My 12 hr bus trip to my village thru the Great Rift Valley was long but so scenic… 2 smoke alarm type sirens went off the whole way, but otherwise I love staring out the window at grazing zebras, crested cranes, roadside markets, and millions of flamingos turning the soda lakes pink.
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Seems crazy to think I left Sound Youth in fall 2005 to head to Kenya in January 2006. It’s been a long time with lots of life craziness in between, but I’m still excited to be back. Things are, of course, very different but also the same. It feels weird to have nothing to do during the day. I’m not passing through with my trusty partner in crime Cindy, or with visitors from abroad. I’m not here for a meeting, retreat, or hospital visit. I’m not here to do safari or show friends the giraffe center or elephant orphanage. I’m not here to shop for hair extensions for Angela or buy curry mix for little kitchen. I’m just here, soaking it all in.
Yesterday I had a leisurely morning wandering through the quiet house while the nuns were at work. There were signs everywhere about water usage – water is hard to find after 3 years of drought. 70% of Kenya’s big game have died from the drought, farmers struggle, everyone struggles. I made myself a glass of Milo and a fried egg from a local chicken – still dirty covered in feathers, dirt, and chicken poop. I added a piece of white bread with Blue Band butter for old time’s sake. I read the Daily Nation while I ate, and the stories were the same as they used to be. Matatu accidents at record high. School children are being molested by teachers at higher rates each year. Churches protest politics when they’re uncomfortable with women potentially getting more rights in the draft constitution. MPs are under investigation for stealing. Chemists are being arrested for illegally selling pills that are only distributed to government hospitals. The corruption, constant struggle, and harsh life stories continue. I read stories, cover to cover, then decided to run some errands in the city centre.
Before I left the house, Sr Mary reminded me to always look confident, always give the impression I know where I’m going, not go with any valuables, not go with much cash, and above all don’t dare go with a passport. Of course I remembered all of those things, and even took off my earrings, but it’s always nice to get the reminders and know people are looking out for you. :)
Funny enough, I was so pleased to make my way downtown solo and not get lost. I don’t usually get lost (thanks to the great gifts of ingrained spacial relations and intuition), but I admit was a little scared I might forget my stop in the crazy packed city centre, or not recognize changes in the city scape, accidentally get on the wrong matatu, or perhaps be rerouted against my will thanks to the constant auto accidents cluttering up roads. I hopped on a packed #9 matatu, completed with blaring Swahili rap and two flat screen TVs showing videos. Paintings covered all surfaces with captions like “Bootyful girlilicious.” Hard to believe the blasting music is a legit marketing strategy, but always enjoyable to know Kenya’s matatus are some of the most colorful and entertaining public transit options anywhere in the world (even if the noise can quickly cause headaches). The matatu was at least double the allowed capacity, which suited me fine. Standing in such a crowded bus in reminded me that if we crashed, I’d be padded with other bodies on all sides – a comforting thought considering the regular road accidents in Nairobi and across Kenya. 20/- later I was downtown and on my way.
I jumped off our moving vehicle at Lagos Rd and found the Akamba station for a ticket to Kakamega, got some lunch, hit a cyber cafe, and managed to buy a phone charger for a reasonable rate. I instinctively balked when the first guy tried to charge me 1,000/-, without ever having thought about how much one might actually cost me. I huffed a bit as required then walked away. I visited a couple other vendors and later walked away with one for only 300ksh. I never doubted my ability to still bargain and fight for a more fair price, but it was still nice to know I could do it successfully on jet lag after a long absence.
Made it back to Racecourse in the afternoon, in time to greet everyone as they slowly tricked in from their days. Lots of hugs and handshakes, lots of updates. I met Sr Sharon, returning to CA. I saw Sr Judy (now in Malava), Sr Jane (leaving Kiambu for Malava), Sr Mary O’B (in from a new community in Kisumu), and the young Sr Margaret and Sr Mary who stay in Nairobi. Sr Masheti is also in Nairobi these days, having left Kisumu after the riots in 2007 when thousand died and tens of thousands were displaced from their homes. Sr Dorothy is still in Nairobi, still at the university doing research around international development. And Sr Lucy professed last fall and is now in Nairobi teaching. Many of the older (white) sisters have returned to the States (Carol, Carolyn, and Mary Ellen are all in CA these days), and the unit in Kenya is heavily Kenya. Slow growth, but beautifully done.
After evening prayer in the chapel, we set out the food and ate dinner. Whole fish (on the bone with skin and eyes), sukuma wiki greens, ugali, and some pink soup they called mushroom (with no trace of mushrooms I could find). I was so excited for the sukuma and ugali – it my first time eating it in three years! I even had seconds of sukuma and ugali after I finished my fish! I was nearly falling asleep during the evening news, and was then in bed by 10pm.
I woke twice in the night again, but this time was wide awake by 3am unable to return to sleep. I listed to cats fighting outside my window and wondered how they had the energy for such long fights. An hour later the nearby Mosque began their call to prayer… sounding much like beautiful opera to my sleepy self. At 5am, I finally opted for sleeping pills as I wanted to try to wake at 7 or 8 and keep myself on a “normal” schedule. Around 7am, the mechanics next door started their work on broken down buses and I was up for another day with no agenda. I’ve offered to do any work Sr Mary, Sr Masheti, or the young Sr Mary could offer, but they had no work to give. So, I’m here at a cyber cafe, writing.
