Saturday, 29 October 2011

ICJ Kenya: Student Duties

OK.  I am writing this late on a Friday night.  I was pondering what I should write about next.  There's been too much news about the Kenyan push into Somalia to root out Al-Shabaab.  At least in the media here (I'm not sure what it's like at home).  But, to be honest, it's slightly depressing, and it is really confusing.  So, I was really hoping to find something else noteworthy from my experiences here.  Sure didn't have to wait that long.

On Thursday night, I was pretty amped up about what Friday was going to bring, as a day at work.  It's not a feeling that comes around often, when work is associated with it, but, to be honest, I'm getting involved in more than a few things that are tickling my fancy.  Thanks to my work monitoring the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, not only am I hopefully going to continue that work, but I am starting to get involved in researching and writing on the incredibly complex issue of reparations for victims of human rights abuses.  Given the immensity of Human Rights issues that have occurred between independence and present-day, any reparations scheme for Kenya has to be done adequately and appropriately.  So I have volunteered to get involved in working out a plausible reparations scheme for Kenya's situation.

Despite how awesome that might seem, I am also stoked about this secondary issue that seems to have fallen on my lap - helping finalize and implement a Legal Aid scheme in Kenya.  Those of you aware of my past legal shenanigans will know that I spent 2 years working for Law Line, which was a subsidiary of Legal Aid Alberta (and has now been subsumed into it, among the many changes that have occurred).  Anyways, I am a big believer in Legal Aid initiatives.  And for those of you who know me, the only thing I like more than Legal Aid systems is STUDENT Legal Aid schemes.  So, imagine my delight when a coworker decided that he was 100% stoked on working with me to create a student legal aid framework for Kenya.  Call that a pet project.  We'll see how it goes.

Anyways, more on point, I was completely excited about what Friday held in store, and the fact that it was the end of a week and a great time to relax and plan for the future.  I should have taken the torrential rain as a sign.

When I walked into the office, and made my rounds greeting everyone, James, one of the Kenyan interns, asked me if I would like to accompany him to the High Court of Kenya to file a Notice of Motion.  Seemed like a great idea - tag along and take some pictures and get a feel for the Kenyan justice system at work.  Plus, it's something I have a close affinity for, after being a well-worked articling student, who had a fair share of Student Duties (any odd job, ranging from making applications in Chambers, filing documents, to ordering food for afternoon hand out sessions).  Sounded like a great experience, and besides, how hard could it be to file a document?

The current Court House in Nairobi is located in Milimani, across the street from the old Commercial Law Courts.  The new building is quite impressive:

The security system is also pretty good - they confiscated my camera, so unfortunately I was unable to visually record what happened once we got inside the building.

OK.  First I should let you know that a large portion of what follows is owed particularly to a poorly written email.  I think that probably would have saved us an hour of our time.  Maybe two.  But regardless, this is how things shaped up and shook down.

James, Frida and I left in the ICJ-Kenya van, to go to the Court houses to file a Notice of Motion with the Court.  What exactly the Notion of Motion was about isn't such a huge deal, but it is interesting nevertheless:  ICJ-Kenya was preparing an Amicus Brief in order to be an interested party and to provide expert commentary into the issue of immigration and refugee rights.  In particular, the organization has a good background in the rules and issues surrounding extradition.  So we were filing a Notice of Motion to have our time in court to argue why we should help in the extradition proceedings.

We entered the Court, not exactly sure where we should go.  Frida suggested we try the first floor Chief Magistrate's office.  We did.  I noticed on the initial walk-through that this was an incredibly nice courthouse. Far from the cement somberness of North American law courts, this was a vibrant building, with many windows, and open areas (which were later to become waterlogged, once the torrential rain started).  It was bright and bustling.  A legal bazaar.

The first place we checked was a long, narrow room, lined with metal bars, to separate the court clerks from the filing minions.  It was empty, almost sleepy.  The Chief Magistrate's Registry.  After a brief chat with an employee behind the bars, we were directed to go upstairs to the Magistrate Court Criminal, Civil and Traffic Registry office.

