Wednesday, January 30, 2008

this is not looking good

in the last 36 hours...
  • an MP was murdered outside his house
  • 4 people were 'hacked to death' in kibera
  • kofi has said that it will take kenya at least a year to get back on track and only if the political aspect is sorted in the next 4 weeks
  • a boy who was invovled in the eldoret church arson that resulted in the deaths of at least 30 people was on the BBC this morning said that any kikuyus returning to eldoret will be killed
  • a kalenjin elder on the radio said that he will instruct his people to resist the rule of a single group
  • the front page of one of nairobi's dailies read, 'un poised to evacuate'
  • staff at work was instructed not to leave the city and to stock up on essentials, including cash and food
and that is just what i saw/heard.
but i must say that after yesterday's chaos, things seem to be normal today. but that is what the entire past month has been about - the normalcy of chaos.
and i am still entirely and completely safe.

Monday, January 28, 2008


i spent last night at home, watching pirated tv shows on my laptop, roasting vegetables, and hanging out by myself even though i had just got a new haircut and would usually want to take it out. i was content then and am content now. i am feeling that it is such an effort to get together with people, to get dressed nicely enough, and make conversation lately. i have done my part and made appearances when i felt up for it, but i have been happier just staying in and being at home. my nest is coming along (with the new Piece of Art) and i am still convinced that it will be complete with the addition of a kitten...

i am afraid, however, that my homebody style will instil feelings of loneliness if it continues. but nairobi is already wearing on me even though i have been happy since i returned in early january. its lustre is fading and if i could have thrown my iced coffee at the woman who erroneously told me today that the wireless internet would work at another location, i would have.

i have spent at least a few hours at my office every day this week. i have fielded 2 phone calls today asking me to do things for people that are so far outside of my job description (or terms of reference, as they are called in the biz) that i was so frustrated and annoyed that i had to take a nap to cope with the stress of a sunday afternoon that was meant to be my break. calling me to ask me to ask me to follow up with somaliland, the dutch, and cida? on a sunday afternoon? after i was in the office because the lady that told me that i could use the internet at their restaurant over the phone was wrong? are you freaking kidding me?

maybe i am just not cut out for this. but the only problem with that is that i don’t know what else to do. i am good at my work, but not at this life. at least not today. i need a holiday.

i did manage a short run this morning. and my lungs did not come out of my chest and my legs are not throbbing with the pain that comes when you sorta kinda forget to run for a few months. let’s hope this bright, sunny weather and good health sticks so i don’t have any precipitation or sinus infection excuses to not continue.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

snippet for advice

i have been slacking on the writing lately, even though i have a lot to say. it would seem that kenya is beginning to sort itself out politically (thank you kofi! although he has yet to call me set up our date... he must be busy with this whole mediation thing. yeah that’s it), yet there are still reports of violence, one province has a 7pm curfew, the police continue to shoot demonstrators, kenyans continue killing kenyans, and the true nature of the violence is becoming known. the reports of sexual violence coming through are painful to read and i am hoping to be able to adapt my project to address such concerns. but, as always, these things are not just up to me.

i write now because i need some advice. my new neighbours have 2 yappy dogs that wake me up barking directly beneath my window at 7am on the weekends and they insist on broadcasting their television for all the world to hear late at night. how do i address this without making enemies? it would sound simple, but i have a yappy dog at home in canada and i understand that you can’t just make them stop. no one likes to have a such a conversation with strangers (or those you know, for that matter) and i am apprehensive to bring it up and am tempted to just write a note, even though i know that a frank discussion would be more effective. ideas?

another point of discussion is the fact that i want a cat, but i spoke to my flatmate this morning and she apparently hates cats. likes kittens but hates cats. i’ve wanted to adopt a kitten for the last year and recently have been having rather strange dreams about having kittens or babies (i know, i know) and felt that the message i should take away from these dreams is that i clearly need to mother something. i called the kspca this morning and inquired about adopting kittens, the vaccines they need, and the cost of having them spayed or neutered (zero shillings!), and when i can go and pick one out. i immediately got excited and began to think about all the names i could name it (even though i came up with none) and told me flatmate my exciting news and she responded with ‘i hate cats.’

