Right now, I am sitting in the Doonholm Savannah area of Nairobi. We have been here for a few days now getting to know people and making our way around town from one matatu to the next. A matatu us a 14-seater van and literally hundreds of them clog the very few paved roads you will find in Nairobi, and which are filled with up to 20 people at a time.
The past couple of days have been a whirlwind of matatus, people, traffic, making phone called, breaking a key in a door lock, and so on. I started to notice that my senses were not quite as sharp as they were last year, the first time we came here. And even when they are, I find myself still planning in my head what we are to do next, constantly asking myself, “what do we have time for.” Finding myself back in the Kibera slum today, I noticed that begin to dissipate.
When we arrived, we arrived about 4 hours later. In “African time” as they say with a laugh before stating simply, “This is Africa.” As we sat in the back of the bus, Frank, our cinematographer angling his camera out his window, and I, craning my next out the other windows, a young man named Charles struck up a conversation with me. “Your friend should film out this side of the vehicle” he said with a warm and welcoming grin, pointing to the high rise building in the Nairobi city center. After introducing myself, he told me about his opinion of the political structure in Kenya. Everyone is so far quite willing to discuss this matter, which I initially treat as a sensitive subject. Most Ive spoken with, including Charles agree that the government is to blame. the political elite are caught up with their own gains, using tribalism as a platform to gain votes. I tell him, however, that Americans find it difficult to understand why Kenyans would kill other Kenyans. So far I have gotten the simplest, and perhaps most poignant answer, from a friend named Victor. On a taxi ride back to Doonholm, in the shroud of night, he tell me, “You see, people were angry. And perhaps, when one is that angry, they do not consider the consequences of their immediate actions.” Charles told me, that the violence itself can be seen as a good things, as well as bad. When asked why, he said that it encouraged peace among the tribes. Markets and businesses and homes were looted. People who had so little, now have less, because of the disappointment they endured from a presidential candidate who use tribalism against them. After a leader who you have invested your future, your health, and your prosperity in has the election stolen from him, your chance for peace has been stolen, as well. After accepting tribal rhetoric from this leader, accepting a political divide that extends past party affiliate and into the blood that runs in your veins, and that of your shared ancestors, who do you blame? Who do you fight? What would you do to find peace and prosperity?
“You see, people were angry. And perhaps, when one is that angry, they do not consider the consequences of their immediate actions.”
Now, it seems that the Kenyan people know that they cannot depend on their political leadership to create peace. So they are creating it themselves. Youth groups have united and created events like “Mr. and Mrs. Peace” in Kibera, music festivals, and soccer tournaments that take the first step toward reconciliation: communication. Men, women, and children from all tribes are connecting, airing their grievances, and creating agendas for peace.
So when I asked Victor, is there a chance for peace? He says, “yes. But we are taking the first steps.” Can the political leadership create peace. “They are trying. They are sharing the power, but they have not done a lot.”
In a bombed-out government housing office building in Kibera we found toilets, phones, broken glass, and blown out windows framed with soot. Another friend from the slum, Toto, points at my feet and tells me, “three people died there. The police shot them, just like that.” A young boy approaches, after shyly meandering around the grounds picking up things off the ground, and tossing them languidly. His name is Alan. I sat him down in one of the room, littered with glass, dung, exposed wires, and ashes. Among other things, i asked him if he thinks this kind of violence will happen again. he stops his fidgeting, steadies his eyes at the camera, hangs his head and says, “yes.”
And yet he continues to visit the building. Alone. Twelve-years-old and his hope is shattered, just like the fragments of glass that clutter his feet.
I ask him on our way out if he will ask his parents if we can meet them. Before I finish my sentence he looks out ahead, and says, “I will tell them that you are good people.” He smiles, and I bring him in closer to wrap my arm around him. Never has the word “good” meant so much to me, coming from a boy who has such a unique, albeit tragic, perspective to know what good really is.