I was hoping to go to Eastleigh to shop for fabric, but everyone agrees it’s not safe for me to go solo right now. I’m all about solo adventures, but generally like to heed the advice given around safety. If the older white sisters and the younger Kenyan sisters agree, they must be on to something. Plus, the roads in the rainy season have become large mud puddles and are almost impassable. After lunch, Lucy will return from the school where she teaches and she will accompany me on a shopping trip.
Nothing else to report that I’m remembering right now, so I’m off. Hope y’all are well! Stay safe, my friends! xo
Much love to everyone back home! Miss y’all tons and wish I had my dear friends here to share the Kenya I love. Should anyone ever want a personal tour guide, I’m your girl. For now, updates on my solo return to Kenya after three years away.
After about 30 hours of travel, I landed in Nairobi at 9pm on Monday. I walked down portable stairs from the plane… along side many mamas carrying a child or two and trying to hoist a large bag or two as well. We passed the usual (lazy looking) askari, lounging about with their automatic rifles, and climbed right up another set of stairs onto the skybridge to nowhere. It was hanging out as though a useful device to get people off planes, but was apparently broken. Instead of butting up to the plane so we could exit the aircraft, it was stuck about 10 yards off with a rope hanging across the end (I suppose so weary travelers wouldn’t fall off). All I could think was: TIA. The stairs were only a temporary distraction from our surroundings. The steamy heat at 9pm in Nairobi was unexpected. I removed two layers and still found myself sweating. TIA. I bought a SIM card for my mobile, hit a Barclay’s ATM for shillings, then waited in the “Visa” line for my visa (sadly, my work permit had expired a year earlier). The line was long and very slow. TIA. Eventually a clerk moved us to a much shorter “East Africans only” line, only to discover 15 minutes later this clerk didn’t have visa stamps. TIA. Two more lines later, and a considerable wait, I finally made it to a counter, only to have my clerk leave in search of staples for their empty stapler. TIA. $25 later my passport has a visa, the clerk has staples, and I was cheerily my way.
I felt gratitude for United and British Airways for getting my backpack safely to Nairobi. I left bigger gratitude to Titus who came to collect me! No sign, just a huge smile and lots of hearty handshakes! I’m not sure I can describe how fantastic it was to arrive in hectic Nairobi after such a long trip and be greeted by a wonderful familiar face! We passed more askari, the customs folks didn’t bother to ask for ID or look inside my bags, and we were on our way. The ride from the airport to Old Racecourse was quick at this time of the evening – we made it in a half hour. The whole way Titus asked me lots of questions… relieving my fear that everyone would have forgotten me since I left in 2007. Three years later Titus was asking about my parents, asking about my brother, asking about work, asking about Cindy. I was a little surprised when tears welled up in my eyes on the drive to Racecourse, so very thankful to be accompanied by Titus and his amazingly positive energy and kind words.
He gave me lots of updates on the Kenya unit as we made our way through the dark city. I’d temporarily forgotten how dark Kenya can be in comparison to the States where we have streetlights everywhere and all homes and businesses seem to have electricity. A fire roadside on River Road temporarily startled me, with memories of Mungiki mafia/terrorists lighting matatus on fire when drivers refused to pay extortion. This fire was, thankfully, just someone burning their trash, nothing usual around here.
Titus gave me many updates… there were so many changes in three years! I’m having a hard time remembering them all, but will have to write them up for Cindy at some point. I went to bed shortly after my arrival and after getting hugs and handshakes from Sr Dorothy and Sr Masheti. Blessedly, I woke twice during the night but quickly fell back asleep both times, waking at a respectable 8am with no alarm. Today, I laugh in the face of jet lag (and hope my good fortune continues)! So far, I credit my success to my “stay awake partying all night before my flight” plan, making me so very sleep deprived that I was capable of napping most of my transatlantic flights.
Many more updates to come… but they will come later. xo
David and Cat in Mayapan, Mexico in Feb 2010
My boyfriend David works for a large company where half of his team works in Seattle and the other half works in South Africa. He was just approved to spend 3.5 weeks working in Cape Town and has asked me to come with him! I couldn’t say no! I was just offered a new job, and my boss approved unpaid leave, so I decided to make it an even longer trip! I decided as long as I was going to be in the region, I should also make time to go to Kenya. I just bought my plane ticket this weekend and am super excited to return!
Kenya – May 2-16, 2010
I plan to visit friends in my old village, Malava, and hope to see many SNDs as well, in both Nairobi and Malava.
South Africa – May 16 – June 8, 2010
We’ll stay in Cape Town near the V&A waterfront in Green Point. David will work a normal work week from his company’s Cape Town office, and I might work remotely during the week days if there are projects I can do remotely. Hopefully we’ll get to explore the Cape region on the weekends. No plans on what to do yet, but we’ve got a tiny bit of time to figure it out. (First step, do dinner with Maggie and Jim tonight to hear about the month they just spent in Cape Town!).
I am very excited to return to both Kenya and South Africa, I’m very excited to travel with David, and I am very excited about making new memories on this return trip to Africa!
Kenya rounds up zebras for starving lions
Nairobi, Kenya (CNN) — Kenyan wildlife officials are ferrying thousands of zebras and wildebeest to a park in the country’s south to feed starving lions and hyenas, and prevent a conflict with humans.
The animals will be hauled from four locations to restock Amboseli National Park’s population, which lost 80 percent of its herbivores in a recent drought, said Kentice Tikolo, spokeswoman for the Kenya Wildlife Service.
“It was the worst drought in 26 years,” Tikolo said. “The Amboseli ecosystem was severely affected. … Lots of herbivores died, carnivores don’t have anything to feed on, and have been attacking neighboring livestock.”
The imbalance has sparked a row with villagers who lost animals in the drought and have threatened to kill lions and hyenas preying on remaining livestock.
Should the zebras be brought in to help the lions?
“There are only 2,000 lions left nationwide, and we are concerned because the numbers are dropping,” the spokeswoman said.
“Maasais are getting angry and threatening to spear them — the human versus wildlife conflict is getting out of hand — and our carnivores are already greatly endangered.”
About 4,000 zebras and 3,000 wildebeest will be transferred to Amboseli. The zebras will go first. The wildebeest will follow, after calving season, Tikolo said. Once at Amboseli, they’re expected to breed and sustain the lions over the long term.
Shipping the animals from Soysambu Conservancy in the Rift Valley and three other nearby locations will cost about $ 1.4 million, according to Tikolo.
The animals are herded into a funnel-shape enclosure using helicopters and loaded into trucks to Amboseli. From there, they are released into the wild, she said.
Tourism is the second-largest source of foreign exchange in the east African nation. About 20 percent of the income comes from tourism, with Amboseli as the second -highest earner, Tikolo said
Lions are among the big five — the list of top wildlife tourist attractions in the nation. Others are elephants, leopards, rhinos and buffalo.
I visited Kenya’s coast twice (for two trips to Mombasa and Lamu), and went out on dhows to do deep sea fishing. I remember catching red snapper, leather fish, and a handful of others by tying fishing line to 6-8 in chunks of wood. Seems the pirates are scaring away commercial fishing vessels and the amount of fish off the coast is now soaring. Guess we’d call that a silver lining… funny world we live in.
Kenya fishermen see upside to pirates: more fish
By JASON STRAZIUSO, AP Writer
Jan 11, 12:32 AM EST
MALINDI, Kenya (AP) — People here have one thing to thank Somali pirates for: Better fishing.
In past years, illegal commercial trawlers parked off Somalia’s coast and scooped up the ocean’s contents. Now, fishermen on the northern coast of neighboring Kenya say, the trawlers are not coming because of pirates.
“There is a lot of fish now, there is plenty of fish. There is more fish than people can actually use because the international fishermen have been scared away by the pirates,” said Athman Seif, the director of the Malindi Marine Association.
On one early morning, as the sun bathed their wooden dhow in a pale yellow, four fishermen jumped out of their rickety 15-foot boat, grabbed a hand-woven straw basket and waded ashore. The basket held the bounty: 175 pounds (80 kilograms) of sailfish, barracuda and red snapper, the haul from a 12-hour night on the ocean. Each fisherman stood to make $12, enough in this town to be considered a decent night’s work.
Fishermen and sportsmen say they’ve been catching more fish than ever. Howard Lawrence-Brown, who owns Kenya Deep Sea Fishing, said fishing stocks over the last year have been up “enormously – across all species.”
“We had the best marlin season ever last year,” said Lawrence-Brown, who owns Kenya Deep Sea Fishing. “The only explanation is that somebody is not targeting them somewhere. … There’s definitely no question about it, the lack of commercial fishing has made a difference.”
Fishermen in the region have seen their incomes and quality of life rise. New boats and better equipment can be seen on the water.
In Malindi, a second-tier tourist town whose tastiest seafood restaurant is called “The Old Man and the Sea,” after the Ernest Hemingway novel, the income of many families is determined by the number of fish caught during a half-day’s turn at sea.
On a recent weekday, fisherman Abdi Ali said he has more money of late to send his kids to high school, which costs money in Kenya. As Ali spoke, a man nearby held up a 2.5-foot (.75-meter), 9-pound (4-kilo) red snapper to motorists on Malindi’s main oceanfront drive in hopes of enticing a sale.
“This year the amount of fish we have caught has been very good. We get about 150 kilograms to 200 and even 300 kilograms, depending on how much we fish,” said Ali. Three hundred kilograms is about 660 pounds.
“There were fish that had disappeared and have come back like the barracuda, oranda, red snapper and other types,” he said. “We are very happy now that there are so many fish.”
Fishermen in Somalia, too, say they’ve seen increased catches. Traders at a Mogadishu fish market are happy because more fish means lower prices, which means more Somalis can afford to buy.
“I remember some days I used to go to the sea early to catch fish and would return with no fish, but nowadays there are plenty. You can catch it everywhere,” said fisherman Bakar Osman, 50. “I do not know the reason but I think the foreign fishing vessels, which used to loot our fish, were scared away by pirates.”
Somali pirates have increased attacks the last two years because of the millions of dollars in ransom they can earn. They currently hold close to a dozen vessels and more than 200 crew hostage. Fishermen here acknowledge the horror of the attacks – they occasionally are harassed by pirates themselves.
Before the pirates came out in big numbers, fishing longliners roamed the coasts, Lawrence Brown said, laying out miles (kilometers) of line.
“They kill everything from the bottom of the ocean to the boat. They run at 22 knots. They can lay their lines for 24 hours, pick them up and get out of there,” he said. “The damage on the sports fishing side is immeasurable.”
A report on pirates this year by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore said the value of illegal catches from Somalia’s maritime jurisdiction is estimated at between $90 million and $300 million a year, and that foreign fishing vessels hail from all around the world.
The report’s author, Clive Schofield, a research fellow with the Australian Centre for Ocean Resources and Security at the University of Wollongong, called it ironic that nations contributing warships to anti-piracy efforts are in some cases directly linked to the foreign fishing vessels “stealing Somalia’s offshore resources.”
“This situation has led some pirates to justify their actions on basis of illegal foreign fishing activities – styling themselves ‘coastguards’ and characterizing ransom demands as ‘fines,’” the report said. “Without condoning acts of violence at sea, it is clear that the Somalis who hijack shipping off their coast are in fact not the only ‘pirates’ operating in these waters,” it said.
Piracy has not had a huge effect on Kenya’s overall fishing industry, which is not very well developed on the coast, according to the permanent secretary for Kenya’s Ministry of Fisheries Development, Micheni Japhet Ntiba. Kenya has brought in between 5,000 and 7,000 metric tons of fish off its Indian Ocean coast each of the last several years, he said, less than a tenth of Kenya’s yearly catch from Lake Victoria, on Kenya’s western edge.
Piracy “is a negative thing for Kenya fisherman. It’s a negative thing for the Kenyan economy. It’s a negative thing for the western Indian Ocean economy,” Ntiba said. “What I think is important for us is to invest in security so the government and the private sector can invest in the deep sea ocean resources.”
Still, Kenya’s sports fisherman say the pirates appear to have had a hugely positive effect on their industry. Angus Paul, whose family owns the Kingfisher sports fishing company, said that over the past season clients on his catch-and-release sports fishing outings averaged 12 or 13 sail fish a day. That compares with two or three in previous years.
Somali pirates, Paul said, are a group of terrorists, “but as long as they can keep the big commercial boats out, not fishing the waters, then it benefits a lot of other smaller people.”
On the Net:
Kingfisher sports fishing: http://www.kenyasportfishing.net
Kenya Deep Sea Fishing: http://www.kenyadeepseafishing.net
c 2010 The Associated Press
Polygamy – Kenyans Speak Out
9 January 2010
Nairobi — South African President Jacob Zuma, 68, recently attracted the ire of human rights activists and religious leaders with his decision to marry his fifth wife.
Mr Zuma’s critics see the president as promoting polygamy, a practice they consider abusive to women, unChristian and culturally outdated.
“His marriage to a woman he is reported to have already fathered three children with is a giant step back into the dark ages,” said the Reverend Theunis Botha, leader of South Africa’s Christian Democratic Party.
Mr Zuma’s one-line defence, couched in tradition, bears a striking resemblance to those of other polygamists.
In Kenya, where a proposed marriage law has recently ignited debate around polygamy, the South African president would find himself in good company among political leaders and other influential people in society.
The Draft Marriage Bill 2007 seeks to give couples the legal option of polygamy. It defines marriage as the voluntary union of a man or woman intended to last for their lifetime and states that the marriage could be monogamous or polygamous provided the two parties are in agreement.
Lugari MP Cyrus Jirongo, who has three wives, says there is nothing wrong with the practice so long as the man “can comfortably provide for each one of them (the wives)”.
“They are what define us as a nation and as a civilisation. I grew up in a society in which polygamy was the only way to go,” said Mr Jirongo, adding that polygamy has made him a better man, a better husband and a better father.
“In short, it has made me a complete family man. And I am proud of it because all my wives understand me and understand each other. I’d prefer men to be more honest in their dealings with the opposite sex. I better have three women at home instead of running around with other people’s wives every evening. Look what happened to Bill Clinton and Tiger Woods.”
The former US president was embroiled in a scandal during his years in office over an affair with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.
Lately, golfing legend Tiger Woods, who had a squeaky clean image, took a huge beating from a revelations by a string of women claiming he had slept with them. The sex scandal has badly affected Woods’ public image and sporting career.
Former Butere MP Martin Shikuku, 77, said many people opposed to polygamy were simply aping alien cultures.
“Those who say it is bad should look within themselves and decide which Western cultures to follow. Some of them like monogamy are a sham, and we should be brave enough to reject them,” said Mr Shikuku, who declares himself a proud and unapologetic polygamist.
“There are millions of people around the world married to one spouse but still feel hollow inside. I have no regrets, I’m a polygamist and a very happy one.”
Three of Mr Shikuku’s four wives have died.
Ironically, the former MP has himself come off as a cultural maverick in the past for showing his preferred burial site and even preparing a coffin.
Some villagers in his rural Bungoma home have accused him of breaching tradition.
Mr Shikuku’s and Mr Jirongo’s support for polygamy is significant given that although many influential Kenyan men are known to marry more than one wife and maintain several mistresses, they rarely talk about it in public.
The existence or allegations of such relationships tend to come to the surface when a man dies with various women engaging in legal battles for control or a share of his property.
One of the ongoing tussles in court is over the property of former intelligence chief James Kanyotu who died in 2008. A woman who said she was Kanyotu’s second wife went to court to claim a piece of his estate.
The death of former Embakasi MP Melitus Mugabe in 2008 resulted in a battle for his property as well. Three women, all claiming to be his widows, went to court to lay claim to his property.
The first suit was filed jointly by two of the said widows, Maria Palma and Agnes Wairimu, while the second was filed by Diphrose Matengo and Mr Were’s siblings.