but i need to mother something! and it is technically my flat and she moved into it. i understand we share a living space, but i feel a little ripped off that i can’t get a kitten when i want to. i am so sick of living with people. not that i do not enjoy my flatmate, i am just ready to be an adult that lives alone. and leaves their dishes in the sink if they want. and wanders around naked before getting into the shower. and sleeps on the couch if they are too damn lazy to take the 10 steps to their room. so, is it within my rights to get a kitten if i want one?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

staying informed of incidents of post-election violence in kenya

check out a civil society initiative at ushahidi for the current situation and incidents in kenya.

i am still very safe, no need to worry.

this is just gross

NAIROBI, 15 January (IRIN) - As Kenya counts the human and material cost of the political violence, hospitals are reporting an increase in reported rapes during the immediate post-election period, spurring the government and health organisations to find ways to treat these cases as well as protect the displaced from further incidents of sexual violence.
"In the first two days of the violence, 56 people were treated for rape and admitted; there are so many other victims back in the slums who have not received any medical attention," Lucy Kiama, chief nurse at the Nairobi Women's Hospital, which specialises in sexual violence, told IRIN.
She added that the number of rape survivors seeking treatment at the facility had doubled during the violence. Many women who came to the hospital, she added, reported that there were many more in the slums who had failed to seek treatment because of security reasons or fear of stigmatisation.
Political unrest erupted in many parts of Kenya on 30 December 2007, immediately after the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared incumbent President Mwai Kibaki the winner of the election held on 27 December. Kibaki's main challenger, Raila Odinga, rejected the result and claimed he won the election, alleging it was rigged in Kibaki's favour.
The UN estimates the violence has led to the displacement of 250,000 people across the country, many of whom are living in hastily assembled camps. Health workers have also expressed concern that women and children remain at risk of sexual attacks in these poorly protected camps, especially given that the referral systems that would exist normally to handle sex attacks have broken down.
"Women and children were raped, men and boys as well . it is still taking place in the camps because of the large numbers of displaced people," said Florence Gachanja, national programme officer for the UN Population Fund, UNFPA.
According to Jeanne Ward, an international consultant on gender-based violence, it is crucial that protective measures such as lighting and separate latrines for men and women be set up in the camps to prevent further attacks.
She noted that in emergency situations where the infrastructure breaks down, women and girls tend to be put at increased risk of violence, particularly sexual violence.
"These sexual attacks may be crimes of opportunism, where people take advantage of the breakdown of normal protection mechanisms to rape, or in cases where the war pits one group against another, such as ethnic violence, the rapes may be targeted at one particular group of women and girls," she said, noting that in Kenya's case, it was too early to tell whether the rapes were gratuitous or targeted, although investigations had begun.
"Sexual violence has immediate consequences for the physical and psychological health of the survivor; for instance, they need to have access to post-exposure prophylactic [PEP] kits to prevent them from contracting HIV," she added. "Where people are displaced, it is vital that they know where to go in case they are attacked and that they receive psycho-social post-trauma care."
Taking action
The government and NGOs have begun to respond to the situation, with UNFPA providing PEP kits to medical centres through the Kenya Red Cross Society and other NGOs, and larger hospitals setting up satellite centres in badly affected areas to provide a minimum service to the injured, including people who have suffered sexual attacks.
The Nairobi Women's Hospital, in collaboration with the Psychological Association of Kenya, has opened counselling centres in the slum areas of Mathare, Huruma and Kibera, the areas worst-affected by violence in the capital.
The hospital has appealed to counsellors to volunteer their services for victims of sexual violence among internally displaced persons in other parts of the country, especially in the Rift Valley areas of Eldoret, Timboroa, Nakuru, Burnt Forest and Limuru, and the cities of Kisumu and Mombasa, which were also severely affected by the violence.
Jane Onyango, executive director of the Federation of Women Lawyers in Kenya, cautioned that gender issues must not be forgotten when seeking solutions to Kenya's current crisis.
"In situations such as this, the legal process is hard as it is often difficult for most of the women to identify their abusers," she said. "There is a need for greater collaboration among institutions dealing with women's issues," she added.
Onyango said the federation planned to visit the violence hotspots to assist in the process of conflict resolution and in counselling internally displaced people.
According to Ward, despite the current difficulties, Kenya has addressed the issue of sexual violence and has mechanisms in place that make it better able than many of its neighbours to handle the current situation.
"Nevertheless, there will be a need to create a multi-sectoral response to ensure that beyond addressing the health needs of survivors of sexual violence, security issues are dealt with, the legal process is streamlined and the police have the capacity to handle the cases in a safe and ethical manner," she said.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

