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.