The two widows of former Moyale MP Guracha Galgalo, who died in the 2006 Marsabit plane crash, also fought it out over their husband’s property before agreeing to an out-of-court settlement two years later.
However, polygamy has yet to find acceptance among religious leaders and advocacy groups who associate it with human rights abuses.
“If a man has equal access to five sexual partners, and a woman is only entitled to one, where is the equality in that?” asks the Rev Timothy Njoya.
“Sex is a right that should be given in equal proportions to the couple.”
The retired Presbyterian cleric says accepting polygamy as a way of life would reverse the gains made in human rights because women in such a relationship will not have the same privileges as the man.
“Show me any man who would be comfortable getting married to a woman with several other husbands. If we were to condone polygamy, we should also put up a fight to allow polyandry in our society,” he said.
The subject of wives and mistresses among prominent Kenyans has always been a thorny issue. President Kibaki had to call an afternoon press conference last year to clarify his marital status.
Despite the fact that he evolved into the prototype of an African Big Man exercising absolute power over the country, former president Daniel Moi was never seen in public with the mother of his children.
But first president Jomo Kenyatta seemed at peace with his three known wives. Mr Kenyatta’s youngest wife, Mama Ngina, took up the duties of First Lady.
Experts argue that polygamy is not only about having many wives who pamper their man. It speaks of a deeper social issue.
“It is a commentary on the mentality, aspirations and personality of a nation,” said , Father Dominic Wamugunda, a ERoman Catholic priest.
He says he is surprised that in the 21st century where the world’s traditions seem to have evolved to fit into accepted global norms, some societies still condone polygamy; a fact traditionalists oppose.
Patricia Nyaundi, the executive director of FIDA-Kenya, says polygamy is not only outdated, but it has also lost its original meaning.
“What men are attempting to pass off as polygamy is just multiple marriages. The importance their forefathers had for polygamy has disappeared and what remains is men collecting women for their own selfish reasons,” she said.
Decades ago, Mrs Nyaundi said, polygamy was an accepted social practice in which the man respected himself and all of his wives and understood each one’s role in the larger family.
“What reasons would one have to be a polygamist in the modern day where even self respect among some men is hard to come by? Plus it would take a lot of hard work from the man and his wives to make such a relationship work in this day and age,” says Mrs Nyaundi.
But the former Butere MP is of another view: “I run my marriage like a government. Women see things differently so, within my government, I have opposition too but, at the end of the day, we all get along.”
Pamela Masakhwi, a psychiatrist, says clamour for attention among women in a polygamous marriage may cause the women to lose self-esteem.
“Every woman wants to feel secure and demands her share of attention. If the man’s energies are divided amongst the other women, one is bound to feel short-changed as life will become a contest among the wives,” Ms Masakhwi said.
“In these times of inflation and HIV/Aids, a monogamous union makes more sense.”
Outspoken activist Orie Rogo-Manduli sees nothing wrong with polygamy. “In fact, it is more natural for men to be polygamous than to be monogamous,” says Ms Rogo-Manduli.
“I know a lot of single women who knowingly date married men and, if they were to be given the choice of being the man’s second wife, they would gladly agree.”
She says the only women who are opposed to polygamy are the hugely successful ones who might feel getting into such a union would mean that they share their hard-earned respect and income with their co-wives.
“Life gets messy when people deny it. There would be less quarrels, less family feuds and life would sail along smoothly if we accepted polygamy as part of us,” she says.
Mr Jirongo says polygamy might solve some of the common social problems faced by society.
“If you want another woman in your life, make it official. You’d be surprised at how accommodating women are. Issues such as illegitimate children and family wrangles after the man dies will be a thing of the past since all the wives know each other and what assets the man had,” says the Lugari MP.
His advice for those with only one wife but are secretly thinking of getting another one?
“You first have to consult with the oldest among them and make your intentions clear and talk about the position she will occupy in the new family. This shows you respect her,” he said.
Mr Shikuku describes people who say polygamy is unChristian and churches that preach against multiple marriages as dishonest, citing the several polygamists mentioned in the Bible.
“No one other than God should pass judgement on another. He alone should decide what a sin consists of. I am a Christian and a polygamist too,” says Mr Shikuku.
Ms Manduli says it’s better to be polygamous, legally, than to be promiscuous, an argument that doesn’t sit well with some.
“If we base your actions on the wrongs of the minority, what example are we setting for the generations to come?” asked Fr Wamugunda.
Copyright 2010 The Nation.
In Fight Against AIDS, Kenya Confronts Gay Taboo
By Nick Wadhams / Nairobi Saturday, Nov. 07, 2009
Confronted by growing evidence that sex between men is a significant driver of new HIV infections, the Kenyan government has shed a long-time refusal to acknowledge the existence of homosexuality and will launch a survey of gay attitudes and behaviors in its three biggest cities next year.
The project is considered a landmark because the government and the vast majority of Kenyan people have long refused to address homosexuality in the fight against AIDS. Sex between men is illegal in Kenya — punishable by up to 14 years in prison — and is seen by many as a Western-imported, morally wrong behavior that is limited to areas visited by tourists. (See TIME’s photos of Africa’s AIDS crisis)
But officials say the country is in the middle of a full-blown HIV/AIDS epidemic, with about 7 percent of the population now infected and only 15 percent of those people even aware that they are HIV positive. While the vast majority of HIV transmissions are through heterosexual sex or intravenous drug use, research conducted in 2007 suggests that the spread of the disease through gay sex is far more common than skeptics believe. Fifteen percent of all new HIV infections each year are thought to be among men who have sex with men. And because some men who engage in gay sex are married and do not identify themselves as gay, it is seen as one way in which the virus crosses from “at-risk” categories to the general population.