back to essentials

(january 15, 2008)

there are more rallies scheduled for nairobi tomorrow. since the two sides can still not come to a power sharing agreement. i am not sure how i feel about the rallies. i support the democratic right of the opposition to hold peaceful demonstrations but the government and police pretty much enforce a police state every time they announce they are having one. on the other hand, if people are going to be injured and there will be more displaced people, then why hold a rally? what goal will it accomplish? and i think kenyans are tired of all of this and even those opposition supporters don’t seem as interested in public demonstrations. but they could prove me wrong and hold a sizeable protest.

which is why our offices are going back to only essential staff again. and in my new role as emergency operations extraordinaire, i am still essential. but that means a quiet office for me to make a dent in my To Do list. i have been thinking that my office needs a tidy and a reorg. i need some organisational devices but because of our ridiculous procurement system, i can only spend so much money per month and it has to come off a project. is the private sector this ridiculous too? or are projectised systems more lenient in that world?

the illness seems to be clearing with a small dose of antibiotics and antihistimines, which are making my nose run at the moment. the good old doctor did not disappoint in his prescription for antibiotics and steam inhalations. i think he would prescribe inhalations for people with sprained ankles.

i became a grown up this past weekend when i purchased my first Piece of Art by a kenyan artist. it is pretty fantastic but i am not sure how much you pay for art. i guess it all comes down to what you think it is worth. and yet, i will argue with any taxi driver that tries charge me even $1 more than i want to pay. i will even call my old stand by drivers and will wait until they can arrive rather than pay a dollar more. but my Piece of Art is fantastic and i love it so i guess that is how you decide whether or not art (or anything) is worth it. sadly, it does not have a name and i believe all art should be named so i will have to brainstorm on this one. i also baked bread this weekend too. but i am afraid i did not knead it enough. i have nothing to base this on besides my fatigued arms and the texture of the bread. but i made bread. and bought art. ergo, i am an adult.

Monday, January 14, 2008

we’ve never been so close

(january 11, 2008)

perhaps that title is not fitting for kenya at the moment because with the collapse of the recent mediation efforts by John Kufuor, the president of Ghana and current chair of the African Union, the political stalemate is as strong as ever and the opposition parties are going to stage days of rallies starting next wednesday. which means, as far as i can tell, more violence, more police state actions, more displaced people, more gender based violence, more young idiots looting and rioting, less work, more economic losses, and more fear. there are plans to have my second favourite older man crush (second only to David Suzuki), Kofi Annan, come to try and get these two guys to agree to something. but what the US Assistant Secretary of State and Kufuor couldn’t do seems impossible for Annan to do. Raila is hellbent on having another election in 3 months’ time and it doesn’t seem like anything will be acceptable to him until he gets this. and until then, more rallies...

there have been reports of a single clinic in the western area seeing more than 100 cases of sexual violence, people taking advantage of the displaced and stealing what little they have, seemingly indiscriminate burning of houses, shops, and farmland, some children separated from their families, the government scooping people up and relocating them without their tangent consent, and people stranded at random places like police stations, schools, and churches. the un will soon be releasing their appeal for emergency aid to carry out further activities to contend with the situation that doesn’t promise to let up. so if you have a couple mill sitting in your vault, i think that you could call ted turner and he could give you the un’s banking details to transfer the cash. seriously though, it is rather amazing to see how an emergency response is mobilised and it doesn’t stop agencies from fighting, big personalities to overtake meetings, and meetings to last far longer than necessary. but organisations are doing what they do best and it does seem that aid is getting to the people who need it. thank god for the red cross, msf, and faith based organisations that just go out there and do it while others sit around and talk about doing it. but they receive support from the un in a lot of ways so all that sitting around and talking is worth something. i just wish they could offer some better coffee while we sit around and talk.

