Kikuyu children to ensure their safety. They didn’t understand this and she had to explain to them, for the first time in their lives, about the differences between tribes and that they could no longer go to school with children of other tribes. They didn’t even know that they were Kikuyu. It is easy to forget that children are always victims of violence, whether it is a full-blown war or not. This story reminds me a great deal of what happened in Rwanda and the need, whenever the conflict settles, for peace education so that children don’t grow up hating people of other tribes. If peace education doesn’t happen, then it is likely that children will carry on in the same manner of tribal discord when they became adults and leaders of the future. I know that UNICEF is building peace education into the school programs they implement in the displacement camps across the country.

Another woman with whom Kristoffer works with had a night guard at her home who was murdered last week. She learned that there were men walking around her neighborhood asking children about who lives in each home, their tribes, their staff, etc. The news also reports that Kikuyu people have been dressing up as police to inquire in a similar fashion. One way of enacting revenge against Luo members has been for Kikuyu to attack Luo men in the slums and circumcise them with machetes, as the Luo tribe does not believe in circumcision. Sexual crimes against women and children have been committed on all sides and are being reported in increasing numbers.

With the murder of another MP today, I was expecting a tragic afternoon. The uproar has been much less than expected, but it is difficult not to wonder if that just means people are getting ready for something to come tomorrow.


January 31, 2008 - A Thursday Update

I am happy to report that my back is doing somewhat better today. I seem to have more motion and the pain is mostly concentrated one place which makes it easier to handle. Hopefully I will be back on my feet and ready to work next week! My sister, Christine, arrived from Sudan yesterday without any trouble. Given the situation here on Tuesday, we were a little nervous. All three of us are safe and well, and very happy to be together.

Yesterday was eerily quiet across the country, with many fewer "skirmishes" than in the previous days. Today started off quietly as well, but sadly another ODM Member of Parliament was killed a short while ago. The incident is a bit more unclear, especially because it happened so recently at this point. It seems that this MP was driving to the town of Eldoret from Nairobi and was shot by a police officer manning the road. Details make it sound like there was a female passenger in the car who was also shot but not killed. The media is saying that this may have been the result of a messy love triangle, but the opposition already claims that this was a second assassination committed by an individual acting in the interest of President Kibaki's regime. As I is very hard to tell, but it will probably be interpreted as a political killing, even if by chance it wasn't, and so violence will probably spike again.

The government and opposition are meeting today, after meetings were cancelled yesterday because both sides could not agree to Kofi Annan's rules of engagement (even though they had supposedly agreed to them before). We must hope, for the sake of every Kenyan, that they put their differences aside to make headway that will help Kenya become a stable country again. Eveyday brings us something new here.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

January 30, 2008 - Troubled Times in Kenya

The last few days have been particularly tough, for both me and Kenya.

Before we moved to Kenya I was diagnosed with a herniated disc in my lower back, for which I have been doing exercises prescribed by a physical therapist. It is not unusual for me to be diagnosed with something normally reserved for 80-year-olds, so I tried to take this in stride. Doing the exercises, my back has been feeling much better in the last month and I have rarely felt pain these days. Until Monday morning.

I was stupidly moving something I had no business moving and, even though I bent my knees the way the therapist told me, it was too much for my lower back. I fell to the ground in complete and totally shocking pain and, sadly, had to call my Knight in Shining Armor to leave work and come rescue me because I couldn't actually move on my own. Today is my third day on the couch and on percocet (of which I am in limited supply...which also maybe a good thing). I have more motion and less intense pain than on Monday, but sitting, as well as standing for any amount of time, is still very painful. I am hoping that in a few more days, this spasm will have subsided enough that I can start doing exercises again. Yikes! One of the problems with a herniated disc is that normally a Dr. will do an MRI to diagnose how severe it is, but because of my pacemaker I cannot have an MRI to get that information. We'll see how the next few days go.

While I have been in physical pain, the country of Kenya has experienced pain and sorrow on much deeper levels. The violence that increased over the weekend in places like Naivasha continued and there was a peak event late Monday night when a Member of Parliament from the opposition party was murdered outside his Nairobi (suburban) home. Once this happened, all hell broke lose. Nairobi's slums, which had calmed down a great deal in the previous two weeks, woke up again and with a vengeance this time. In retaliation for the MP who was killed, a gang of Luo's in the Kibera slum publicly beheaded a Kikuyu doctor, which was one of many revenge attacks throughout the country yesterday. Violence occurred in a suburban area for the first time when people rioted outside the murdered MP's home. Roads were very unsafe and Kristoffer received more security updates at work than ever before. The UN released employees a little earlier than usual, with warnings to stock up on staples and be very cautious on the roads. We have been asked to restrict our movement until further notice, although today there have been no major incidents reported yet. Needless to say, we won't be out hunting for drums again any time soon!

Last night also marked the "opening ceremonies" of formal dialogue between the government and the opposition, as mediated by Kofi Annan and his committee of esteemed African colleagues. What we saw live on TV was selected members of both sides gathered in the city hall. Kofi Annan gave a speech and then both President Kibaki and Raila Odinga gave speeches. They all said the things they were "supposed" to say to sound good to the country and the international community, and then they all walked off and had tea together.

Are you kidding me?! Personally, and please don't blame me for having become a bit cynical in regards to African politics, I thought it was a load of crap. One of their MPs and dozens of Kenyans were savagely murdered yesterday - not to mention the other 800+ who have died in the last month - and they are standing around having tea, pretending to be old friends? If I were Kenyan, I would have felt insulted and demoralized, honestly. It was so patronizing! Maybe when they actually sit down and starting dealing with the country's problems, the least of which seems to be the election controversy at this point, I will respect the process they are going through; but to me yesterday was a joke. They need to stop talking about what they need to do and actually start doing it! Both sides have signed a formal document with the agreed rules to engage in this mediation. Kofi Annan says he expects the opposing sides to resolve the political crisis within 4 weeks (hmm...) but that the larger issues at play here (of tribal loyalty, economic equity, and land to name the big ones) will take up to 1 year to resolve.

So, it has been a tough week in Kenya so far, for everyone. I can't start working until I can move so hopefully that is soon! The good news is that we do have a complete living room furniture set now that all the of the pieces and cushions have been delivered. It is also good news that my sister, Christine, arrives later today to help nurse me back to normal again.


Monday, January 28, 2008

January 28, 2008 - To the Beat of Our Own Drums

Kristoffer and I had a great, adventurous weekend, beginning when we went to the Masaai Market that comes to the mall near the UN every Friday. We have been a few times, mostly just browsing and scoping out the African merchandise we might like to buy. On Friday, however, we went with a mission. You see, one of my goals when I found out we were moving to Africa was to learn how to play the African drum. In DC, we went to an open-mic night at the bookstore cafe "Busboys and Poets" and saw a woman and 5 teenage girls give an African drum performance. It was amazing and it made me really want to do it. Where better to learn how to play an African drum then in Africa, right? So on Friday we went to buy a drum. There was a beautiful one that we had seen two weeks before that hadn't been sold yet. Kristoffer negotiated a decent price and the drum became mine. I asked the seller, Peter, if he knew how I could find a teacher. He said that if we met him at the Masaai Market in the city center on Saturday morning he would introduce us to someone. We agreed. When we got home with my new drum, Kristoffer mentioned that he also wanted to learn to play (in Denmark he once lived with someone who could play really well) and that we also need buy him a drum! I am excited that we are going to learn together!

So Saturday we set out early in the morning, first to buy a rug for our living room which we accomplished successfully, and then to meet, Peter. When we arrived at the market, we noticed something right away: business was awful! Because of the current crisis, there are few tourists in Kenya right now and the market is suffering. Normally, the vendors are very aggressive but this day they were out of control. People were trying to lead us to different places, shoving items in our faces and competing with each other for our attention. It was extremely uncomfortable and after a few minutes I didn't enjoy "window shopping" anymore. When I called Peter he met us and introduced us to another Peter who will be our teacher. Kristoffer negotiated a price for him to come to our home two evenings a week to give us a private lesson (although we still think he is too expensive and will continue to look around). Now all we had to do was buy another drum. My drum that we bought on Friday is an original drum from Ghana, or at least so we are told. It is obviously higher in quality than many other drums in the market, which the Peters told us were mass produced. Kristoffer wanted to buy a drum as nice as mine so they would have to locate some from which he could choose. We agreed to meet the Peters 3 hours later to buy a drum.