“It will be a tricky issue that is likely to polarize everybody,” Dr. Nicholas Muraguri, director of the National AIDS/STI Control Program, tells TIME. “But what we are saying is that we cannot as a country socially exclude these groups and hope that we will win the war against HIV at the same time.” (See TIME’s photos of the crisis in Kenya)
Initial media reports said the project, which was announced last week, would be a gay census — raising fears that gays could be exposed against their will and questions about whether such a count could possibly be accurate. But Muraguri says all information collected by the government will be kept confidential and officials will not seek to contact all men who have sex with men in Kenya. The government will also seek to interview both male and female sex workers and intravenous-drug users.
While Kenyan attitudes toward homosexuality are considered more liberal than the rest of sub-Saharan Africa outside South Africa, gays say they still face overwhelming hostility in the country. The law banning sex between men is a holdover from colonial times but won’t be repealed soon; one member of parliament, asked if a draft constitution in the works would enshrine gay rights, said recently that doing so would destroy the document’s chances of passing.
Anti-gay attitudes have been on full display in recent weeks as the Kenyan media have breathlessly reported on the civil ceremony of two Kenyan men in Britain. They were dubbed a shame to Kenya, their parents were harassed and The Nation newspaper’s website has been inundated with comments, most of them condemnatory.
Because of the stigma they face, gays rarely seek information about the dangers of having unprotected sex. One commonly held myth in Kenya is that HIV cannot be contracted via anal sex, when in fact that is one of the easiest ways to get it. Gays have trouble receiving treatment at hospitals, particularly if they show symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases that might lead doctors to suspect they had engaged in sex with other men.
“Some of us have gone to a public health facility and if the doctor realizes we are gay, they will draw attention to us, even from the reception, calling people, ‘Come and see a gay person, come and see a gay person,’” says Peter Njane, director of the Ishtar MSM gay health rights group in Nairobi. Muraguri’s NASCOP group, which will lead the survey with funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, says those beliefs must not be allowed to impede the country’s efforts to fight HIV.
The researchers will ask a series of behavioral questions to men who have sex with men starting next year in Nairobi, the western city of Kisumu and the coastal city of Mombasa. They will also try to estimate the number of men who are HIV-positive or have sexually transmitted diseases. Such a widespread survey has never been attempted in Kenya before. In a 2004 study in Nairobi, 500 men who have sex with other men were interviewed about their health practices, and in Mombasa in 2006 and 2008, 400 male prostitutes were questioned as part of two different sex surveys.
“What we’ve primarily been slowed by is just not having the clear sense of where those populations are centered in the country and where socially and otherwise we can most effectively reach them,” Warren Buckingham, Kenya coordinator for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, tells TIME.
Much of the gay community has largely decided to abandon the fight for gay rights for now because the hostility they face is too intense. But they hope that initiatives such as the NASCOP research will help reshape Kenyan opinions about AIDS. “As a country and as an African culture, we live in full denial of the existence of homosexuality,” says James Kamau, national coordinator of the Kenya Treatment Access Movement, which aims to increase the availability of all essential medicines to Kenyans. “Because of the cultural background, we shut our eyes, our minds and everything, yet it is happening every single day.”
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1936514,00.html#ixzz0WIGgll91
2 killed, 15 wounded in ethnic, religious violence in Kenyan slum
By Tom Odula (CP)
NAIROBI, Kenya — Two people died and 15 others were seriously wounded after machete-wielding rioters broke into violence Saturday over ethnic tensions in Nairobi’s largest slum, officials said.
The violence began after a dozen youths from the Nubian ethnic group were hired to demolish trading stalls in the Kibera slum on behalf of a church that believed the stalls were blocking its path, said Mohammad Gore, a member of a local council.
Later, Luhya tribesmen and traders retaliated by hacking to death a Nubian man in his mid-20s, Gore said.
Nubian youths then attacked people indiscriminately despite pleas from religious leaders for calm. A second person was killed, said Evans Ogwankwa, a local commissioner.
“These (the Nubian youths) are criminals and they should dealt with as such,” said Gore, who is also Nubian.
Andrew Otieno, a doctor at the Makina Clinic in Kibera, said four victims of machete violence had been brought to his clinic, he said. Several shacks were set on fire.
Nubians and Luhya have clashed before. Paramilitary police were patrolling the slum, Gore said, but officials feared Saturday’s violence could flare into a larger conflict.
Copyright © 2009 The Canadian Press.
Kenya’s Criminals Tap a Growth Industry: Kidnapping
The New York Times October 12, 2009
By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
NAIROBI, Kenya — Little Emmanuel Aguer was one of the most recent victims.
A month ago, he was snatched on the way to his grandmother’s house. Four days later, after his middle-class family received calls asking for $70 or else — calls the family was not sure were even genuine — his uncle found his corpse stuffed in a sugar sack. His head had been bludgeoned and his eyes were gouged out.
Emmanuel was 6 years old.
“These people knew what they were doing,” said his uncle, Mariak Aguek. “What they did was so traumatizing, I can’t even express it.”
Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, is a teeming city of have-nots and have-lots, so notorious for violent crime that it is often called “Nai-robbery.” But there is a new problem, or at least one that is causing new fear — kidnapping, and several recent attacks have been on children and Western women.
Parents in the packed, iron-shanty slums that ring downtown Nairobi like a collar of rust are now walking hand in hand with their children, even short distances. In the frangipani-scented enclaves where the diplomats live, security is being stepped up at schools and e-mail kidnapping alerts are spreading faster than a computer virus.
More than 100 Nairobi residents have been abducted for ransom this year, security consultants say, a huge increase over years past. Big chunks of money are changing hands. And as the security experts say, the minute you start paying ransom, kidnapping goes from a crime to a business. Just ask those in Mexico City, in Baghdad or in Bogotá, Colombia.
Blindfolds, safe houses, military-grade assault rifles and complex, well-practiced maneuvers with cars to block in unsuspecting prey — they are all part of Kenya’s emerging kidnapping industry.
The kidnappings are highly organized and often ruthless. One Belgian woman who was recently held for more than a week was stripped naked, according to security consultants who worked on her case. A second foreigner, a German woman, was seized in a subsequent attack and then locked in a closet with the Belgian woman in the same squalid house, indicating that a criminal gang may now have its sights on Western women.
In July, two smartly dressed young men walked into the workshop of an Indian trader in Nairobi and asked him to give them an estimate for a new well. When the trader went out to the site, he was jumped by a gang of six, bundled into a car and cruelly beaten with hammers and belts until his family cobbled together $3,000 for his release.
“It was a set-up,” the trader said. “They must have been monitoring me for some time.”
Many people here are beginning to wonder if the Kenyan thugs may have been inspired by their Somali brethren next door, who have made millions snatching foreigners on land and sea.
“Their appetite is growing,” said Charles Owino, a Kenyan police spokesman. “And if we don’t manage it, it can grow to be big.”
Kenyan security companies see the spike in kidnappings as proof that their other security measures may be working — possibly too well. Yesterday’s big fear in Nairobi was an armed home invasion, in which rough men with machetes and guns would scale the walls of a house in the wee hours of the night, burst in and terrorize the family in a quest for jewelry and electronics.
Executives for KK Security, a private security force that protects 4,000 homes in Nairobi, said they used to respond to a home invasion every week. Now, it is more like a couple of times a year.
But as it gets harder to break into homes because of all the security devices people deploy these days (like silent alarm systems and electrified fences) and with the Kenyan police force more mobile (because companies like KK are now driving them around), criminals are looking to the streets, where people have less control over their environment.
“It’s shifting from brutal crime to smart crime,” said Patrick Grant, a KK executive.
And kidnapping, he says, “is easy money.”
Who’s safe? Just about no one. Nairobi seems to be in the swell of another crime wave and though the police say they are cracking down (which often means simply shooting suspects on sight), a general feeling of foreboding seems to be spreading. In May, gun-toting robbers hijacked a bus along Kenya’s busiest road, the Nairobi-Mombasa highway, robbing all the passengers and raping the women.
In June, a Kenyan member of Parliament was carjacked and kidnapped, and when he finally got home, he heard a strange thumping noise in the trunk — it was the desperate sounds of another man who had been kidnapped and locked in there.
In July, carjackers robbed and kidnapped a senior police commander. An assistant minister was also terrorized in his own home by an armed gang. But he got little sympathy, at least online.
“A thugs who robs a minister, president or an incompetent m.p. is the ROBINHOOD of today and what a good job,” read a recent post on a Kenyan blog. “If the government cannot afford security, sometimes nature has its own way of dealing with it.”
Even the prime minister’s private office was recently looted.
“I don’t know if it’s the global recession or what,” said the wife of one Western diplomat, who preferred to remain anonymous. “But there’s been a lot of crime lately and everybody’s talking about it in the diplomatic circles.”
The German woman kidnapped in September described three days of terror. Her abductors threatened to rape her, slice her into pieces and kidnap her child. They knocked her in the head with a pistol butt and then incongruously offered her marijuana.
“You’re thinking they will never let you go,” said the woman, whose family handed over an undisclosed ransom for her release. “Time just doesn’t pass.”
But it is not just the haves who are getting hit. Take Emmanuel’s family. They have enough money for a stereo and a refrigerator and cold sodas for the occasional guest. But they are hardly rich. They are refugees from southern Sudan who have been through hell and back — civil war, squalid camps, persecution, even fears of being enslaved. Now they have to worry about their children getting chopped up when they step outside to take a stroll past the dirt soccer fields or corrugated iron gates of their middle-class neighborhood.
“My son was really intelligent, he was really honest, when I sent him to the store to fetch something, he always came back with the right change,” said Emmanuel’s father, Ater Aguek. “Sometimes, I still have dreams I’m playing with him.”
Kisii tribes in Western Kenya are on a killing rampage right now, according to the BBC, seeking out witches and burning them alive. This story makes me super sad, but doesn’t surprise me somehow. We saw, heard about, and read so much sense violence that people were afflicting on each other, with no sense of due process or justice. It was, and continues to be, quite tragic violence in Kenya. Stoning of women who wore pants in nearby Kakamega. Killing those suspected of being gay. Praying for your disabled child die rather than helping them survive. Burning suspected witches alive. Burning or hanging suspected thieves. The appalling part is that no justice ever seems to come. The local law tolerates the behaviors, best I can tell, rather than investigate the theft or “witchcraft.” And national courts often rule that tribal culture wins over written law books.