it seems that my future is more certain than it has been in a long time, which is a rather positive feeling and is a change from my regular uncertainty and chronic sense of panic. we will see how long it lasts. i have some people in my court fighting for me to stick around even though my jury is still out on whether or not i would want to stick around, it is nice to know that you are wanted and i am beginning to think that people actually value the work that i do. which they should, because i am not going to lie, it is good.

there might a chance that i can go to the displacement camps, either with a colleague who is going there to volunteer or with my project that needs some serious redesigning in light of the current situation. i would love to get out of my office and get dirty after a week of intense and consecutive meetings. might put more of a face to this crisis for me too. although in chatting with my housekeeper this past week it sounds like there has been uncounted instances of thuggery and destructive behaviour in low income areas. apparently, the police can’t even do anything because they do not have enough authority in these areas and are unable to stop people because they do not have the manpower. we loaded our housekeeper up with food and clothes because it seems that the price of food has increased and many of the shops have been looted or burned in the slum areas of nairobi so food is more difficult than normal to come by.

and there you have some disjointed thoughts on the current situation and the past week of coordinating an emergency response. and i still have a gross cold. and i tried to eat my beloved chocolate fudge cake but couldn’t even finish it because i stopped being able to taste it half way through. and i will probably be working this sunday. and the reason i will be working on sunday is because i sat and talked with my coworkers today. and i think it was worth it. and my relationship with the bbc has been suffering and i must reignite the fire. and i think i like working in emergencies, even though you probably aren’t supposed to say that.

and i think we’ve never been so close.

current jim obsession

(january 11, 2008)

Pull Me Through

there’s paper scattered on the lawn
birds up on the line
there’s letters left unopened here
there never is the time
there’s messages i should return
and people i should call
i’m still tripping over echoes left lying in the hall
there’s light comes through the darkness slowly to my eyes
you can fall back here forever
i just never realised
oh time won’t let me go
and every night i know
that you could pull me though
you could always pull me through
even when i’m lying heredrowning in my blues
you take the sting out of the rain
and bring the sun back up again
you could always pull me through
oh we stood outside together
and we laughed like ancient friends
then we lay down in a field
just where the road begins and ends
well i see you in the mirror
and i watch you from afar
my friends all think i’m crazy
but i know the way things are
outside i hear voices underneath the moon
but i’m faithful for whatever breaks the silence of this room
oh time won’t let me go
and every night i know
that you could pull me through
you could always pull me through
even when i’m lying here
drowning in my blues
you take the sting out of the rain
and bring the sun back up again
darling, you could always pull me through
i hope you’re travelling well now
and there are stars over your head
i hope the river carries you everywhere you said
well i miss the way you look at me
the way you wear your hair
i miss the conversations we left hanging in the air
oh late at night i wake up, wonder what’s been done
but i know our life together will go on and on
you could pull me through
you could always pull me through
wrapped your arms around me
and chase away my blues
you take the sting out of the rain
and bring the sun back up again
and you could always pull me through
you could always pull me through

it’s devastatingly sad, but i just can’t get enough.

Friday, January 11, 2008

boy, do i have a weight lose plan for you!

in just 5 simple steps:

1 - come back to a country in crisis with very little food in your cupboards and no opportunity to go to the grocery store for a few days due to security concerns
2 - contract a head cold so you cannot taste anything
3 - stop eating dairy to try and ease the amount of congestion due to head cold
4 - get so busy at work trying to deal with the amount of internally displaced people left because of the emergency that you have no time to eat lunch
5 - sleep as much as you possibly can to try and alleviate head cold symptoms and stay as well as possible to handle the work load

but no need to worry, i did what is colloquially called 'pigging out' at a sushi restaurant last night. and i feel a craving for chocolate fudge cake coming on...

