Thursday, January 03, 2008

Kenya

I don't live in Kenya now, and I haven't for many years, but since I spent much of my childhood there, a part of me will always consider that beautiful country home. When I read the news of what is going on there now, it fills me with sadness.

I tend to focus on things and remain focused on them; some might even say that I get obsessed. After the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, I spent hours reading every account I could find. I imagined what it must have been like for those people. For a very long time I had tsunami nightmares. After September 11th, 2001, I reacted in a similar way.

This is different, though. It's more personal. Those other stories touched my emotions and I felt empathy for the people who had suffered. But Kenya is a place I know and love, a place where I took my first step, spoke my first word, went to school for the first time. When I hear the names of those towns that now are visited by violence, they are familiar to me as places where I played, laughed, and learned. I had visited New York, and I could vaguely picture the places affected by 9/11, but I'd never lived there. I've lived in Nairobi. I've walked and ridden KBS buses down some of those same streets that I'm now seeing filled with angry people and frightened people. Kenyan people. And while I don't know these particular people I'm seeing, I know and love so many Kenyans.

I remember when I was in college and my family still lived in Kenya. When there was something going on there serious enough to get into the US news, I remember the frustration of how vague the reports were, and how few details I could get. I would call home to find out what was really happening. In those days, the news wasn't on all the time and phone calls cost a fortune, so I didn't know much about what was happening. Even as recently as 1998, when the US Embassy in Nairobi was bombed, I didn't have the constant coverage I have now. The US media (I lived in the US then) focused almost exclusively on the Americans affected. I remember looking for information on the internet and not finding all that much.

Now, things are completely different. I can stare at a computer screen all day long, reading news reports and blogs, watching videos. I can, and I do. Is this good or bad? Both, I guess. I'm glad that we can be informed about what's going on, from many points of view. But it's hard to go on with life when I am so focused on this crisis that's happening far away. Especially in these last few days before I start back to school, and when I have more leisure time than usual. Instead of being frustrated at not having enough details, I'm overwhelmed by too many details. Finally this evening I reached my saturation point, and couldn't look at one more horrifying image. I'll look again tomorrow, but for tonight I have had enough.

The country where I live now has had its share of unrest over the past few years, and I've learned some things about living through fear and uncertainty, stocking up on drinking water and candles and propane for cooking, listening to the radio before going out to see where you shouldn't go today or for handy tips on how to avoid the full effects of tear gas. I know about trying to decide whether to stay or evacuate, and watching while friends choose to go when you want to stay. I know what burning tires look and smell like.

Oh, my Kenyan brothers and sisters, I'm so sorry you are experiencing this now. I am praying - I can't do anything else, but this is something, for I do believe that God answers prayer. I'm praying for justice and reconciliation and peace. And for Kenyans in the diaspora, I'm praying for that balance between living the life you have where you are now and constantly refreshing the news feeds on your screen. I hope all your families are OK. And I hope Kenya will be OK, too.

2 comments:

writer2b said...

Thanks for posting this. I've wondered how you were really doing with it all.

I'm similar in the tendency to latch on to stories until they seem to be eating away at me inside. I remember the summer several children were kidnapped. I finally stopped even reading the paper for a season, because it was driving me to distraction. Every night I'd get up from bed and peek into my kids' rooms several times, or check the windows to make sure they were locked...!

I think your prayer for the Kenyans is the most truly compassionate thing you can do, and I'm certain God hears and answers.

Maria said...

I can't imagine what you all must be feeling- I feel it to an extent just because I now have several people whom I love who call Kenya home. It's just dreadful to watch, and dreadful to read, and it must be so much more so if this place and its people have been in your heart all your life.