Horror of Kenya’s ‘witch’ lynchings
By Odhiambo Joseph
BBC News, Kenya
Villagers, many straight from their farms, and armed with machetes, sticks and axes, are shouting and crowding round in a big group in Kenya’s fertile Kisii district.
I can’t see clearly what is going on, but heavy smoke is rising from the ground and a horrible stench fills the air.
More people are streaming up the hill, some of them with firewood and maize stalks.
Suddenly an old woman breaks from the crowd, screaming for mercy. Three or four people go after her, beat her and drag her back, pushing her onto – what I can now see – is a raging fire.
I was witnessing a horrific practice which appears to be on the increase in Kenya – the lynching of people accused of being witches.
I personally saw the burning alive of five elderly men and women in Itii village.
“ They point at me saying – that is a son of the witch ”
I had been visiting relatives in a nearby town, when I heard what was happening. I dashed to the scene, accompanied by a village elder.
He reacted as if what we were watching was quite normal, which was shocking for me.
As a stranger I felt I had no choice but to stand by and watch. My fear was that if I showed any sign of disapproval, or made any false move, the angry mob could turn on me.
Not one person was protesting or trying to stop the killing.
Hours later, the police came and removed the charred bodies.
Village youths who took part in the killings told me that the five victims had to die because they had bewitched a young boy.
“Of course some people have been burned. But there is proof of witchcraft,” said one youth.
He said that a child had spent the night walking around and then was unable to talk the following morning – except to one of the so-called witches.
I asked the youths whether or not people involved in this supposed witchcraft should be punished.
“Yes, they must be punished, every one,” said the first youth.
“We are very angry and that’s why we end up punishing these people and even killing them.”
His friend agreed: “In other communities, there are witches all round but in Kisii we have come up with a new method, we want to kill these people using our own hands.”
I later discovered that the young boy who had supposedly been bewitched, was suffering from epilepsy.
His mother had panicked when he had had an attack.
All too common
The village elder was dismissive of my horror, saying that this kind of thing happens all the time in the western district of Kisii.
He told me about Joseph Ondieki, whose mother had been burned to death less than two months earlier.
I found Joseph and his wife Mary Nyaboke tending vegetables in their small shamba, or homestead.
“ If I visit my neighbours I fear they might poison my food ”
Mary told me that on the day her mother-in-law had been killed she had been visiting her own parents.
She had heard a noise and discovered the truth when she came home.
She said that in the 20 years she had been married, she had never had any reason to believe her husband’s mother was a witch.
Joseph told me he has suffered a lot since his mother died.
“I was born here, but at this stage I feel as if this is not my home any more,” he said.
“I cannot visit neighbours or relatives.
“Even when they see me standing by the road side, they point at me, saying: ‘That is a son of the witch’.
“And when I go to town they also start wondering what has taken me there. Is it that I am going to give evidence against them?
“When I come back, they say I’ve been seen at the police station, but I’ve never been there. I’ve never reported the matter.
“If I visit the neighbours, I always fear that they might put poison in the food.
“So when I’m forced to visit, I make sure I don’t eat anything.
“If I can’t get my own food I just have a glass of water and sleep.”
I set off with Joseph up the hill towards his house, which was far from the centre of the village.
On the way we passed his mother’s house.
A neighbour was reluctant to talk to me and denied even knowing Joseph’s mother.
“Here in Kisii, people are being burned on mere allegation and most of them are old,” Joseph said.
“We now don’t have any old people in the village to consult.
“Even me I’m now approaching 50 years old – I’m afraid that they’ll come for me also.”
I spent three days in Kisii trying to speak to the authorities, but nobody, neither the police nor the local government officials would talk to me.
As night drew in, and it was time for me to leave, Joseph walked with me from his village to where my car was parked.
When we arrived, he begged me to take him with me to Mombasa, where I am based.
It was very difficult for me to leave him behind.
As I drove away I passed signs pinned to trees, warning witches that they would be tracked down.
“We know you by your names”, someone had typed in bold.
To listen to the full broadcast of Kenya’s Witch Lynchings , tune in to African Perspective on the BBC World Service. The program is first broadcast on Saturday 27 June at 1106 GMT. It will be available online from 2106 GMT, for one week.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/06/26 07:17:36 GMT
© BBC MMIX
Susie recently pointed out that we’ve both been back in the States almost a year now… how crazy! After my year working in Kenya with Cindy, after the backpacking trek across all of Southern and Eastern Africa with Susie, after the high tech trip to Korea to visit Laura and Hanna, and continued backpacking in the US from Austin to Chicago to Asheville, Caroline and I eventually met up and did another road trip from Austin across to California and then up to Seattle. So much has changed between when I left for Kenya, when I moved back, and where I am today. I had no idea what would come after life in Kenya, but I know I wouldn’t have predicted a life that includes living in my same old apartment building, leaving the nonprofit world, a new job in environmental consulting, dating in a crazy new scene, and last minute decadent trips to Vegas.
As for travel… I’m consulting again, which means a fair amount of (domestic) travel for work. And while I have no big international trips planned till Thailand in spring, I daydream about my “top ten” places all the time and think about where I might be able to visit next. More immediately though, I am very excited about my upcoming trip to Burning Man this summer and all of the craziness that entails. Hope y’all are well!