Saturday, January 05, 2008

put my finger on it

i have not been sleeping well since i returned and that paired with having to say good bye again was the logical explanation for why i have been feeling lonely and sad when i am home alone. but then this morning it dawned on me that this whole fiasco that kenya has found itself in is taking its toll on me. i hadn’t really been paying attention to how it was affecting me and had ignored how it was affecting kenyans emotionally.

i am still hopeful that the end of it is near and that it will be a matter of rebuilding and humanitarian aid along with political mediation and working towards a suitable resolution, but i guess the whole thing is unstable and could change course depending on what is decided the way forward is and whether or not people are content with the decisions made by the big men.

it makes me wonder what it would feel like if canada were in this position and i would be heartbroken. absolutely heartbroken. so i can imagine how keyans are feeling. you don’t realise what it means to live in a peaceful democracy until faced with the reality of something like this.

i am going to gather up all my old clothes and clothes i don’t wear anymore and drop them at the red cross drop off points to be delivered to the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons and hopefully i can feel more useful than i am feeling today. now i am even happier that i am considered ‘essential’ at work, at least i can keep moving and busy and feel useful.

strange times

(january 4, 2008)

if this doesn’t get me a job in the future, i am not sure what will. you know the interview question about overcoming a challenge? i would say that this whole situation would answer that question quite clearly.

but it does seem that the city (at least my part of it) is getting back on its feet. the grocery store was packed (although many shelves were empty and the city seems to be out of tuna again!) and there were people walking their dogs and cars on the streets. even the obnoxious flower vendors and heartless puppy dog hawkers were back at it today and the bank machines were working, which is promising. the infamous pub where the incident of the peacock in the night took place was packed at 5 and i think that that is good. although i am not sure that i could handle so many people just yet.

i overheard the security meeting at work today (it was pretty much me and the people in the meeting in the building and one guy who i think was hanging out waiting from some action) and it is very interesting to learn how things like this are handled and what needs to be taken into consideration. toilet paper for the offices, for instance, is something i would not have thought of. or when families are evacuated and which staff are moved and when. not that we are near that yet, but it has to be discussed. emergency planning might be for me.

these are strange times. while trying to get used to life back in nairobi without the other half i have been lugging around for a number of months i have had to arrange luggage drop off, man the department, and try to keep an open mind about the future and what will come in the immediate and distant future. and all with an ear attached to the radio* and responding to all the emails asking if i am ok.

i am very much ok and am very far from any of the areas that are showing up in the news around the world. it seems as though the current solution most favourable to both parties is to have another election within 3 months’ time. i am not convinced this is a good idea as i believe the country will remain at a relative standstill while the second election campaign gets underway and it will be very difficult to deliver humanitarian aid to all the displaced persons and keep the violence at bay in addition to the entire process of planning and implementing an election. and i am not optimistic that a second election would produce very different results, which would inevitably be contested. maybe archbishop desmond tutu has a better idea.

interesting times, that is for sure.

our office has decided to stay closed all of next week and only those essential staff are to report to work. i don’t mind so much, it beats sitting at home or being bored to tears. i only miss having tv during times like these. a good time waster. i am devouring books with this extra time (and jet lag which lets me have about 3 hours of sleep during sleeping hours). might i recommend The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill? if you liked Roots, you will enjoy this one too. and there is something about strong female characters that pulls me right in and the perspective on slavery in the us, the american civil war, the exodus to nova scotia, and the designation of sierra leone as a new homeland for freed slaves is fasc-in-a-ting to me. i also recently read Empress Orchid by Anchee Min, which i would also recommend. another strong female character and the imagery of 18th century china is mesmerising.

* speaking of my new best friend, the bbc, they were interviewing some english football coach/player/manager about the number of africans on his team and he said that with the current amount he is comfortable but if there were any more, that might make him ‘uncomfortable.’ on the international news? really? he thinks that it is ok to say that on international news? wow. racism sucks.