Off we went to the Kenya National Theater and Cultural Center, where we wanted to see if they had less expensive drum teachers or classes where we could learn in a group. The office was closed so we could not get the information just yet, and we observed that the government must not spend a lot of money on culture because the facilities were pretty run down. We bought tickets to see a show next Saturday put on by "actors for peace" with proceeds going directly to the Red Cross for internally displaced persons (IDPs). We think it will be fun to do with my sister, Christine, as she is coming back to Nairobi from Sudan this Wednesday. She will be with us for almost all of February.

Before meeting up with the Peters again we discovered an authentic Italian restaurant in the city's center. When we were looking for parking a man was standing in between traffic lanes and pointed to his spot, indicating that we could have it. He got in and pulled the car out quickly, stopping traffic so that we could turn right and into the spot. Of course he wanted us to pay him for this service, and we discovered that a group of men were running this little "business" (or scam?). They take up a lot of parking spots, and then give them up to people for 50 shillings (less than a dollar). It was obviously not expensive for us, but definitely a weird situation. It was a really nice, delicious restaurant and we will definitely eat there again. When we got back to the car, the guys running the "business" wanted more money for the time we were parked there. They told us that the city "meter maid" charges a lot more and they would "take care of it." At this point, we didn't really have a choice but to pay them the small fee (less than $1.50) because there was no posted parking information and we didn't know if we were supposed to pay someone else from the city. We are learning that some things considered to be "normal" in Africa are definitely sketchy by our American and European standards.

We arrived back at the market a little early because we had each seen something we wanted to buy; Kristoffer saw some beautiful wooden bowls, of which we bought one, and I saw some beautiful clay vases, of which we bought two. Of course the process was very strained because there were so many people clamoring to get at us at once, but we discovered that ignoring them (however rude it felt) was the best way to get them to just leave us alone. We found our Peters again, but they had bad news. They weren't able to bring any drums into the market because "the store" was closed (whatever that means). They told us that "right around the corner" from the Masaai Market was the "West African Market" which they would take us to, because the West Africans had more original drums from Ghana. We agreed to follow them "right around the corner" to find a drum.

We walked for 5 minutes and then for 5 minutes more - apparently "right around the corner" means something different here. We were weaving in and out of traffic in the city's center and walking through vendors of different products (not nice African stuff but clothes, socks, sun glasses, that kind of thing). The sun was so hot that I started to feel ill, and Kristoffer knows how fast I can go down hill in the really hot sun if I don't get water. The Peters stopped at a horrible-smelling restaurant so I could buy water bottles to prevent myself from fainting, and then they continued walking! Now when we started out with them, we didn't realize how sketchy this situation was. They weren't complete strangers, but at the same time we don't know them well enough to really trust them (besides the fact that we have been advised by the UN many times to never completely trust any Kenyans we do any business with ever). Probably a total of 15 minutes later and after avoiding being hit by many matatus, we arrived at a building on a side street of the city's central business district. We walked up the stairs and there were men sitting around the hall in their underwear, cats all over the place, and a funky smell: not exactly what we were expecting. We were lead into a small room with a bed and a ton of African merchandise, including 4 drums.

The Peters told us that the "West African Market" is "underground" (aka illegal) because the government won't give permits for West Africans to sell in the regular markets. They also told us that the goods from West Africa are "original", whereas almost all of the stuff sold at the Masaai Markets are mass produced. We are not sure if we believe them about this, but it was obvious that this little "store" - which somebody actually sleeps in - contained a treasure of goods brought from West African countries. Kristoffer investigated and chose a drum for the same price as my drum (although we agree that my drum is a little better) and we set off again to get back to our car. The Peters were very proud to have introduced us to this other market, as if we would ever venture back to it by ourselves! Before leaving them, we agreed that Peter #2 will come to our apartment on Wednesday evening for our first drum lesson.

What a day! So much sun and adventure, and still it wasn't over. We were invited to dinner with Nikolas, one of Kristoffer's colleagues at the WFP who lives in that really nice apartment compound we first loved when we arrived here. Nikolas will be moving to the Netherlands to join his fiance in a few months and it was nice to get to know him better before he leaves (We watched the film he made her to propose last year. He rented out a whole movie theater and filled it with loved ones. Very impressive!). He made us a wonderful dinner and it was really nice to be social; it was our first dinner with a friend in Nairobi and it felt very normal.

After such an eventful Saturday, we decided to lay low yesterday and watch half of the first season of the TV show "24"; my sister Meghan (who loves Keifer Sutherland despite his bad-boy ways) was nice enough to give us the first 4 seasons of the show via Christine. I find the show to be pretty scary, actually, but highly addictive so I prefer to watch it during the day. It is very well written and probably good for my health because it gets my otherwise low blood pressure up! We also got our coffee table and TV stand yesterday from Moses, our carpenter. All we need is cushions and our living room is complete; those should be coming today.

Yesterday marked one month since the Kenyan elections that have thrown the country into the worst crisis it has experienced in over 25 years. The only bad news of our weekend was that the town we were in for our Christmas holiday, Naivasha, which we considered to be our safe haven when the election violence broke out, experienced ethnic violence of its own for the first time yesterday. Varying reports say that between 20 and 30 Kenyans (at least) were killed in this town yesterday. The opposition has made accusations that the government is sponsoring gangs to carry out violence against members of the Luo tribe in revenge for all of the Kikuyus that have been killed. In a similar event as the one that happened to a group of Kikuyus early on in the town of Eldoret, yesterday a group of non-Kikuyus in Naivasha were chased into a local building, locked in, and burned alive. Still today, homes are being burned and people are being attacked with machetes. Tourists in the places we stayed on Lake Naivasha were bused out of the town to escape the violence. We really liked the town of Naivasha and the few people with whom we interacted there; I felt sick to my stomach yesterday upon reading that the violence has reached that place. Kofi Annan is scheduled to hold more talks today with President Kibaki and Raila Odinga, but both parties make new accusations against the other each day and it is really hard to see what their compromise is going to be in the end.

Below you can see a picture of our beautiful new drums (mine is the red one with the lion).
I wonder if we can record sounds of our drumming on this blog?


Friday, January 25, 2008

January 25, 2008 - Lisa has a good day!

Yesterday was a very good day for me, here in Nairobi. First I attended the meeting of my new sorority – UNIASC. When I arrived at the restaurant (on the UN compound) there was only one other woman there because I was 20 minutes early. I started to talk to her and, much to my surprise, she seemed even happier to meet me than I was to meet her. She has been in Nairobi for 5 months and has been participating in this group’s activities for most of that time. It turns out that she and her husband were married one week after Kristoffer and I and also had no children. She was so happy to find out we didn’t have kids because she has had a hard time meeting women who aren’t mothers. She is a few years older than I am but we seemed to have a lot in common and I do hope we will become friends.

When the rest of the ladies joined us for the meeting (yes I was right, the spouse club is all wives), there were 12 or 13 women in total and I could understand more where my new friend was coming from. We were by far the youngest women in the group and there was a lot of discussion about children, most of whom attend the school at which I interviewed for the fall. The group is very diverse, composed of women of many different nationalities: Indian, Pakistani, American (2 of us), Filipino, Bolivian (my new friend), Kenyan, British, Bengali, to name a few. That makes it very interesting!

The women were very welcoming to me, although the meeting was extremely chaotic with the women often talking at the same time as each other and little focus on getting through their agenda efficiently. They held a charity bizarre in November and their revenue was finally made known; we discussed which charities that money will go to, which led to a larger discussion of the crisis in Kenya and what we could do to help. I learned from several women who have been in Nairobi for many years, that the tribal tensions we are seeing these days have always existed. The current political situation just exacerbated them and motivated some people to act on them, but these women seemed to think that the world is finally seeing for the first time what has existed in Kenya forever. There was also some discussion of the fact that both sides of this crisis are guilty of directing, sponsoring, or encouraging the tribal violence that is still happening. Finally, from a charity perspective, the women spoke about having to be careful to whom we give money and making sure that it is through a neutral party like the Red Cross. Otherwise, our group (associated with the UN) could be seen as biased if our charity is given to one tribe and not another, and that would be really bad for the UN. There have been instances lately where people in very poor, destitute conditions have denied charity from an organization because of that organization’s affiliation with either the government or the opposition. It was a great discussion for me to hear, albeit hard to follow at times.