This registry office was architecturally identical to the Chief Magistrate's Registry.  Functionally, it was a bit different.  There were about 200 people jammed into the narrow space, jostling for position in front of the metal bars.  Not much different than trying to get a drink at a dance club frequented by all the frat houses.  I couldn't readily discern any particular organizational structure to it - you shoved your way to the front, and waved your document to be filed at the nearest clerk, who did his or her best to act as disinterested as possible.  James wiggles his way to the front, but gets told to move to the other end of the room, where those clerks are in charge of finding the case files associated with whatever you wanted to do.  More wiggling ensues.  People are remarkably pleasant, given that this is a court house, there's a lot of physical contact going on, and little privacy - we hear a man arguing with a clerk about his traffic ticket that he is trying to pay, but they are moving slowly, and he doesn't want to have to spend the night in jail for late payment.

Finally, James gets someone to take our Notice of Motion.  The guy walks away, and we wait.  And wait.  One hour later, the man reappears, and says (a) he can't find the file, (b) he doesn't understand what this Notice is for, and (c) that the file might be in the Old Milimani Commercial Courts, where some of the files for the Magistrate's Court are held.  The Old court house is across the street, so it doesn't seem like a big deal.

We walk across the street, assuming that this should be a bit easier, since there is less going on at the old court house these days.  We enter the registry office, and instead of 200 people, there's 100.  Ok, not bad.  Even better, James recognizes one of the clerks, as a classmate.  We jump from 100th in line, to first.  She finds a file with the same number as ours, but different parties.

Let me fast forward a bit, because the story becomes repetitive.  We go to a total of 5 different offices in the Magistrate's Court area.  Each time we wait, each time the service is dismissive, and each time people can't help us, and direct us somewhere else.

We're now it a slight panic. The last person we talked to told us that they didn't really want to help us, because it was almost lunch break, but directed us downstairs (back to the first place we tried).  It was time to improvise, or be caught in a vicious perpetual cycle in the offices of the Magistrate's Court.  We walked to the other side of the building, to the High Court.  Divine intervention!  The first person we bump into just happens to be involved in the filing department, just happens to recognize the case name, and just happens to be willing to help us out, before going on lunch.  Great!

We find out the following:

  • The matter is in the High Court, and not the Magistrate's Court.
  • The matter, while being labelled 'miscellaneous', is being dealt with in the Criminal Division, and not the Civil Division.
  • The matter is actually two separate matters.
  • The matter number that we have is wrong (for either matter), and regardless the numbers have been changed in any event.
  • The names of the parties on the matter are spelled wrong and are incomplete.
This is what I meant when I said that the email would have saved us a lot of time.  As it stands, we have some homework to do.  The friendly man gives us until 2pm to get back to him with the stuff.  He's leaving at 3.  The office closes at 4, technically, but it's Friday (I'm not sure if that really explains it, but that's what James tells me).  It's now, after all that, 1pm.  And it takes about 30mins to drive back to the office.  Great.   

Intermission:  While you imagine what kind of lunch I had, I noticed something else at the court house.  Tons and tons of paper, binders and books.  Relatively un-noteworthy, for a legal institution, you might think, but here's the interesting bit.  No computers.  When people look up a case, they grab a book the size of a medium bathroom mirror, and as thick as the fourth Harry Potter book, and leaf through it until they find the handwritten entry.  I ask why they haven't updated to computers (the technology is definitely available in Nairobi, and the Courts are not poor).  James tells me that the employees voted AGAINST technological upgrades.  They were afraid of losing jobs, and, more importantly, from the sounds of it, from losing the large financial bonus of bribes.  But that's an unverifiable, unofficial account of that issue.

Anyways, we arrive back at the court house at 3pm on the dot.  That's right, an hour late, exactly.  It took us 30 minutes to get back to the office, 15 minutes to make the changes and get the documents ready (and eat lunch), 30 minutes for the cab to arrive, and 45 minutes to get back to the court house.  When we get through security and back to our benefactor's desk, he is, of course, nowhere to be found.  The office itself seems like a legal parody movie - rows of wooden desks, stacked eye-high with files and documents, and in the middle of it all, court clerks reading the newspaper, listening to Christian music, or joking with each other.    There has been a lot of attention paid to hiring more judicial officers to help strengthen the judiciary, but I would think that this inefficiency itself contributes to the one-million case backlog and institutional frailty of the Kenyan Courts.  

