Since many old friends and new acquaintances have written and asked if we are okay, I thought I would go ahead and post a response.
The quick answer is that we’ve been totally safe the whole time on our really secure campus. If we didn’t follow the news, we’d have no idea that anything was wrong. Until this weekend, much of the country was fine and peaceful with business as usual. Horror stories continued to trickle out of other regions, but not nearly as bad as when the violence first broke out. Things seemed to be calming.
Although, we only live about 7 miles from Kibera (a slum or “informal housing area” where a lot of the violence has been), it seems like a whole world away. This whole thing has definitely been a sad testimony to the rich-poor divide in Kenya. Even my sister, who lives less than a km from Kibera lives in a totally different world. She can hear all the gunfire and shouting, but is still quite safe at home. The police basically keep rioters from crossing the main road. Still, the ethnic tension is touching all levels of society. Even Kikuyu and Luo doctors who have been quite good friends are finding it hard to say more than “hi” to each other.
Nairobi seems to be the NGO headquarters for the world, a home base for groups working in Southern Sudan, Rwanda, and Congo, so there are thousands of foreigners whose governments pay attention. A little over a week ago, the US ambassador assured us that as bad as things look externally, they haven’t even begun to think of evacuation plans. (I can send my notes off-line to anyone who is really interested.) If things totally deteriorate, which I doubt, we can get out by driving to the Tanzanian border about four hours south of here.
I’m not so much worried about our safety as much as our Kenyan friends and neighbors. (Or other Africans living in Kenya.) It’s one thing to read about it in the news. It’s entirely another story to know real people who have lost their lives or homes. Almost all my friends know someone who has been killed or otherwise affected. People in certain parts of the country live under threats from criminal gangs. A few weeks before Christmas, I gave a ride to a happily engaged couple (friends of my colleague.) He was Luo, she was Kikuyu. He took her home for Christmas, and his family liked her a lot. But the Sunday the election results were announced, they were out shopping in a nearby town when they ran into a mob. She was hacked to death right before his eyes, and he has a gash on his arm from trying to protect her. I don’t know how you ever recover from that.
Yesterday morning, we woke up to news that an opposition member of parliament (MP) had been gunned down execution style as he returned to his home. As this news spread, riots immediately broke out all over the city, and we were told to stay on campus. People who were headed into town were turned back. By noon however, the police seemed to have controlled everything and traffic resumed as normal. Unfortunately, one of the places they teargassed was the home of the murdered MP, where supposedly some rioters had infiltrated the mourners. The poor widow was shown on TV sobbing, “First my husband is murdered; now I get teargassed.” Last night, Mungiki, a feared Kikuyu religious gang with supposed connections to a couple of government officials, claimed responsibility. They also released a list of media people they plan to target next.
When the violence first broke out, Christi and I did put together all our important papers and began to talk about what we would take or leave behind if we had to leave. After three weeks of not giving it a second thought, the conversation came up again yesterday.
This morning however, life seems eerily calm. One good gauge is always traffic. Today, the radio reports bumper to bumper traffic all over town. One guy interviewed on the radio this morning said it’s like we live in parallel universes. We try to pretend life is normal and conduct business as usual, but have to be prepared for mobs or riot police at every turn. For those who are minorities in various neighborhoods, life is far from normal.
Image of the day: Kibaki, Raila and Kofi Anan taking a tea break together between negotiation sessions. . . smiles and handshakes all around. I’m not sure what to make of the political soap opera. One Kenyan friend said that if it wasn’t for all the death and violence that seems to result from it, the behavior of the politicians would be a much laughed at comedy. The whole situation is just so surreal.
I don’t really know what is being shown on TV around the world, but relatively accurate news can be found on the following web-sites. (Keep in mind that some of the scenes are orchestrated for the cameras and business might be going on as usual a block away or return to normal in the same market just minutes later.)