Monday, February 04, 2008

UPR Part 5

This is the first post of a few to come shortly...

Dear Friends and Family,

I have some things to share with you about our day which are quite difficult for me. I know some of you will see some of the decisions I made as utterly stupid whereas others will understand. So I lay myself open for judgement with this email and will try and be open and honest with you regardless. I also ask the question, what would you have done?

First of all about ****** and the kids. They were able to head out of town today to have a well deserved break away from the stresses of life in **********. We have some friends who ….. live just around 20 minutes outside of town, it's like an oasis out there. You can't hear any of the gun shots so can almost the terrible things happening in the country. ***** commented on how it took her a long time to relax. She didn't even realise how tense she was. With every noise you're always assessing it to see whether it is gun fire. You don't even notice how you're constantly listening out for things. No wonder you feel so tense and get so little sleep! It was good for them to get away, also for the kids. It has been the first time that they left the centre since this whole thing started and they seemed to revel in the freedom – and the wild animals we saw along the way.

I just had time for a quick cup of ice tea and some yummy biscuits before I had to head back to town. That was the only break I got in the day until I later went to collect ******** just before dusk when I was able to have a bite to eat again and enjoy the silence out in the bush.
I have just received word that they have given all the people in ******* until tomorrow to vacate the premises. ***** tells me that they have not organised an alternative camp for them to go to or busses with police protection to take them to ********* were the other members of their tribe call home. I cannot believe this information. Surely not! The people in ****** are terrified of leaving the place! They hear all these stories of the Mungiki just waiting for them on the other side of the perimeter fence. (The Mungiki are a violent Kikuyu cult which strives to return the Kikuyu away from modernism and back to their old traditions.) But to be cast out like that, it will create a very dangerous situation for them. There is a lot of dangerous ground for them to cover before they reach relative safety in ********. Tomorrow morning we will visit ******** to find out what is going on.

In some ways this information does not surprise me. The government is making certain decisions whose sole purpose is to present the air that everything is fine; business as usual. Ignore the violence and maybe it will go away. There is also another reason why they are probably not offering busses with an armed escort for the people to get to *****. This will facilitate the ethnic cleansing which is taking place in Kenya now. Apparently the city of ******* can now be considered ethnically cleansed. The 200,000 (tribe) who used to live there have all been chased away. If this happens in other places, especially closer to the capital Nairobi, then it is an indication that the government has no control of the situation. And that makes it harder to continue with business as normal.

I came across another example of this earlier today myself.
****** received a phone call this morning from his …. (a tribe) landlord to ask him to contact his (a tribe) neighbour. The landlord had waited long enough. Now the situation had become too dangerous for him so he was going to move all the (a tribe) property out of the place. He gave the assurance that it wouldn't be burned. But if he wanted to collect his belongings, he'd better come get them!

I then spent the greater part of the morning trying to locate the (a tribe) tenant. I finally found him in ********. It was an old man with white hair. Up to this point his primary concern was to find his wife whom he hadn't seen since the crisis began last Sunday (he did find her later at the **********). Surely he'd seen enough suffering in his life! Now he was about to lose everything he owned if we couldn't sort something out for him quickly.

I contacted our friend who works in ****** about the situation and he assured us the solution was straight forward. But when he called his superior, and later the head of ******, to ask for a vehicle and security, he was informed that it would be impossible. The reason? The policy had changed. Things were no longer being burned. There was therefore no reason to send security. Everything was okay. So no car and no security escort.

We tried to argue with them to no avail. Although the things were not being burned, they had been thrown out. They would all be destroyed or stolen! We even called the landlord who said the tenant must come quickly if he wanted his stuff. He then apologised for what he had done, assuring us that he wasn't a bad man. He had just received threats and was very afraid for his life.

So there we were. Life was back to normal in *******. Yet beside me stood an old man who was about to lose everything.

Our next option was to take him out of ******* and try whether someone at the police station would help. I spoke to the commander at the police and he assured me that he could get an armed escort. All we needed was to provide a vehicle. Finally some hope!

I felt it was unwise for me to go with the man, for me to use our car as the rescue vehicle. Doing so could make us a target. I therefore went into town to try and find a pick-up. I found a number, yes, but all of the drivers refused to allow their vehicle to be used to transport something for a member of the (a) tribe. It was just too dangerous they said. Meanwhile time was running out. I wondered if the old man had already lost everything or if we still had time to look for help elsewhere.