My big interest in this group was because I was told they had a book club! The book club I belonged to in New York City was one of my favorite activities, outlets, and groups of people! I really miss discussing literature with my friends! When I inquired about the book club it was explained to me that the book club was more in theory, or a hope of something they would like to establish, but they have never had anyone who wanted to take the lead. Enter me. Instead of volunteering to run a charity project in foreign territory (at least not yet), I volunteered to establish the UNIASC Book Club. I am just waiting for the email list of all the group’s members and then we’ll get started.

I left the morning meeting feeling pretty good, having made a good connection with at least one person (we even hugged goodbye!) and knowing that someday soon I will have a new book club. I decided to go back to UNICEF and check to see if the resume I had dropped off the day before had actually made it to the Director of HR. I had to wait a few minutes to see the director, but when I popped my head into her office she seemed to know exactly who I was. In fact, she said “Oh! The Education Director is typing up your TOR right now!” TOR means “Terms of Reference” and is basically a job description. I was quickly brought to meet UNICEF’s Education Director, who was a lovely woman, and engaged in a discussion of the work they would like me to do, starting ASAP. Because of the current political crisis, there are tens of thousands of children who are displaced from their homes and essentially living as refugees in camps throughout the country. UNICEF’s Kenya Country office, which normally has projects in the northeastern part of the country only, is now responsible for the security, sanitation, physical and emotional well-being, and education of these displaced children all over the country, with the largest numbers in the western province.

There are UNICEF field officers throughout the country who are in the process of counting children, feeding and protecting them, setting up schools, training teachers, counseling, etc. Based on my skills and experience, they think I will be helpful in compiling and analyzing data from all of their different field officers and sources, writing twice-weekly reports on the situation to be dispersed throughout the organization, writing and editing proposals for different projects and, to whatever degree I am comfortable, making field visits to help assess the needs in different camps. While I am not interested in making over-night visits to some of the worst-hit areas like Eldoret and Kisumu, I am very open to visiting the camps established in and near the slums of Nairobi with the secure teams that go there and I was told that this will definitely happen.

This is an incredible opportunity for me! I will be a full-time volunteer for 4 months, with the possibility of a paid position in the future if they like me and if funds allow. It is a chance for me to use some of my non-teaching skills and my teaching experiences for an organization that I have long-admired and that truly needs my help right now! It also makes me feel like I can actively do something to help the crisis in Kenya, instead of just watching it happen around me on TV. As soon as I collect all of the documentation that UNICEF requires of its volunteers, I will be ready to start working. Hopefully it will all come together next week (although in Africa-time things never happen as quickly as I would like them to). Kristoffer is very excited that we will carpool to work and eat lunch together a lot, and we are both so thrilled that I will finally have a purpose in my life once again.

Yesterday was also a big day for Kenya because Kofi Annan mediated the first meeting between President Kibaki and Raila Odinga since the disputed election on December 27th. When the brief meeting first ended, both sides sounded optimistic about finding a resolution and Kofi Annan seemed very pleased with the initial talk. Since last night, however, both sides have made new claims of being mad at each other and it is unknown when or if a second meeting will take place. ODM says that Kibaki spent the entire meeting repeatedly claiming to be the duly elected president; ODM believes he is not acting in good faith to sincerely resolve the crisis. Kibaki has retorted that Odinga is behaving like a child and is trying to sabotage mediation efforts. The latest today is that Odinga officially rejected the idea of becoming the Prime Minister to Kibaki’s President. He has put forth 3 plans that he could agree to: Kibaki resigns and Odinga becomes President, there is a vote re-count, or they engage in power sharing which will lead to constitutional change and a new election in 3 months.

Of course, this new round of mediation efforts came on the same day that the Human Rights Watch non-profit reported that they have evidence that ODM paid and organized people to behave violently and attack members of Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe when Odinga was not announced as election winner. When it all comes out in the wash, it is likely that both sides have participated in such despicable behavior and, therefore, that both sides equally have the blood of Kenyans on their hands. At least seven more people were killed last night in the Rift Valley, and dozens of homes are burned every day it seems. The symbolism of Kibaki and Odinga meeting yesterday had newly inspired Nairobi with hope for the future, but the coming days will have to prove that the symbol can become a reality in order for lasting peace to begin.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

January 23, 2008 - Our New Ride!

Kristoffer and I got our new car today! We no longer have to rattle around Nairobi in the very-old-and-without-shocks Toyota Corolla, although we are infinitely grateful that the WFP lent us that car this entire time.

So our new car is a used SUV in very good condition, or maybe it is a crossover SUV, but either way anyone who knows Kristoffer will know the ultimate irony of this (if you don't know him take my word for it that he is very, very green). While we are saddened to now be contributing at a greater rate to the negative impacts of global climate changes when previously we were public transportation and/or biking addicts, it is really more safe and practical for us to have a larger car here. For one, there is no mass public transportation and biking is among the most hazardous things one could do. Second, large cars are much less likely to be car hijacked than smaller Corolla-type cars, which is extremely important given that Nairobi is the car hijacking capital of East Africa. Finally, the roads here are often so horrible that 4WD definitely comes in handy and we like being higher up in the new car along with feeling much safer now that we have airbags! An added bonus to our car is that we can finally go up the short, steep hill that leads to our compound's security gate without rolling back into the street or having the guards push it up. Go us!

Our new car is an Isuzu Wizard and while we did not intentionally buy a Harry Potter-themed car, we are pleased with the coincidence. We bought our car for a very reasonable price from a family that lived in Nairobi/worked for the WFP for the last 18 months. Apparently they really like car stickers because there are several, including one one about Maltese poodles and one that says "Our children's safety depends on your driving." We like a car with character! You can see that our car is white, which means it will get dirty a lot, but when the long rains come we shouldn't have to worry about car washes. Again, go us!

The completion of this transaction, which we started a month ago, comes on the heels of getting more furniture last night so we basically feel like we have won the lottery. We now have a couch and two chairs in our living room that will be completed with a coffee table and an entertainment center tomorrow night. We are very close to resembling normal married people in a normally furnished apartment. Dare I say again, go us!

I would classify today as a good day because any day when you get a new car is! We even tried a new place for dinner to celebrate our new car, and because we really wanted to drive it somewhere. The downside is that we went thinking it was a nice restaurant when in reality it was a fast food chain. Note to self: don't eat Mexican food in Kenya. Think "Chipotle", but really bad.

Even though I am hungry, I am happy. Tomorrow I am going to a meeting of the UNIASC: the United Nations Inter-Agency Spouse Club. It sounds like some kind of sorority, doesn't it? Who knew that after all these years I would finally go Greek?! In reality, this is a social group for spouses (I suspect all wives) of UN staff and I am told that they have a book club, do charity projects, visit cultural places of interest, and have weekly coffees/discussions. It sounds like something right up my alley, so let's hope that when I go to the meeting tomorrow I will meet some really great would-be friends.

Good things are happening for us this week, but sadly the political situation in the country remains in a stalemate. Kofi Annan finally arrived last night and was scheduled to start meetings/dialogue with the government and the opposition. Unfortunately, tribal violence in the last few days has been rampant. There is a horrible story of a man in the Rift Valley (that is one of Kenya's 7 provinces, west of Nairobi) who was attacked by a mob after dropping his children off at school. Because he did not speak the same language as the mob they torched his car and he burned to death. Even today in Nairobi, where life seems very normal compared to other cities, a government building was torched following a memorial service that ODM held for victims of election violence. I will be honest and say that today's incident scares me because it hits much closer to home and to my immediate life. Tomorrow is supposed to be another day of "mass action" demonstrations across the country, but I think most people are hoping that ODM calls it off in light of Kofi Annan's presence.

Despite the turmoil and given the time and place, it is nice for Kristoffer and me to have our life seem as regular as it can be, and for us to feel a little bit more like we belong here.


Monday, January 21, 2008

January 21, 2008 - Corruption in Kenya

I feel like everyday I have new opinion about the situation in Kenya, which I hope is less frustrating for you to read than it is for me to feel.

There is an article online in the NY Times this morning that I find HIGHLY disturbing, which means something coming from someone who no longer feels surprised by the news in Kenya. The article can be found at and discusses the fact that it seems like much of the ethnic violence that has occurred since the elections was planned. It also lists some examples of how the violence was encouraged by candidates on both sides before the elections ever took place. And I stand corrected when I wrote that most of the violence still going on was coming from the police and was not ethnic anymore; it turns out that over the weekend several tribally-motivated murders were committed, leaving at least 10 more people dead.