Nevertheless, we find ourselves in front of a very unimpressed clerk, who, we are told, can stamp our documents for us.  Perfect.  OK, she says, first things first - proof of payment.  We don't have this, and, truthfully, we don't know how much it will cost.  Neither did the office secretary, who gave us 1,000KSh.  The total is 2,810KSh (it's double because the case was split into two actions).  We start to dig in our pockets, but she ushers us out.  We have to pay at the bank.  We go to the bank, and pay (we have, collectively, 75 shillings left between myself and James).  We get our receipts.  We go back.  No, we get sent to deliver copies to the court cashier.  No, we need 4 copies of the receipt.  No, there aren't any photocopiers here we can use, or even pay to use.

We run across the street to find a copier.  I look at my watch - 3:45pm.  We have 15 minutes before the Court closes.  We start running.  The Copying Shop is small and cozy, and very efficient (-25KSh).  We run back.

We wait in front of the Cashier's desk - which is located in the same Magistrate's Registry Office where there was the 200 person scrum earlier in the day.  It has quieted down now.  It is even easier to hear the man arguing with the clerk, still trying to pay his traffic fine, so he doesn't have to spend the weekend in jail.  We look through the peephole at the cashiers, who are standing around, chatting.  There are a stack of receipts waiting to be processed, and there are five other people waiting around with us, seething.  This is dead time.  No amount of cajoling can get the cashiers to work any faster (or work at all, in some cases).  4:00pm.  James catches the man's attention.  I don't catch what he says, but he manages to sound pleasant.  We get the receipt of the receipt.

We sprint back to the clerk's office.  It is empty.  Except for our lady.  The look in her eyes is even less friendly.  4:09pm.  She stamps the documents.  

We breathe.  It starts to rain.  We call our taxi driver, and when he arrives, a clerk runs out into the rain, asking if he can ride with us, making a point of reminding us how helpful he was for us.  A favor for a favor, right?  James slams the door shut and we drive off.  

We arrive back in the office at 4:45pm.  One day, one task, 6 hours.  Welcome to the practice of law in Kenya.

Monday, 24 October 2011


Bit of disturbing news coming down the pipe.

If you haven't heard, there were a few aid-workers kidnapped near the Somalian border just over a week ago.  This is an area that is ravaged by drought and famine at this particular time, and while it has been called the 'Crisis in the Horn of Africa', the Somali-Kenyan border is probably where the major issues are - the environmental catastrophe meets human suffering, with not only issues of drought and famine, but also huge numbers of refugees and major health issues including cholera outbreaks, etc. It is a major humanitarian crisis, now exacerbated by the kidnapping of aid-workers.

Apparently, the terrorist group Al-Shabaab has been blamed for the kidnappings, although I am not aware of this being confirmed.  Regardless, the Kenyan response was unequivocal.  Almost immediately after the Kenyan Army moved into Somalia, Al-Shabaab threatened retaliation for Kenya's military action.

From the sounds coming out of the media today, it looks like Al-Shabaab has started to retaliate, attacking a nightclub and a bus stop in the same day in Nairobi. Of course, there has been no direct link to Al-Shabaab, so we will have to wait and see how things progress over the next few days.

I had an interesting conversation with my colleagues about the situation - they all tended to support the initiative against Al-Shabaab, which has been a major cause of conflict at the Somali-Kenyan border, and has hindered aid and assistance to the refugees and citizens that are suffering there.  I suppose I cannot fault that logic.  They educated me on the fact that Kenya's army was 'untested', and probably useless.  It seemed that there was the opinion that this was an excuse for the politicians to be involved in some exciting military operation (knowing that next year is an election year).  I did ask them, though, how they thought this campaign, with the possibility of retaliatory attacks, would affect Kenya's tourism industry, which is the second-largest industry in Kenya.  They agreed that it would probably harm the tourism industry, despite what the government said.  However, they pointed out something that I had not ever considered - politicians don't really care about the tourism trade, because the people that suffer, if it decreases, are the common people and not the politicians.  That was a slightly heartbreaking sentiment.

Before you start worrying, I am staying safe and smart.  While the news articles above do not embellish the accounts of the attacks, I hope you remember that I am staying in a suburb of Nairobi, and realistically, would not have known about these attacks if my dad hadn't sent me a link.  The days move forward.  I am, and will be, fine.  My thoughts are with those who are not, and my hopes are pinned on a swift end to this conflict.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Intermission: Downpour

In what started as a pleasant, if cool, day, I am now trapped in a trendy cafe, sipping masala chai and patrolling the information superhighway, while rain buckets from the clouds.  Seems like a good time to reflect, since there isn't much to engage with, at this point in time.

