My first opportunity to go to Kenya was inopportune as I had to have major surgery. My second opportunity was not possible due to post election violence. The third opportunity occurred in March 2009 and I was able to travel to Kenya.
I fell in love with the parks in Nairobi, the round abouts, walking around in the various sections considered safe, looking at textiles on Bishara Street, eating great samosas or ugali and chicken at various small places. On one Friday I was able to visit Starehe Boys School. I was impressed by so many aspects of the school and the dreams delivered to so many by its founder – it inspired me to want to return to Kenya, I was unsure in what capacity. For all intents and purposes, there was no visible evidence of post election violence- it was a whispered conversation amongst adults and adroitly addressed in op ed pieces in various newspapers. There was a sense of surrender to an imposed calm so people could function.
During the ensuing months of my first journey to Kenya and accepting a job I attempted to research as much as I could about the most recent ‘history’ of Kenya to begin understanding some of the causes of the post election violence. I did not want to understand the evil people could perpetrate on one another, rather I wanted to find a place in my heart for those who were in the process of surviving. I knew that this pivotal event was essential to any change to be made in Kenya. What I visually saw on line and what was explained in writing and what people said did not begin to address what actually occurred. I don’t think the media lied – there is just no way to express all of these tragic events.
Later, as I was leaving Kenya and a friend gave me the photo book Kenya Burning, ISBN 9966-7182-1-4 that I had a more real glimpse into a portion of what happened. Post election violence was at least partially a result of long standing hatred, jealousy induced by decades of colonialism. What ever colonialism did not outwardly destroy in Kenya, the people of Kenya took one step further and poured out the sickest hatred on their own. The need to win an election instead of demonstrate leadership superseded any and all reason. Living with the secondhand knowledge of this tragedy is not the same as living through it.
There is a picture with a hand resting on a rock. It is only a hand – there is no body. In the back of my mind I saw scenes from the movie Hotel Rwanda. There is an ugliness within each photo of Kenya Burning which rips at my heart and yet I know it is nothing compared to the people in each picture or the people outside the photos but who were present for the violence – their pain is genuine and still raw and it may always be an open wound. The anger Kenyans hold regarding corruption is almost reverent. It is sewn from a frustration that is in the bone marrow. It is this environment which prevents education from being able to take hold. The population of Kenya and its destiny is better controlled when people do not ask questions nor expect anything.
It was through these same photos I found a way to obtain a ration of forgiveness to myself for not being able to effect any significant change, for being an observer to corruption and hatred but unable to do anything about it. The whole situation was larger than anything I could imagine and clearly will take more than a lifetime to put at rest. What I saw while working in Kenya was merely a dirty residue to a poisonous pile.