Additionally, a report has been released by 20 NGOs saying that there is evidence of vote rigging by BOTH parties (PNU and ODM) and, therefore, there is absolutely no way to determine the rightful president after that Dec. 27th vote. I have previously been sympathetic to ODM's plight, but I no longer feel sorry for them if they were cheating too. Both presidents, and both parties, are crooks in my opinion and neither deserves to lead this nation. I am not sure if the 3rd presidential candidate, who is now the vice president, is any better, but we have heard several Kenyans say that if there was a re-election they would vote for him (Kalonzo) instead of Kibaki or Odinga. If corruption is this rampant in Eastern Africa's biggest success story, what must it be like in other African countries?

I am not in school but I feel like everyday I live here I learn so much and, while I am often homesick, I do really appreciate the educational experience of being here.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

January 20, 2008 - Finally! Some Pictures!

This is us when we visited the Giraffe Center in our first week. While the giraffes are very friendly and used to people feeding them, they are really HUGE and their tongues are very slimey.

Kristoffer giving the giraffe a treat and receives a "healing" kiss in return.

This is the dominant male leopard that we were lucky enough to see on all 3 of our game drives when we were on vacation. He was up in or on the ground near this tree each day.

This is a mama rhino with a baby who is only a few months old. We observed them and a third adult rhino from inside our LandRover only 60 feet away. We met a great couple, Monique and Geoff, on our game drive that day and watched the rhinos with them.

This is us climbing around the gorges at Hell's Gate National Park in Naivasha. It may be hard to tell, but the MLB World Champion Red Sox are with us wherever we go (note my hat).

This is the view of the watering hole from our "Kiangazi" lodge in Naivasha. The zebras often frequented this watering hole, as did a hippo, several types of antelope, wart hogs, and monkeys. You can also catch a glimpse of the beautiful mountains in the background.

This vervet monkey climbed up onto the breakfast table to steal a breakfast bar and a handful of granola at our lodge before Kristoffer chased him away. He and his friends (there were 3 or 4 others around) had been staking out the joint for quite awhile before he made his move.

This is the youngest elephant at the orphange in Nairobi. She wears a cloth on her back because her skin is extremely sensitive and she is prone to pneumonia, which is the leading cause of baby elephant death. She is about 2 months old.

These are 3 of the 8 baby elephants we saw at the orphanage. They were extremely playful with each other and some were even friendly with the spectators of their feeding and playtime. We love this picture. It reminds me of my sister's kids (Mikey, Sean, and Molly).

January 20, 2008 - Our Security Guards

This morning, as I lay in bed devouring the novel The Time Traveler's Wife, which my sister Christine brought me, Kristoffer brought our trash downstairs to the bins next to the security guards' post. As is his usual custom, Kristoffer initiated a conversation with our day guards, who speak better English than our night guards. They have probably never talked to a tenant so much as they have talked to Kristoffer in the last month! He learned so much about the guards, and Kenya, in this conversation.

We actually have 4 guards: 2 work from 6am - 6pm and the other 2 work from 6pm - 6 am. They work 7 days a week and never get a holiday off. They are always friendly and nice to us, and we like to think that the day guards like us because we gave them food when the post-election turmoil was at its height. These men make 3,500 Kenyan Shillings (Ksh) each month, which is equal to $1.78 (US) a day. Even though we know that Kenyan labor is very cheap, and that the per capita income in Kenya is $280 (US), we are still shocked by this news.

Additionally, a matatu, the cheapest form of transportation, costs about 30 Kenyan shillings each way, which would be 60 shillings a day, or 92 American cents. There is no way our guards could afford to feed their families (one guard has 4 children, the younger guard has 1 child) if they took a matatu to work so they walk, 2 hours each way every day. Sadly, they cannot afford a bike. If they are working 12 hours a day and walking 4 hours a day, that leaves them with only 8 hours to be with their families and sleep.

Ugh. We are devastated by this knowledge, and actually racked with guilt! When we get a pizza for lunch or dinner it costs 1/3 of their monthly salary! When we go out to the fondu restaurant we love so much, it is 2/3 of their salary for one meal! And the monthly rate our internet company is charging us to have wireless in our apartment equals 3 months pay for our guards (we are still trying to negotiate that price because it is ridiculous!). It is a completely bizarre situation to be in a developing country and to be paid extremely well for doing a job to help the country's poorest people. While this phenomenon is strange for us, at least we are paid by the Danish government and not from Kenyan taxpayers. The Members of Parliament in Kenya make the equivalent of $15,000 US each month, or 12 million KSh a year! It would take our security guards almost 286 years to earn that much money at the rate they are paid now.

It is easier for us to understand now why many Kenyans thought they were voting for a change in this country. Our security guards have joined in ODM's economic boycott of certain companies that are close to the government. We have also read today that ODM called for another day of protests on Thursday and that even yesterday and today in Nairobi's slums there were murders and ethnic fighting. I fear things will be like this for awhile.


January 20, 2008 - A Trip to the Post Office

My sister, Meghan, mailed us a Christmas package from Massachusetts on December 12th and we were notified, via a little yellow slip in Kristoffer's mailbox, that it arrived on January 16th. Apparently, envelopes can go directly to Kristoffer's mailbox at the United Nations but we have to pick up packages at the post office in order to go through customs. On Friday afternoon, Kristoffer got home from work very early and we decided to try our luck with the post office.

We managed to take a detour from the usual city traffic to get into the city center in a reasonable amount of time (it can actually take hours!) but the place we thought was the post office was an office for the postal service, yes, but not the place where the mail goes. After stopping at a gas station, going back to the wrong place for more specific directions, and then asking a really nice businessman for help (he said Kristoffer's accent sounded American - HA!) we found that it had been right under our noses the whole time. It took a little while longer to find the correct part of the post office - the 3rd floor was not our initial guess, but that is where all packages are kept for customs. Lucky for us, there was not much of a line when we got there because we had no idea what we were in for.

First we brought our yellow slip to a man who gave it to another man who found our package in a large room of packages. Then we waited in line to open our package in front of a woman who would list its contents on our yellow slip as we revealed them to her. I will admit that some of my Christmas joy was diminished in having to hurriedly unwrap the gifts inside the box, because of course there was a line behind us. After she had written down all of our presents (Thank you, Meghan! We loved everything!) we had to reseal the box and take our yellow slip, which she had stamped and signed, to another room for another stamp. We were sent back to her for another stamp and then directed to the "Customs Window" with our yellow slip for another stamp and signature. Back to the woman, who I felt was holding our package hostage, for yet another stamp and direction to the man next to her. He took our yellow slip and gave us a white slip, at which point we went back to the woman and actually got our package. Before leaving the 3rd floor, there were still 2 more people with whom we had to check in before they finally let us go.

Kristoffer, the world's most optimistic person, was very cheery and friendly to everyone, wishing them all a wonderful weekend as we went along. I, on the other hand, was so frustrated and desperate to wring someone's neck, that I mostly stood still pouting while Kristoffer dashed about to all the different layers of bureaucracy required to bring our Christmas package home. Now, I am not telling you NOT to ever send us a package here in Kenya...but I do request that you make its contents REALLY worth all of the effort it will take on our end to bring it home!


Friday, January 18, 2008

January 18, 2008 - Tears in Kenya

After just watching the BBC's latest report on Kenya, I am brought to tears by the footage of what happened yesterday in the slums of Nairobi and even the "putting down" of a skirmish in the central business district. While I do not think the opposition is free of complicity in creating the situation the country is in right now, I tend to agree with its charge that the government has obviously given police a "shoot to kill" order against any person displaying or exercising any anti-government beliefs. The segment showed police throwing tear gas into innocent people's homes and beating people who had not provoked them. Kenyans have lost their freedom of speech, their freedom to peaceably assemble, and even people who are just wearing an opposition t-shirt have become a target for the police and paramilitary forces. Yesterday the police even detained several journalists (one from the NY Times) who they believed were inciting violence! Now of course there are Kenyans who have not been peaceful or law abiding; the NY Times reports that a group of men in the Kibera slum of Nairobi hijacked a train bound for Uganda last night because they are in such desperate need of basic supplies, namely food. Ethnic violence has improved a lot since the beginning of the year, but is certainly not completely absent from the situation. All in all, it is disgusting and heartbreaking to watch a country fall apart before my very eyes.

I have never felt so strange in a situation before. My immediate world - my compound, my street, the malls I shop at - seems unchanged these days. People are going to work and shopping and eating out, living normal lives. And then I see on the news that less than 4 miles away people are being shot at for speaking out against the government. If every person in America who didn't want George Bush to be president was shot at, we would have one of the smallest populations in the world!

So, sadly, nothing has changed here. Thankfully it is Friday and I can look forward to two days of Kristoffer being home from work. We are getting more furniture this weekend and should have ownership of our new car by the beginning of next week. Have we really been here for 6 weeks?


Thursday, January 17, 2008

January 17, 2008 - We are still OK and we have internet!

Sorry for the delay in posting again, but I am happy to say that we do have internet in our apartment. It is costing us an arm, a leg, and possibly our first born child, but we have it nonetheless. Technology in Kenya is obviously behind what we are used to and this is not a country where a lot of people have internet in their home; our speed is slower than we would like, but it is definitely manageable. Kristoffer is actually trying to negotiate with the company we are using about price, although after speaking with his colleagues the price we are being charged is pretty standard.

Kenya is back in the news these days, so I am sure you have heard or read that we are on our 2nd of 3 days of "mass action" called for by the government's opposition (ODM). Yesterday it rained heavily in Nairobi so the protestors didn't get started until the afternoon and were heavily blocked by police and government security units (GSUs). The situation was worse in Kisumu, a western city, with 3 people being killed by police and several others being injured when they attempted to demonstrate. In Nairobi, as far as we have heard, a few people in the slums were shot (not fatally) when they tried to leave the slum to march to the city's central park. None of the violence reported yesterday was between or among citizens, but rather from police taking aggressive action against citizens. The police fired tear gas at ODM leaders trying to enter the city's park and on journalists reporting outside the park; the US State Department's CNN reporter, Zain Verjee (who is Kenyan-born), was actually hit with a tear gas canister while she was reporting live from the scene. CNN is also showing horrific footage from Kisumu of a police officer following a man, shooting him in the back and then kicking him. It is still early here and I have not heard any reports yet about what is happening today. The United Nations did not close down so Kristoffer is at work; the UN compound is pretty far from any scenes of unrest.

On Tuesday, the eve of these scheduled rallies, the new and 10th Parliament convened for the first time and was in session for almost 12 hours to elect its Speaker, Deputy Speaker, and to swear in the Members of Parliament (MPs). It was definitely ODM versus PNU, with both sides becoming extremely vocal in attacking their opponents. ODM members refused to stand when President Kibaki entered the chamber, and when Raila Odinga entered they stood and cheered for the "People's President". It was the first time the two leaders were in the same room together and they did not look at each other once (I know because I watched a good portion of the 12 hours!). Then there was a huge debate over the procedure for voting on the Speaker with ODM members openly accusing PNU of rigging the presidential election and PNU members accusing ODM of committing genocide in the country. In the first live broadcast allowed to air on TV since the presidential election, what a sight for Kenyans to see! How are people supposed to behave and react to one another when their role models and leaders are acting this way?!

Many hours later, ODM did win the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. The Speaker is the 3rd most powerful leader in Kenya so this definitely boosts ODMs spirit. It also means that, assuming Kibaki remains President for the next 5 years, he is likely to face even more challenges to his agenda with an ODM Speaker and an ODM-dominated Parliament. Following the election of the Speaker, each MP was individually sworn into office. First there was a lengthy debate about the oath MPs must take, which includes pledging allegiance to the president (by name) and to the Republic of Kenya. ODM MPs argued to have Kibaki's name removed since he illegally stole the Presidency and they do not consider him their president. Their request would require a constitutional amendment, which they could not enact until sworn in, so it was denied. Then Raila Odinga refused to swear on the same Bible that President Kibaki swore on, although I don't think there was another one around. After Kibaki and Odinga, the next MP to be sworn in was a member of ODM who pledged allegiance to "Raila Odinga" the first time, and to no president the second time before being berated and having to go through with the real oath on his third try. It was extremely interesting (dare I say entertaining) to watch these proceedings.

While some people thought that ODM’s Parliamentary victory would cool the planned demonstrations, others thought the victory would only add fuel to their fire. It seems that the latter group was right with ODM continuing to declare Kibaki an unlawful leader and to ask him to equally share power with Odinga until a new election is held in 3 months. For his part, Kibaki remains quiet and unwavering, insisting that the election was legal and that there is no problem. He refuses to step down and still claims that international mediation is unnecessary. In the meantime, Kenya’s economy continues to suffer. In Mombassa, the largest city on the coast, reports are that normally busy hotels are vacant with some already closing, many Kenyans losing their jobs, and the country losing billions of shillings in revenue. With a threat from the US and the EU of stopping or decreasing aid to Kenya and/or imposing sanctions until the government gets its act together, it is in the best interest of the country for the leaders to dialogue sooner than later.

Kristoffer and I had a discussion yesterday about ODM’s motives and behaviors. It seems that the whole world agrees that the presidential election was flawed and it is very difficult to put confidence in Kibaki as the winner of the popular vote. I can understand that Odinga should have been declared the winner and why ODM is aggrieved. However, at what point is that point lost? With over 600 people dead and over 250,000 people displaced from their homes, when is the loss of life and property greater than the false-loss of the election? Kristoffer seems to think, in the name of democracy, that ODM has no choice but to continue to call for rallies, and I agree that PNU has backed ODM into a corner with few options. But I also think that ODM is targeting a specific population when it calls for rallies and demonstration, and that it is willing to sacrifice this population. You see, there are middle and upper class Kenyans who also support ODM but they aren’t attacking people, leaving their homes to protest or demonstrate, throwing rocks at police and shouting “No Raila, No Peace”. They are calling for mediation, and they are not dying. The people ODM calls on to rally are poor, uneducated, unemployed, young men. They are the ones who will rise to Odinga’s every call and risk their lives. If ODM is using these people for its own political gain, as if these people are expendable, then I don’t agree. Two wrongs don’t make a right and there just must be another way.

Ok…enough of that. I’ll let you know how the situation unfolds in the next two days, although it is obvious that we are in for a much longer haul than that. Our life is getting more normal here, with the arrival of some of our furniture and the internet. The rest of our furniture should be done soon, so that is good. We also bought an elliptical machine since our compound doesn’t have a gym, so now I am at least getting some exercise. I interviewed earlier this week with one of the international schools for a position in the fall. It went well and I really liked the administrators, although the school is SO different from the places I have taught before. The position would require me to teach for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma which would require specific training; if the school finds another candidate who is already trained than I wouldn’t get the position, but if not then I think I have a good chance.

After 6 weeks here, there are many things that I miss, besides my family and friends that is, but there are two things I miss the most: going for a walk outside and having my independence. It is not generally considered safe to just go for a walk in Nairobi, which is something that in Brooklyn and Washington, DC I was very accustomed to doing. I am also more dependent on Kristoffer than I am used to being. In Kenya, and maybe throughout Africa, women (especially married women) are not taken as seriously in business as men. For example, I would normally be the one negotiating with the internet company about our charges but, instead, Kristoffer is doing it because it seems they have already tried to take advantage of me. I suppose that both of these example, not taking walks and being completely dependent, are ways in which I feel I have lost some of my freedom in moving here. Getting a full time job of my own is the best way for me to combat this loss, so my fingers are crossed that the teaching position comes through. Let’s also hope with that along with a job for me, we find some peace in Kenya soon too.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

January 12, 2008 - Our First Visitor!

Even though our internet is still a few days away from being installed in our home, I am extremely happy because my sister Christine is here to visit. She arrived on Thursday night for a few days of work in her organization's Nairobi office before heading to southern Sudan for a few weeks. We are happy that she will pit-stop in Nairobi again on her way back to the States, probably in March. It is so nice to have someone else around...even though our furniture is not ready yet (remember..."pulla pulla", or "slowly slowly" here in Africa). We have been out to eat, to shop a bit, and tomorrow we are going to take her to see elephants and monkeys!

The political situation here remains tense. After the mediation of the AU Chair failed last week, Kenya's President rejected a document that outlined a plan for both parties to take steps towards resolution. He says he was unaware of the document while the opposition party (ODM) says that it was agreed to by the President and his party (PNU). ODM is so frustrated that the President swore in his Vice President and Cabinet and also rejected this document, that they feel backed into a corner with nothing left to do but protest. They have, therefore, called for "peaceful demonstrations" across the country on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The government and police have still banned these rallies from taking place but the party's leadership says they are all willing to be arrested. Needless to say, if people in the country really feel called to demonstrate, there could be a surge in the violence that otherwise seems to have ceased. We anticipate spending some days at home if the rallies are not cancelled. The tally of people who were killed after the elections as well as those who are displaced and are in need of emergency aid seem to climb every day. We certainly hope that this week's events do not add to those numbers.

We continue to be safe and cautious and, hopefully (again), the next time I write it will be from our apartment...but I am not quite ready to hold my breath just yet.


p.s. Message to TonyM: Sorry it has taken so long to get it but the phone number for China Garden across from the United Nations is +254-20-7122921 (if you are calling from outside Kenya). The receptionist's name is Naomi and I also have her personal cell phone number for you if the other number doesn't work for some reason, but I will need an email address to send that to because she wouldn't like me to post her number on the internet.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

January 9, 2008 - Daily Life

Perhaps we assumed a bit too soon that daily life in Kenya was getting back to normal. While Kristoffer and I are still mostly unaffected by the crisis in Kenya and in our neighborhood life seems back to normal, the actions of the current government yesterday have incited more anger and protests from Kenyan's who follow the ODM political party. Very shortly before the AU Chair and Ghanaian President arrived to mediate dialogue between President Kibaki and Raila Odinga, Kibaki announced half of his cabinet members, filling the critical positions in the government before talks with the opposition. This was seen by much of the country as a sign that in Kibaki is patronizing Odinga in agreeing to meet with him and the AU Chair, and that he is not sincere about negotiating or compromising. The opposition instantly called it a "side-show" and stated that under no circumstances do they recognize this government.

Kibaki's Vice President is also an interesting choice. The candidate, Kalonzo Musyuko, represents the political party "ODM-Kenya", which split from the regular ODM party earlier this year over a disagreement about who in the party should run for President. Kalonzo ran separately on ODM-Kenya's ticket and came in third place in the election, securing somewhere around 600,000 votes I believe. If I am not wrong, the ODM party sees Kalonzo's appointment as an additional slap in the face.

Within hours of his announcement, there were riots and disturbances in areas of opposition support. At least one man was shot by police in the town of Kisumu and I have read that there were problems in Mombassa as well. No trouble in Nairobi was reported today (at least not yet) but the New York Times has written something about it so I am not sure. His timing was intentional, but President Kibaki's announcements surely have delayed the peace he claims to want for the country. As for Odinga, he is appearing in the media and to many people as being very hard-lined (and not in a good way) at this point. It is unlikely that either politician will escape this crisis with a good reputation in tact. Jendayi Frazer, the US State Department representative here in Kenya right now, said to the local media yesterday that if feels like there is "poison in the air" here.

Taking a taxi to the UN this morning to use the internet, the driver told me that he believes everything will be calm and there will be no more violence in the country, but also that Kibaki is not going to step down or give up, and that Odinga should take whatever olive branch Kibaki offers. I suppose only in the coming days and weeks will we know more about how Kenya will go on from here.

As for my daily life, I certainly never thought I would be a housewife before I had children to take care of, but I am dealing with it as well as can be expected. I am eager for a job and have an interview next week for a position in the fall as an English teacher at an international high school here in Nairobi. It is not certain, but it is a start at least! Luckily, I have met a few people here who are helping me network and that is very nice. Kristoffer is very busy at work; it is obvious that the WFP's work is extremely important and necessary here in Kenya (especially right now) and I know that he is extremely proud to be a member of its staff.

In other news, we have a lead that perhaps we will be getting internet in our home before next week begins, which will be a huge relief to and convenience for us! We are very eager to talk to our friends and family on Skype and to post pictures on this blog as well!


Monday, January 7, 2008

January 7, 2008 - News in Kenya

In a number of ways, the situation in Kenya is getting better. Religious leaders, the media, and average citizens are pushing for peace. Both President Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga have agreed to sit down to begin dialogue with the chair of the African Union, Ghanaian President John Kufuor, when he arrives on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Rallies scheduled for tomorrow have just been cancelled in light of his arrival, and this is a very good sign as they were feared to bring more incitement and violence.

In other ways, however, the situation is still extremely critical. Kristoffer learned at work today that in Nairobi alone, there are 2.1 million people at risk since the post-election conflict began. This is 66% of the population living in Nairobi's slums. "At risk" means perhaps they have been displaced, are without or almost without food and water, or have been victims of violence. At the big grocery store chain, Nakumatt, the Red Cross is accepting donations of food, water, and other emergency supplies. It was so easy for us to shop around the grocery store and then leave all of our donations right there for the Red Cross to appropriately disperse. We were happy to feel like we could contribute, if in a very small way. It is clear to us that while many Kenyans in Nairobi are still living life as it was before, for a large percentage of the city these are dire times. In other cities, especially Kisumu, the situation is even worse.

Yesterday one minister was saying on television something like, "Just because the violence has stopped does not mean there is peace in Kenya." We hope the AU's arrival will bring a political resolution so that the peace will really come.

The other big story on the news here, somewhat surprisingly to us, is America's election. We are eager for the results of New Hampshire's primary tomorrow and, apparently, so are many Kenyans!


Sunday, January 6, 2008

January 6, 2008 - Happy 6th Month Anniversary!

It is hard for Kristoffer and I to believe that we were married only 6 months ago. Our life and world have changed so much since then. If you told me on our wedding day that in 6 months we would be living in Nairobi, Kenya during an unpredicted political crisis, I would have scoffed of course!

Nevertheless here we are. Nairobi is very quiet and peaceful today, much to our delight. We saw one of our furniture-makers this morning; while our furniture is not ready yet, he was well, which made us happy. Our big trip today was to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which rehabilitates orphaned elephants and rhinos. Unlike the other "orphanage" we visited, this organization does actually release the animals into the wild, although it is an 8-14 year process, depending on the elephant. We were able to see 8 elephants, ranging in age from 2 months old to almost 3 years. They were extremely playful with each other and at one point one elephant, chasing a soccer ball, ran under the rope into the crowd getting some poor girl completely muddy! Many of these orphans' mothers were killed by poachers, which is a big problem in northern Kenya. Other orphans were simply found in difficult circumstances, for example at the bottom of a well, and the organization doesn't know for sure what happened to their families. The organization only opens from 11 am - 12 pm every day and we really enjoyed the hour. When our internet connection is set up at home, we will post pictures! We also ironically met a Danish couple visiting Kenya for a month as part of their medical studies. They happened to know another Danish couple that we know through the World Bank in DC. What a small world!

In terms of the post-election turmoil here, we are very impressed with Kenya's media and religious leaders who have joined together in a campaign to get the political leaders to put aside their personal presidential ambitions and reach a solution that will unite Kenya. Tonight, for example, all of the local channels are airing the same live prayer program from 6 - 7pm. One non-profit broadcasts text messages from citizens during commercial breaks on one news channel. We saw one program of Kenyan woman last night; they were extremely articulate about the need for mothers to stop the young men in the country from looting and being violent, and the need for the leaders to step up to the plate and actually be leaders. There seems to be a consensus here that the country wants peace now, not later.

Kristoffer will go back to work tomorrow (good for him, sad for me) and should have some interesting insight once the WFP is back to transporting food throughout the country.


Saturday, January 5, 2008

January 5, 2008 - Kenya's politics and its current crisis

I would just like to preface this blog by saying that I can only write about what we have seen, read, heard, and experienced here in Kenya. Our views are obviously not meant to be representative of the Kenyans around us. Also, if you aren't that interested in the nitty gritty details of the last week...feel free to skip this blog and read the one I wrote about our vacation instead. I will try to write about all of this in the most easy way to understand (can you tell that I am desperate to teach!?).

Before Kenya's national election was held on December 27th, the campaigns had been intense. From the moment we arrived in Nairobi, all around were billboards, posters, flyers, stickers, and blaring trucks reaching out to the people. The two major political parties in this election were (are) PNU - the Party of National Unity, whose candidate was the current President Mwai Kibaki - and ODM - the Orange Democractic Movement, whose candidate was a MP (member of Parliament) Raila Odinga. It is interesting to note that in the election of 2002 when the country was united in removing the long-reigning President Moi from power, Kibaki and Odinga were on the same side and Odinga endorsed Kibaki's presidency. In his first term, Kibaki saw tremendous growth in Kenya's economy and made primary school free across the nation. However, corruption is a huge problem in Kenya and his administration was no exception. Additionally, average Kenyans, many of whom are quite poor, did not feel the benefits of a booming economy. Therefore, Odinga put up a good fight in this election making promises of decentralizing the government, ending corruption, and helping common Kenyans prosper.

All of Kenya was abuzz on the morning of the 27th. On our vacation, we could see hundreds of people walking or biking miles to the nearest school or police station to cast their votes. The Kenyans we spoke to were so proud to have voted and happily displayed purple pinkies (marked when voting). We even heard a story that matatus (remember, those scary little buses?) were not picking up riders who could not prove that they had voted. This election was surely taken seriously! Especially in a country where people know that corruption is playing a role in their lack of wealth, Kenyans truly believe that democracy takes place when you cast your vote and your voice is heard. Unlike in America, where people carelessly choose not to vote and exercise the right that many people in the world would die for, it was inspiring to see how proud the Kenyans were on election day.

Rumors of unfairness also began that day. We heard through other guests at our lodge who had spoken to some local people that when Raila Odinga went to vote in his district, his name was not even on the ballot. He was the only serious rival to the President! How could that be?! Unfortunately, the results were not expected until the following day (Friday the 28th) and, regardless, nothing else was making headlines after the assassination of Pakistan's former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. Everyone in Kenya settled down to wait for news on Friday.

On Friday the results were anticipated and while they did not come in, the polls were showing that Odinga was leading by at least 1 million votes, with some projections close to a 2 million vote difference. The people around us, many who it seemed had voted for Odinga, were thrilled. We also heard that at this time it was very clear that most of PNU's MP's had lost the election to ODM rivals. It looked like ODM would take Parliament and so everyone was just waiting for the ECK (Electoral Commission of Kenya) to announce Kenya's new President. After all, why would Kenyans have voted for ODM members of Parliament but not an ODM President?

Saturday is when the true tensions began. The results were still not in and there was increased talk of "vote rigging" when all of the sudden it was reported that the latest tally had Kibaki in the lead. As soon as this was announced, a small amount of riots and protesters began in areas with strong ODM support. This is a good time to explain that prior to the election, we learned from some local Kenyans that politics in this country is still extremely tribal. Kenya is made up of 42 tribes, and they are grouped into three groups of tribes based on the roots of their languages. Kibaki is from the Kikuyu tribe, the largest in the country, which has been historically dominant in politics, business, and among Kenya's most educated group. Odinga is from the Luo tribe (like Barack Obama's father), the 3rd largest tribe, which is also a more modern, educated, and economically successful tribe. Many people are saying now that the campaigns these leaders ran were designed to stir up tribal loyalties in voters. It is in the aftermath now that we can see how dangerous this tactic was. From the moment that election rigging was suspected, many Kenyans began seeing other tribes as enemies instead of as fellow Kenyans.

On Sunday morning, we awoke preparing to leave our vacation and head back to Nairobi. We called UN Security and were told that it was a very volatile situation and that we should reconsider travelling that day. When speaking to the manager of our lodge about the possibility of staying on a bit longer, he received a call from an employee in Nairobi with the most recent rumors that Kibaki would be secretly sworn in as the President and that Nairobi would be declared in a state of emergency after that (it didn't actually happen this way). Of course we decided to sit still and moved to another lodge that could accommodate us (and that we could afford indefinitely!). Increased chaos in Kenya was reported that day as people were very anxious for the election results and very suspicious of fraudulent behavior on the part of PNU. It was not until about 6:00pm that we heard from the manager of our new lodge that President Kibaki was officially re-elected. She was Kikuyu and she was actually crying because she was so happy and relieved. At the lodge, the TV only played international news and we were desperate for something local so we were allowed to sit with the staff in their lounge. We watched President Kibaki be officially and legally sworn in at the state house only 30 minutes after the election results were announced. This was unprecedented in the history of Kenya! Normally, the President is sworn in one or two days after the results in Nairobi's main downtown park.

The violence following these events was almost instantaneous, specifically in the slums of Nairobi and in the area of western Kenya where Odinga has been an MP for many years (this area also houses the largest slum in the country). Later in the evening, a partial media blackout was instituted with the government forbidding local TV and radio stations to air any live broadcasts. This was an extremely difficult order for people to deal with because EVERYONE in Kenya listens to the radio. Even when you drive through or by poor areas, there are antennas sticking out of shanty dwellings. Even if people do not have electricity they use batteries to hear the radio: it is their life line. To cut off the radio is to completely isolate the population, many of whom do not have TVs, and this only incited people's anger. The death toll began to climb along with mounting evidence of foul play. For example, in some polling stations they reported a voter turnout of between 115 - 200% for presidential results only!

On to Monday, New Year's Eve. The UN actually forbid us to leave for Nairobi as all UN staff were ordered to remain in their homes or exactly where they were. The violence in Nairobi slums (fires, looting, and police shooting), which we would need to drive near in order to get home, was at a high even though our actual neighborhood of Westlands was completely quiet. We heard several rumors from different people of food/water/oil shortages throughout the country and the possibility of phone lines being shut down. While we were never in any danger whatsoever, I will be honest and say that we were very nervous and very sad for Kenya. The Kenyans at the lodge with us were quietly watching their country disintegrate before their eyes. It was devastating.

It was at this time that we heard from several of Kristoffer's WFP colleagues, all stuck in their Nairobi homes wanting to make sure we were safe. We heard about a planned rally during which Odinga would inaugurate himself and establish a shadow government, alleging of course that Kibaki and PNU rigged the election (this rally was later postponed). There were other rumors that Kibaki had fled the country, that the military was splitting (this was a particularly interesting rumor, although never confirmed, because it was the first Kenyan election in which the military was allowed to vote), and that the US was supporting Kibaki (which was initially true but later the US recalled that statement in favor of investigating the election tallying). There was a curfew imposed in many areas for New Year's Eve and the violence did not abate.

On Tuesday there was very little news from Nairobi and the BBC was counting the death toll at over 100. We ventured out into the small village near us and talked to some Kenyans. All of them, in the village and working at the lodge, seemed confident that everything was fine now and that everyone wanted to get back to work. While this was the feeling around us, the UN still told us to stay put. We heard of a rescheduled rally for Thursday but also that businesses were opening up in Nairobi.

We were given clearance to go home on Wednesday and were happy that we had filled up our gas tank before things got too bad because there was definitely a shortage. To explain this, Mombassa is the second largest city in Kenya on the eastern coast. It is also the largest port in East Africa through which Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, and other countries receive supplies. There was violence in Mombassa and also along the roads leading from Mombassa to Nairobi and beyond. As a result, all of these countries were (and are still) hurting for food, oil, and water.

On our way to Nairobi, there was one point in the road where some trouble was starting up in a small group of young men. While we could not see anything, other Kenyans on the road alerted us of this trouble a few miles down the road and so we took a longer detour to get to Nairobi safely. Upon arriving, we immediately went to the grocery store and bought food, water, and a radio so that we could hear some news. Thursday's rally, which was deemed illegal by the police even though we have heard from many sources that it is unconstitutional for them to do so, was a bust. The Police heavily blockaded the park and used tear gas, water cannons, and warning shots to keep crowds away. The rally was again rescheduled for yesterday, but did not materialize for the same reasons. The news we have heard now is that both leaders - Kibaki and Odinga - have met with Archbishop Desmund Tutu and will meet with the American envoy from the Department of State today. There are varying rumors of who will agree to do what, although it seems to us that the standstill is this: Kibaki will allow for a recount but only if a Kenyan high court orders it (and of course the high court judges were all appointed by him) and Odinga has said he will meet with Kibaki but only if he acknowledges that he stole the Presidency. Where do we go from here?

While there is still trouble in other parts of Kenya, Nairobi is trying to get back to normalcy. The slums here seem destroyed from the footage we have seen; people are hungry with no money or supplies. The death toll is calculated on BBC at about 350, but of course there are probably many deaths that have not been reported. It is estimated that 250,000 people are displaced as a result of the violence, and emergency supplies are desperately needed. The WFP (Kristoffer's organization), which normally feeds millions of Kenyans, cannot move the necessary food and so we assume they will be operating in crises mode when he returns to work, hopefully on Monday. We bought a TV yesterday and had our cable installed (miraculously fast); in our neighborhood everything seems totally normal, which is bizarre when you know the country is in a crisis.