This period of time, or 'season', if you can call it that, is what my friends in Nairobi refer to as the light rain season.  Intermittently, it will pour rain for about an hour or two, before clearing up.  The rain is much different than what normally occurs on the west coast of Canada (cold weather, windy, humid, unpleasant, dreary), where one still goes on with what was planned for the day.  Here, when the initial drops start to fall, there is an imperative to get to shelter, as soon as possible.  The weather stays nice, there's a slight breeze, and the water falls from the clouds like one giant shower head.  But walking outside is virtually impossible.

So, I've sequestered myself into an artsy cafe, managed to stake out a spot with an electrical outlet, and am abusing my wireless internet privileges as much as possible.

Nairobi is an incredibly difficult city for me to capture.  It feels massive, in terms of physical size.  It is large, in terms of population (3-4million).  And there is something oddly disorienting about it.  Perhaps it is the lack of concrete addresses.  Perhaps it is the multitude of curving streets, especially the ones that seem to arbitrarily change names.  Possibly it's the fact that there are no distinct boundaries between different districts in town (I was once taken on a meandering taxi ride, when I said that 'Gitanga Rd. was in Kileleshwa', when it is actually in Lavington (but not Lavington Estate).  Either that or I got ripped off.  Maybe both.  Regardless, one of the main things that disorients me is the traffic - there is just so much of it, and it's hard to fathom where people are going, much less where they are coming from.

The city itself has a curious mix of greenery, concrete, and squalor:

  • I have only driven past the Kibera Slum, at this point, but if one does not look for it, one would not notice it.  It is nestled in between a golf course, and a section of town full of seemingly nice apartments.  Nevertheless, it is there, an expansive tin-roofed, tin-sided, red dirt maze.
  • The trees and bushes are more than just cosmetic here - often they are the thorny security and privacy mechanisms for apartments and houses.  Whatever they are used for, the greenery is lush.
  • Concrete is, however, slowly taking over Nairobi.  The Central Business District has the same layout and feel of any metropolitan city, with Uhuru and Central Park standing in stark contrast to the overdeveloped sections of the Business District.  A glimpse of the outskirts of downtown see masses of greenery bulging, as if it looks like the forests and shrubs are doing their best to reclaim the red dirt from the cement.
  • Even in the suburbs, there are signs everywhere of development - more apartments, more shopping centres.  And the apartments and shopping centres that already exist are building themselves upwards.  The buildings are all concrete and brick - the skeletons of new buildings are all iron bars with poured concrete and stacked bricks.  A far cry from the wooden frames of new houses and the steel structures of new buildings in Canada.
In my location and working area, the predominant kind of people I see are upper class urbanites.  But even then, they come in all shapes.  Colourful headscarves, designer jeans, skinny jeans, baggy jeans, baseball hats, suits.  Junction, the mall I'm writing this from, has a curious mix of Kenyans, Indians, Wazungu, and everything that falls in between.  It makes for some interesting people watching.  It's readily apparent that it is mainly the North Americans (I am making assumptions based on skin colour, style of dress, and a few other things) that have a propensity to (a) hang out on their own, (b) spend the most time on laptops, and (b) dress the most 'out of context'.  Of which, I am probably a perfect prototype right now.  Everyone else comes in groups of 2-9, the conversations are loud and lively, and there are children everywhere.  In fact, it's very difficult to see any Kenyan walking alone here.  I wish I had an entourage, at this point.  Besides, everyone here seems to be very good looking.  It's a good vibe.

It is also clear that hiring 'house help' here is an accepted practice among the more well off.  Even in our apartment building, instead of a coin-operated washing machine, people hire domestic help to do the laundry, by hand.  Dish washers don't seem to be common-place here, either.  And, there really doesn't seem to be the same attention paid to furniture here - especially when it comes to beds.  Even the beds shown on Kenyan soap operas don't seem particularly comfortable.  What an incredibly first-world observation.  

As I get slowly more comfortable with Kiswahili, and start to pick out words and phrases in conversations, there are a few things that are becoming noticeable.  First, people love to talk.  About anything.  Explaining how one goes about buying groceries has turned into a 30-minute conversation.  A favorite topic at work is what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a good relationship/marriage.  That topic makes everyone laugh, a lot.  