That's when I made the decision to take a look at the situation. The landlord had implied that he had thrown the effects "close to the building's courtyard". If that was the case it would buy us time. If not…. I decided that, if the surroundings there looked safe, I would verify the landlord's statement.

Town was quiet. We hadn't had any shootings all day. Shops were open. And people were going about their business like every other day. I drove into the estate along a road which gave me a good vantage point. There were few people about, a car passed me, and some children were playing. So I continued along until I got to the road where I had to turn to see the house.

As I turned, I saw a sight which truly dismayed me: out in the open ground beside the dusty road and the cacti plants which separated the road from the cemetery was a big pile of someone's personal effects. There was a cupboard, some sofa chairs, clothes, and many other things. And sifting through all of this were some children and a couple of women. Some already had a few bags of the owner's possessions in their hands.

Now my question: what would you have done? What should I have done?

I knew that the most valuable things would disappear first. The old man and his family would be unlikely to be left with anything! I looked around and didn't see any men about, just the few children and women picking through the remains like vultures while a few other women and children looked on from their doorways.

I then made the decision that I had to try and save at least the most valuable things. So instead of driving away I drove up to the place, got out of the car and addressed the scavengers, thanking them for helping me. I explained that a friend of mine was a friend of the old man who owned all of those things. I made it clear that I did not know the owner personally, and suggested that his friend was a Kikuyu by the name of ____. As soon as they heard the Kikuyu name, they were happy. My explanation, though not 100 percent accurate, distanced me from the (a) tribe and protected others from danger.

There was one woman amongst the scavengers who I felt right away could give me trouble. So I tried to get her to help me. She immediately demanded money for her assistance. I told her I was just looking for some Christians who would assist me just to save a few things for the old man. Christians, I said, would understand what I was doing. To make my point and to try and get their consciences into gear, I then tried to ascertain which church the people came from: some were from the PCA, some from the Catholic, some Pentecostal. All kinds of churches were represented amongst the group!

I finally succeeded in getting a few to agree to help me. But they were VERY reluctant and there was a lot of arguing between the people whether or not they should do so.

All I really wanted to do was take the most valuable stuff and then get out of there! As quickly as possible. I was aware of the danger I was in. But how to know what someone else would consider the most valuable?

While I was trying my best to collect stuff I became aware of one man in the group. I was constantly on the look-out for anybody who demonstrated leadership. The man I spotted, ******, wanted to know what I was doing and what was going on. I asked him if he was a Christian and he assured me he was. ……! That made a hit with a few in the crowd though they reminded me that we were not in church (let's keep things separate now, shall we? Faith and actions!). I then asked him if he would help me and he got right to it. He suggested the most valuable thing was the furniture. Now this I wasn't expecting! How do you pack furniture in a hurry? Without waiting for a response and with the help of a few others they then managed to get a number of the larger furniture items on my roof rack. Meanwhile I worked together with the kids getting some other things into the car. One little boy too was very helpful: "Take this. These blankets are more valuable than those picture frames."

Suddenly I noticed two young men standing there. They started speaking aggressively to the people in Kikuyu and had particular choice things to say to ******* who was just tying the furniture to the roof of my car.

I went over to the men and shook their hands, asked them their names and explained I was trying to help a friend, that I was a Christian sad to see this happen to someone and wanted to help. Then there were three of them. The main guy had been drinking which got me very worried. He then told me that they were not Christian, that didn't concern them in the least. No, Mt Kenya was important to them! ….. Did I not know that they were the ones who were cleaning the area of filth and bad blood? And who was I to work against that? No, they had the say as they were Mungiki, from Molo (confirming to me what people had been saying and what the press had suggested that many of the Mungiki youth had come into ****** from outside).

They then demanded money from me – protection money? I don't know. I knew it wouldn't stop with that so acted as though I didn't understand them and suggested I just finish up and then we could talk. Would they be willing to help? No, I gathered from their demeanour they didn't really like that suggestion. I continued to talk to the one who was the most talkative, trying to give ****** time to finish. It was time for me to go, but this business with the Mungiki I knew had to be sorted first. While I talked to the one, the other two left. ****** came down from the car and advised me I pay them. He also warned me that the other two were probably going away for reinforcements. So I quickly had them called back.

While this went on I suddenly got a phone call, from our police friend. I advised him that now would be a good time to send in the cavalry. Unfortunately, he informed me, the government policy had not changed. He would try to help but didn't think he could. I was on my own.