So...did you get all that? It is a little strange for us because when looking for jobs in Africa, Kenya was always at the top of our list due to its stability and democracy. It has been known as the capital of East Africa and one of the continent's greatest successes. How difficult it is for us, and more so for Kenyans, to realize that their stability and, in fact, their democracy was a facade. Pre-colonial wounds and loyalties have not healed since this country became independent. Was Kenya always a time bomb waiting to explode? While we haven't been here long enough to have fallen in love with Kenya, we have really wanted to love this country and the people here. We have only had positive experiences with Kenyans so far and have learned so much in one month. We are sure that during the next two years we will experience and learn a lot as Kenyans try to unite and recover from, perhaps, one of the most difficult week in their history.

Finally, a word on democracy. In Kenya, 40% of the population lives in extreme poverty and while they may not have food or water or shelter, they believed they had a vote. They didn't take it for granted and they cast it towards a leader they thought would improve their lives. When you take that away from people, when you tell them that their vote didn't matter, they are left with nothing. That is why young men in the slums are chanting "No Raila, No Peace!" and claiming that they are willing to die for this cause. Odinga may also be a corrupt politician and might have done nothing to help these people, but it is not a question of who is a better person or would be a better president. If the election was rigged, as it appears to have been, then Kenyans were robbed of their voice, their vote, and their hope. We hope to see the leaders do something to heal this country now. There are other countries with election drama right now besides Kenya, namely Georgia and Pakistan. I know Denmark's election has passed but my personal hope is that at home in America , when people are voting in upcoming primaries and in the 2008 election, they look around at what people in these other countries are fighting for and do not take their freedoms for granted.


January 5, 2008 - Our Christmas Vacation

Before I write a blog about what's been going on in Kenya, I wanted to share our vacation with you. As soon as we have technology up and running at home, we will add pictures and/or video to share!

The day after Christmas, we escaped to Lake Naivasha, a rural area about 90 miles northwest of Nairobi. Armed with our Rough Guide Kenya, we drove above the breathtaking rift valley to a beautiful lodge called Kiangazi at about 9000 ft. above sea-level (well above Nairobi which sits at 5000 ft.). While needing to be extra cautious of the sun on our vacation, at this altitude we were pleased to not have to worry about malaria-ridden mosquitoes one bit! Kiangazi is one of two Naivasha lodges affiliated with the Dutch company “Oserian”, which owns a large wildlife sanctuary and rose farm in Naivasha, among other enterprises in Kenya. We planned to stay at Kiangazi for 4 nights, and half of the time we had the entire lodge and staff to ourselves. If you want to enjoy the wildlife of Kenya without roughing it one bit, you should stay there as well! “All inclusive” at Kiangazi doesn’t just mean meals and drinks, but game drives, guided nature walks or hikes, and boat rides as well. It was a tremendously peaceful, relaxing place to stay. Upon arrival, our room was decorated with rose petals and chocolates, a fire was lit in our room’s fireplace, and the biggest bed we’ve ever seen was turned down nightly under a canopy of mosquito nets. It was extremely romantic and we were served the most delicious vegetarian meals there. We never had to think about a thing – everything was taken care of for us! It was really like a second honeymoon/almost-6th month anniversary for us! We were also fortunate enough to meet some very interesting people, notably a British/French couple (both teachers!) from the UK, who we really enjoyed getting to know. We took some fantastic video footage and pictures, and we hope to return to Kiangazi in the future.

On our first afternoon game drive we were introduced to our ranger, Albert, who was with us for all of our Kiangazi adventures. He took us into the sanctuary on 3 game drives over the 4 days. Albert knew everything about every animal, bird, tree and plant we saw and was an amazing resource in our quest to know as much about Kenya and Kenyans as possible. We became very fond of him after 4 days together and hope that we will see him again!

Now to the animals…We were thrilled to see the same dominant male leopard on each of our game drives (very rare to see him 3 times in a row!); at one point he walked about 15 feet from our completely open land cruiser! On all three of these occasions, we instantly felt very small knowing that this wild animal, an extreme predator, could easily overpower us. It was a nice reminder that the entire world does not revolve around us! We saw several types of antelope: eland, waterbuck, dikdik, topi, impala, gazelle, and steinbok to name a few. I am sure you have heard of all of those (wink wink), or maybe you are like Kristoffer and refer to each animal as a “deer” J. We were also lucky enough to see 9 of the 13 rhinos that live in the sanctuary, including an adorable baby rhino. There were many Masaai giraffe around us, and we noticed that giraffes aren’t the most observant mothers, often wandering very far away from their babies. Buffalo and wildebeest (gnu) were plentiful on the sanctuary, as were two breeds of zebra. After eating dinner at our sister lodge one evening, we even saw three hyena on a chase when we were being driven home! So, we happily experienced three of Africa’s “Big Five” animals – buffalo, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, and lions – named so for their survival instincts and defense. The sanctuary, at 18,000 acres, is not big enough to feed elephants or lions, and, in fact, you don’t see them in that part of Kenya for the same reasons.

While we loved seeing all of these animals, many for the first time ever, we were most entertained by the most common of all the animals: the warthogs (which we fondly call “Pumbas” because of the Lion King). They are hysterical! They live in families in holes in the ground; they come out of their holes running and when they return to their holes they reverse in, which is so funny to observe. The thing about pumbas is that they are the least relaxed animal you can find. They have no neck so they can eat only what is on the ground in front of them and, while you think they would spend a good amount of time grazing, they are constantly afraid of things around them and so are constantly running. Pumbas – even babies! – are extremely fast and so while you may think you see a rock in the distance, very quickly that rock with will be sprinting away and you will know that it was a warthog. While they are the least attractive animals (although I think we secretly found their beauty) they are the most fun to watch!

We learned so much about African animals on our game drives and two of our three drives concluded in what was called a “sun downer”. This is when the lodges have a camp fire in the evening for several guests to watch the sun go down while eating snacks and drinking a bit. The fire keeps you safe from the animals and it is an amazing feeling to socialize under an African sky at night. Outside of the sanctuary, we walked around Crater Lake and Lake Oloiden, and took a boat ride on Lake Naivasha. On these excursions, Kristoffer saw his first flamingoes and we saw many, many hippos! Now hippos are also quite funny because they stay in the water for most of the day and they seem like harmless vegetarians, but in fact most wildlife deaths in Kenya are caused by hippo at night. They don’t eat people, but they will stampede and trample or bite you. As Albert told us, “If a hippo is grazing and you stand between him and the lake, then you will die.” In addition to our access to Kenyan wildlife, at Naivasha we also experienced the beautiful landscape. We did a small hike at “Hell’s Gate”, a park with natural gorges and staked out Mt. Longonot, a large crater that we will climb on our next trip.

After our four days at Kiangazi, the honeymoon, as they say, was somewhat over. Due to post-election tensions in Kenya we were not permitted to go back to Nairobi by UN Security (more on that in the next blog) so we had to stay in Naivasha for three more days. Kiangazi was booked and, to be honest, we couldn’t afford to stay there indefinitely. The wonderful manager at the lodge found another lodge that had room for us and we headed over to “Elsamere” on Sunday the 30th. Elsamere is the former home of George and Joy Adamson, a noted wildlife conservationist and his author wife, and is also the home of a current conservation education organization (say that three times fast!).

While Elsamere was not as luxurious as Kiangazi, it was an extremely comfortable, beautiful setting on the lake where we were visited nightly by hippos and zebra grazing outside of our room. We were well fed and were extremely safe from the violence that erupted in other parts of Kenya following the contested presidential election. We visited the beautiful Oserian rose farm and a local snake farm (Kristoffer trying to conquer his fear!), and we experienced being the only white people (“Mzungu”) in the town of Naivasha when we went hunting for gas and water. The highlight of Elsamere for us, however, was meeting a group of American educators who work for the US government on military bases throughout the world. Two of them currently live in South Korea and the other on a base in northern Italy; we had a wonderful time getting to know them before their vacation lead them elsewhere and we headed back to Nairobi, which we finally did on Wednesday, January 2nd. We also thought the staff members of Elsamere, like at Kiangazi, were phenomenal. They even let us in to their staff house to watch the local news, instead of the less-detailed international news showing in the lodge, and they provided us with different news and viewpoints of Kenya’s political situation. We are lucky that we were well taken care of on Lake Naivasha when the chaos began here because we know of other people who got stuck places with gas, food, and water shortages.

Our first Kenyan holiday was full of adventure and education, and we really look forward to our next trip in this country, which will probably be to the Masaai Mara sometime in the spring or summer.