Second, people expect everyone to contribute.  This is interesting for me, because my natural tendency is to just sit and listen, and occasionally weigh in with my opinion.  And often, when chatting with friends in Canada, we tend to wait until invited to speak, to put forth our opinions.  Here, friends have mentioned that I am 'too quiet' - not as a criticism, just as a recognition that I'm different.  They, on the other hand, have no problems expressing their opinions about everything, at any time.  This makes me slightly uncomfortable - in Canadian culture, often a controversial opinion will kill a conversation.  Here, the opinions flow freely, and from all areas of the spectrum. The ingredient that dispels conflict is laughter.  It is always close to the surface.

Finally, the hand is a predominant cultural tool.  High fives, hand shakes and hand gestures abound.  Waving hello is exuberantly done. Firm, business-like handshakes are rare - more often, it's a soft handslap, followed by a hand clasp, followed by the thumbs meeting each other, and flicking past each other.  I have re-read that sentence and realize that, unless you've actually experienced something like this, that entire description seems meaningless.  You'll just have to ask me to show you, sometime.  Nevertheless, it is an ever-present facet of social interaction.  It makes me feel like being in Kenya is like being part of a vast sports team.  It's a good feeling.

Also, hand gestures form a vital part of non-verbal communication.  I haven't figured out exactly when people use certain hand gestures, but I haven't seen one that expresses anything negative (although I'm sure flipping the bird means the same thing here as at home).  There is hand waving, double hand waving, hand slapping, knee-slapping, hand flicking, fist-slapping, karate chops, hand to hips, hand to heart, hand to face, hand to head.  I have a feeling that if I participated in a conversation with my hands in my pockets, there would be a lot of miscommunication.

OK.  The sun has set.  The music is hard core reggae/rap.  And I'm needing to buy food for the week.  Check back in later on this week for more stories about my work here.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Lodwar, Turkana County

For the past three days, I was in Lodwar, which is in Northern Kenya.  The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) was holding hearings in this district, and ICJ-Kenya tagged along to monitor the process, write up a report, and get a sense of what types of issues are affecting the communities in this area.  It was something of a full body experience to say the least.  Read nicely written pieces on the issues brought up during the TJRC hearings here and here - they are good highlights of some of the main issues affecting this area.  As you will read, the issues that the communities in this area have faced are markedly different from what has happened in other areas of the country.  There was no real conflict associated with post-election violence.

But more on that later.  Let me try and describe Lodwar, with pictures to follow.

Getting to the airport was more of an issue than I thought it was going to be.  My flight was at 10:30am, so I showed up at the office at 8am, picked up a few things and was patiently waiting for the driver to get ready.  Everything seemed fine.  Apparently it wasn't, and the driver, Musyoka, with skill, poise, and a touch of insanity, managed to get me to the airport on time.  I just wish he'd stayed on the road all of the time.

Our plane was a Dash-8 16-seater.  Three people on the plane crossed themselves as we took off for our first stopover in Kitale.  I'm glad someone did.  Nairobi is a fertile, mostly green area - flying into Kitale, it was clear that this land was even more bountiful, with beautiful tall trees, and green everywhere.  The plane made a sickening cracking/crunching sound as it touched down, but no one seemed to notice.  I thought it was quaint that the Kitale 'Airport' was just a small building, the size of a 2 bedroom bungalow, in the middle of nowhere.  I never thought to consider what Lodwar's would look like.

After a short delay, we were off again.  I took a glimpse at the rolling hills and greenery, and fell asleep.  I awoke to the sound of my stomach turning, as the Dash-8 slipped, dipped and shuddered through the clouds, on its descent into Lodwar.  A quick glance out of the window was a stark reminder of where I was heading - an entirely different setting, if not a different planet.  Yellowish sand, as far as the eye could see, with spindly lines of greenery sparsely lining areas where streams may have been, ages ago.  Miniature goat corrals were sprinkled around, long ago abandoned to the sand.  How any plant survives is an absolute mystery to me.

We land in Lodwar, safely.  There are children on the tarmac, running after the plane.  The airstrip is a plank of asphalt on sand, surrounded by barbwire fence.  A small rectangular hut is the 'airport'.  The first step out of the airplane is like the surge of heat from pouring gasoline on a fire.  I pause, my face instantly breaks out in sweat, but my rear is still heavily air conditioned.  It is one of the strangest feelings I've ever experienced.  I instantly regret wearing shoes.  The temperature will be, on average, between 35-40 degrees.  And hotter when the wind blows, oddly.  At night, it cools off to around 28 degrees.  24-hour Bikram's Hot Yoga.

