Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cat Hawley Post #5: Post Election Violence

Driving from the boys home in Mangu we saw a lady holding a baby waiting for a Matatu. Megan stopped so we could give her a ride into town. She was very grateful. We chatted and she handed me her baby who fell asleep in my arms. Respa (the mom – who you were introduced to earlier in this post by Megan) explained she also has a six-year-old boy and had recently moved to Mangu. During the post election violence her husband’s family disowned her because she is from another tribe. She turned to her own family and her mother and sister sent her away. Respa was wiping away tears. It was incomprehensible that her own mother would disown her and the children. Her family had originally accepted the marriage but tensions of the country changed that.

Respa has a sweet disposition and a sincerity that was undeniable. Megan and I got the sense she hadn’t opened up about this much, if at all. She explained she is now starting her life over on her own with her children. It is hard to imagine being in her situation; mourning the loss of your family and having the responsibility of two children and all this in a volatile political situation that might turn on you again.

She asked for Megan’s phone number. We pulled over to drop her off, I handed her the sleeping child and we said goodbye. As we pulled away Megan explained that it would be normal and acceptable for her to ask for money (but we were pleased she didn’t at that time). It would also be acceptable for us to say no. Megan explained that it can be hard to simply be empathetic for worry that the money question is forthcoming. That evening we received a text: “I hope you got home safe. Thank you for the ride.”

Respa’s story is more common that I would have originally guessed. Although the riots took place in early 2008 the country still has divisions that clearly aren’t mended. There are some that think violence will flair up again. They are worried about what the future holds and not much confidence is bestowed on the government to mend the situation.

Other less severe stories are equally surprising. Sandra, a friend of Megan’s graciously took me to the bead wholesalers of Nairobi. She is an attractive, creative and quick-witted fashion designer. She explained to me that the coalition government is holding together but is basically ineffective. As we walked she pointed out brand new police housing that will be torn down to build a road. Sadly, this is the tip of the iceberg in poor planning and corruption. I ask her about her experience during the post election violence.

Sandra explained it was worst in the slums and that she stayed home and ate what she had in the house because she was cooped up for days on end. Her cousin was not so lucky. He had been married less than a month to a woman who is not from his tribe. He received threats that his house would be burned down and that he and his wife would not be safe unless they left. The wife fled to her family for fear she would be killed. The house was burned and they were left with nothing. Only recently were they reunited but now Sandra’s family is responsible for helping him get back on his feet. This is a hardship in a country where means are already spread so thin.

Note from Megan: I also wrote about Respa's situation here - though I spelled her name wrong! Due to a generous donation from Joy Nelson I hope to be able to send Respa to secretarial school in the hopes that it will put her and her children on a new path towards independence and safety.

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