Friday, January 04, 2008

in the news, all new to me

(january 3, 2008)

i arrived in amsterdam for my connection to nairobi and to the times headline ‘kenya on the brink of civil war’ and began to worry. i am glad that i paid the ridiculous amount to connect to the wireless to see that i had an email from our security focal point at our organisation asking me to contact them and there was some speculation on me staying in amsterdam due to the unrest and violence in nairobi, but it was decided that i should get on my flight, although it was notably less full than they normally are. i had no idea what to expect or that it was a good idea to be coming back, but i slept the entire flight and only woke up to eat the surprisingly yummy airplane food.

after landing in nairobi, i took advantage of their rather incomprehensible duty free shops upon arrival and bought a radio (which is really something i should have done months ago, i forgot what great company the bbc is) and carried on to find out that my bags had not made it through a rushed and delayed transfer through minneapolis. i had to continually check in with people from my organisation and take a taxi with a radio to ensure that i was travelling as safely as possible late at night. all went well and the only thing i noticed was that the streets were absolutely deserted and the bank machines i tried were all out of service.

i have been following the news almost all day today and am beginning to think that although things are pretty chaotic and the election was full of irregularities, the international news has exaggerated the scope and intensity of the conflicts. not that people being massacred while seeking protection in a church should be downplayed, but local accounts are putting the number of dead in that incident at 40 and not 200. although things are rather chaotic and rallies are being prevented by use of tear gas and live rounds, i think that saying that kenya is on the brink of civil war is pretty irresponsible journalism. and comparisons to rwanda and genocide is outright wrong at this point.

in my radio listening this morning, i heard the us ambassador to kenya talk about what should happen next and he had a few good points. although there have been irregularities reported by the eu election observer mission and the elections commission of kenya, staging another election would be a huge undertaking, would take months to plan and organise, and would not necessarily have different results. the country is split down the middle in their support between odinga and kibaki and if another election were held, it would not necessarily change popular sentiment.

archbishop tutu is attempting to mediate and the us will send a delegation tomorrow to try and get these big men to sit down and sort this out, but as an observer, i don’t see any way to come to an agreement on this disputed election. maybe that is why they didn’t invite me to mediate. and the fact that i am not an international figure of peace and reconciliation.

as an expat living and working in kenya, i am deeply troubled by the fact that a country as stable and developed by african standards can disintegrate into tribal politics so easily. and that the looting and violence was mainly in the slums of nairobi and against kikuyus is difficult to process. i am not sure that i can ever understand and as much as people will defend it as historical and cultural and inherently difficult for outsiders to comprehend, i am not sure that i buy it. taking advantage of a situation to commit crimes for your own personal gain just seems barbaric and targeting a specific group with the assumption that they are personally responsible for the situation is perplexing to say the least. i realise that many of the people are uneducated and living in poverty but how are basic values disregarded so easily? many of the people carrying out such acts are groups of young men, which raises so many questions about gender and deviance, none of which i believe will be answered anytime soon.

they suspect that kenya is losing $34 million daily in tax revenue alone as the economy is at a standstill. as roads and transport corridors are essentially closed, aid supplies are not able to get to the refugee camps and the neighbouring countries that rely on kenya to move necessary supplies. i suspect that tourism will slow over the next year and the exchange rate will fluctuate after 2007 gains against major currencies. my job may drastically change even when things get back to normal and peace is restored. i was supposed to be in kisumu in the last weeks of january but that is one of the areas most devastated by the unrest and my project will understandably not be a priority. and as i work closely with the government, i am doubtful that things will be back to reasonable working conditions for awhile considering the speed with which the government of kenya moves regularly and with the confusion that has been left in the wake of a disputed election.

for the time being, i get to be ‘essential staff’ and come into work to help with urgent proposals mostly because i live so close to the office and not because i am necessarily essential! but i am happy to be able to do something and that our offices are officially closed so that our kenyan staff who have to travel through the city are not at risk simply by travelling to work.

i had a lot of nice text messages and overseas calls from people concerned about me, which was nice. and i have spoken to all the people i know who would be most at risk here and they are safe, but stuck at home.

and i now if things can be peaceful enough tomorrow so i can have my bags delivered...

oh yes, and happy new year.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


apparently i should have been more concerned for the future of kenya than pakistan.

things are relatively stable but apparently there is another rally planned for today and because i live so close to the office i have become 'essential staff' but my phone charger is stuck in my bags which are stuck at the airport and i have very little food in my flat so they better damn well sort this out soon.

i wrote more but then promptly left the flashdisk at home, but will post it shortly.

now back to my bbc...