We drive the very short distance to our hotel, drop our bags, buy water, and head to the hearings, where we spend the rest of the day, sweating.

The heat does strange things to my physical functioning.  I lose my appetite, I am very, very tired, and I have trouble focusing.  The hearings pass by as if in a dream.  An elder, a Mzee, is testifying about the conflict between the Turkana people and the Pokot.  There has long been a history of Cattle Raids between the two groups, but the influx of illegal arms in the mix has turned traditional 'coming of age' theatrics into deadly pillaging.  He gives specific examples of the brutal outcomes.  Yet somehow, in the midst of his stories, in what one of the audience will tell me is 'real wisdom', he spins his tales in such a way that the entire room is laughing uproariously.  Afterwards, I give him a respectful handshake (clutching my right arm with my left) and thank him for his testimony. I'm not crying, it's just sweat pouring down my face, but I'm awed.

Lunch is fried meat, sukuma (kind of like spinach), and chapatis.  More importantly, ice-cold Fanta Orange.  The sugar-rush hits me hard.

During the afternoon sessions, I hear one witness describing his experiences as a 14 year old boy, surviving an air raid.  His town was bombed in 1989.  He mentions how he returned to his village after the bombs dropped; he sees charred bodies, entrails hanging from smoking tree limbs, and a crater where his house used to be.  His community is never informed who the perpetrators were - they find out during their research for the TJRC hearing that the newspapers reported that Uganda airplanes bombed Lokichoggio.  But to what aim?  I am stunned.  The sugar rush is gone and everything feels very, very heavy.  He respectfully asks the commission to recommend a full investigation and report to be made into the bombing, and that compensation and a monument be made about the incident.  There is no rage, no anger, no blame, only questions.

We have missed dinner.  I chug a litre of water and eat a chapati.  It is enough.  I have a shower, but forgo toweling off, and go to bed, sopping wet.  I sleep.  My sink doesn't work.

The next morning, my ICJ colleague and I go to the Women's Hearings.  There is one male present (the cameraman), so I slip in.  The women are singing.  Loudly.  It is captivating.  I become painfully aware of my  male-ness.  Luckily, a TJRC staffer, rescues me, and takes me to the in camera (private) hearings.  There are 9 people, including myself, in the room.  This is the same room where 500 people were listening to witnesses testifying.  Today the audience is just me.  I become painfully aware of my non-Kenyan-ness.  I am allowed to stay, but the commissioners make a point, at the end of the session, to remind people that only authorized people are allowed to attend the in camera hearings.  I sweat more, if that's possible.

We return to the site of the singing ladies.  My colleague and I unfortunately miss an opportunity to get driven to Lake Turkana, the 'Jade Sea' of the North.  Instead, we are back at the Lodwar Lodge, where I find all my belongings moved to a different room.  The sink works in this one, but the toilet doesn't.  In fact, it is leaking.  I am very self-conscious about this wasted water, in this land of drought and famine.  Perhaps suffering from heat-induced mental instability, I attempt to jiggle the leaking bits, somehow thinking it will stop.  The drip turns into an outright waterfall.  I scramble out of the room.  They find me another room.  This one has a pit toilet and a bucket.  Much better.

On our way back to the lodge, we cross paths with a Kenyan man who is working on a laptop.  He greets us and his handshake is firm, but oddly, he doesn't seem to want to let go.  We introduce ourselves, and it turns out that he works for Kenya Red Cross.  He is a Medical Officer providing relief services to the drought and famine victims.  He is jovial and affable, but his eyes are haunted.  He tells us that 5 km out of town, families are sitting under trees, and dying.  He tells us he has no idea how to help most of these people.  Yet, he tells us that somehow, everything he sees defies expectation.  He says that medical evidence says that a person will die after 2 days without water, yet he sees women and children surviving for over a week without water.  With great empathy and respect, he tells us of the determination of survival, and of the ultimate acts of altruism that occur on a daily basis.  He is humbled.  So am I.  We both feel the urge to return to Nairobi.  I don't know how to feel about that.

The next day, there is a 4-hour wait before the flight leaves.  I pack my stuff, and set the intention to wander around and try and capture life in Lodwar in snaps.  I make it about 100 metres out of the hotel, and am so overwhelmed by the heat, the sand, and my sweat, that I quickly take a few pictures and retreat, beaten.  I watch a Kevin Bacon movie and meditate.

As the plane takes off, the oppressive heat melts away.  I look back, and reflect.  The very first person we met in Lodwar asked if we were coming from Kenya.  Amused, we replied, "yes, but where are you coming from?" "I am from Turkana".  This is a different place, a different land.  The memory is seared into me.

The County Councillor had asked, pointedly, "Why has our government forgotten about us? Where are they when the Ugandans, Ethiopians and Sudanese raid our livestock, kill our young men and rape our women?  Where is OUR aid?  Our we not as deserving of aid as the refugees?  We are dying from hunger and disease too.  Why has our government forgotten about us?"

I don't know.  I can't forget about this.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Feverish ramblings

Hi.  I am sick.  But, not to worry, I do not have malaria (or typhoid, for that matter).  I really hope that I do not have man flu. Most likely it is a stomach bug from the copious amounts of nyama choma (aka street meat) I have been ingesting while on the road.  It is just so tasty.  But I am laid low, for the time being.

This is unfortunate, as I am missing an opportunity to travel to Meru - ICJ-Kenya is sending a group of people up there on a 'community outreach' mission - to help educate the community about human rights, and other legal matters.  They will be taking about 10,000 of these:

These are pocket-sized 'katibas' (Constitutions).  I had the pleasure of touring around Narok, and handing loads of these out to public institutions - a University, the District Commissioner, the Law Courts, and to various individuals.  It was an overwhelmingly positive experience.  People are extremely excited about getting their hands on these.  What a sharp distinction from Canada - I can imagine handing out pocket Charters to random people on the street, and hoping that they at least recycle them. At the same time, access to this information is so much more readily available to Canadians - internet access in Nairobi is of a high standard, but not in any of the other places I have been to since.

As a town, Narok is a pleasant, bustling little hub in the middle of the Great Rift Valley.  It has a steady stream of 'Mzungu Caravans', as it is a popular launching point for people that pay the money to go on a game drive in the maasai mara.  I'll have to wait until next time to see that, though.

On the ride back, I did get a chance to snap the "World's smallest Church" (although Google is telling me that this is not true).  Regardless, it is tiny.  It seats 2, uncomfortably.

It was built by Italian prisoners during World War 2.  The road they built is pretty good too.

Otherwise, here are some more thoughts on a few things I have notice over here:

  • The International Criminal Court Confirmation Hearings grind on.  Every second of the hearing is being captured on TV.  This is strange for many different reasons. most notably the ICC processes are quite different than normal Criminal Courts, which means that, for me, I'm not always entirely sure what is going on (and to be honest, sometimes the lawyers themselves seem unsure).  I can only imagine what the average Kenyan is getting from these broadcasts.  In fact, it is quite apparent that some of the Defendants are using the whole process for political gain (i.e. to enhance their presidential candidacy).  The ramifications for this confirmation hearing are MASSIVE.  If you don't know what 2008 PEV means, then learn about it here.  The 6 accused that are facing ICC charges are supposedly the 'most responsible' for a conflict that traces some of its roots all the way back to Kenya's independence.  However, the 2008 PEV was on a scale that has never been seen in Kenya's history - over 1,000 killed, over 600,000 internally displaced.  That second number is so big it is unfathomable.  And 'internally displaced' is a nice way of saying 'forcibly evicted from their own property'.  From my small experience with the TJRC hearings, there were countless abuses suffered by men, women and children arising out of the 2007 elections.  So, the question I have is, if any or all of the 6 are found guilty, is justice done?  It seems like this is a serious question for the majority of Kenyans.

    That's a picture of an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camp, above, where tens of thousands of people lived.
  • Kenyan statistics - the country is roughly the size of Texas and the population is between 34-40 million, depending on what Google seems to think is more relevant.  That means more people than live in Canada are packed into Texas.  And, honestly, when driving through Kenya, parts of it seem as empty as driving through the Prairies.  It is a fascinating landscape, especially in the Great Rift region.
  • Partially, one of the reasons I am focused on the 'African situation' in this post, if you can call it that, is because I'm reading this book.  It is a fantastic book.  If you're interested in Africa, you wonder about what you can do to help, or get involved, please read this book first.  As they say, pesa nyingi, shida nyingi.

Thanks for keeping up to date on my goings-on over here.  I have it on good authority that I will be joining a soccer team here in short order.  Stay posted for that!  Plus, I'll be getting better in no time.  Baadaye!