I then stepped aside with ***** and the Mungiki leader and we discussed money. How much did they want? They made clear to me that I would pay or they would burn the car. Did I not know that they were the ones in power?

I then asked how much they wanted. The leader told me 17,000/. I bulked. I didn't have that sort of money with me! Not even close. So I told them I would give them what I had. I didn't have a clue how much money I had in my wallet, and if they would be happy with that. It turns out I had 800/. I did have a bit more but I explained to him that I couldn't give him that as it was not mine to give. Our friends had loaned me the money to buy some cooking gas for them. Initially he seemed content with that explanation which surprised me. (I thought it was worth a try but was definitely not going to argue with him!) But then he demanded 2000 more which I dutifully gave him.

They then left and I got in the car to drive away. I made it about 10 feet when one of the sofa chairs fell off the top of the car, breaking my radio aerial in the process. ****** came running up and wanted to help me get it back onto the car. Suddenly Mungiki reinforcements arrived; three motorbike taxis with a passenger on each came zooming up (flashy ones too, not like most of the mopeds you see about town. These were people who obviously were getting a lot of money!). I knew I had to get out immediately! I then signalled to ***** to get into the car with me and we drove away, not in a state of panic (I didn't want a motorcycle escort!) but as fast as the unstable load on the car roof would allow on those terribly bumpy roads.

I was grateful that ***** jumped in the car without delay. I think he was also thankful that I offered him a ride away from there. They had clearly been threatening him. I apologised to him for what I had gotten him into. I knew he would no longer be safe in those parts for the next few days at least. But what should he now do? Although he was shaken up, he said that he was not worried. God would protect him as he had done the right thing. As Christians we are to help our brothers, even if they are from different tribes. I was amazed! I had been amazed to see how he had freely volunteered to help and then continued to help me despite all the threats the Mungiki threw his way. Now I was amazed at his faith, that despite it all he believed God would protect him. Here was the first person I had seen in all of this who practiced what he believed. No, the second. The first was his pastor.

I then decided we would go to his pastor and ask for advice. I was unable to call as in all the excitement at the end someone had stolen my mobile phone. That was a loss! Such a necessary tool for a time like this!

In the end we decided it would be safest for him to leave town for a while. Although I admired his actions so much how he had helped me, and although I was grateful for his help in getting me out, I felt so guilty at having put another person's life in danger like that! We subsequently went to ******* who was so kind to kit him out in some clothes which should help him over the next while in ******. I then dropped him off at the taxi stand so he could make his way before dark.

I don't know whether the old man whom I'd been trying to help all day was grateful or not for what we had been able to save of his possessions. I imagine he was more concerned at the time for what he had lost rather than what we had been able to save. But I'm sure over time he'll be happy that, unlike many, he was left with a few though meagre possessions. In all that I never did get to hear how he found his wife. That would have been a lovely story!

Now I'm left wondering about my actions. Was it utterly stupid? ****** thinks so. She feels it has put us on the map for some here. They now know me and know our car. But I keep wondering what I should have done? I'd expended all the efforts I could to help the old man. With a police escort myself, it may have kept them at bay at the time but I think I would have become more of a target on their map. I didn't go into the estate with the intent of acting like a hero. All I wanted, when I saw the vultures on their carcass, was to jump in, rescue just a few of the most valuable things for the old man, then get out. Circumstances just took things another way.

What I can say is that I'll think twice about going near there again anytime soon! And I'll use ****** car around town for a while rather than our own. No use attracting more attention. Besides, the radio no longer works in our car.

I found it hard to share the above account with ***** as I knew it would get her worried all over again. It has also had a strong effect on me. I've noticed my ears are much more attuned to the night sounds outside while I write this. Every sound makes me wonder if there is someone out there. (The occasional shots don't help!) But the nerves will calm. ****** and I prayed this evening believing that God is with us. Sometimes we'd love to see some physical signs of that, but at the moment we can only see it with our eyes of faith.

Finally, let me apologise for the length of this email. I know it will be too long for many, but for those of you who have read this far, writing for me is a form of therapy. I thank you for helping me work these things out. Forgive us also if we haven't responded to your emails with personal messages. We've been a tad busy but will do so as soon as we can. Do not take it to mean we don't appreciate your emails! We really do!

God bless,

No comments: