Jossy is playing the role of ‘Jata’. She resides in the Rolling Hills Residence but is not an orphan. Her mother, Sara, is the matron of our residence. Sara was widowed and originally she came to be the house mother and her four children were cared for by her sister. We felt that this was unfair to Sara and her children. We offered to provide high school fees for her two oldest children, Purity and Leonard, and to allow her two youngest Kioko and Jossy to come and live with her at the residence. I remember telling her of this offer and she burst into tears of gratitude. Sara is a wonderful ‘mother’ to all the children of the residence.

In my story Jata is a bright, positive child–a shining star like her name. Again, when asked what child in the residence most reminded the children of the character I described as Jata, they decided it needed to be Jossy.

Choosing names for characters is always an important task for me as the writer. With most Kamba and Kikuyu names there is a meaning attached. I searched until I found a name for my main character that reflected his task–returning home. Muchoki means ‘he who returns home’. For his sister I knew I wanted her to be an innocent, a reason for him to go on, and Jata, shining star, fit the character.

In traditional Kikuyu society the first born male child needs to be named for paternal grandfather (second male child for maternal grandfather), while first born female is named for paternal grandmother (second female child for maternal grandmother).

Scraping the Pot

This scene is drawn from Grace, the grandmother of a remarkable boy named Baraka, who you will find out more about as you make your way through this website. When I first met Grace she was caring for nine grandchildren. Almost always there was not enough food. She’d prepared porridge in the morning to feed the children. She divided it up so that each child had some, but rarely did any child have enough. What remained–the part burned to the pot–she would then scrape off and that would be her breakfast.

At night there were times that she had nothing to offer. She’d put on the water to boil and tell the children’ “Supper is coming.” She’d then wait and eventually they would fall asleep.

It’s her spirit—that “African” grandmother—who I saw time and time again. That was who I thought of when I created Muchoki and Jata’s mother in this story.

Kenyans believe in education. The establishment of a school in the IDP camp fits with that priority. In Kenya, as soon as the basics of life – shelter, food and water – are met, the next consideration is education. The camps had no shortage of teachers as they too were amongst the people forced to flee their homes only to find refuge in the camps.

This primary school – providing education for children in Standard 1 – 8 (the equivalent to our grades 1 – 8) had first been established outdoors, then in a tent, and finally in this brick building that had been constructed by the members of the community. One of the teachers was funded by the government and the others were paid by the parents of students through Parent/Teacher Association fees.

The school was crowded – with two or three students sharing a wooden desk – it lacked electricity, had a limited supply of paper and pencils and only a few text books.

What they lacked in materials they made up for in spirit. They welcomed us into their room, sang beautiful songs, and proudly recited poetry.

Before leaving we offered them two things – a song in return sung by Mutuku, and money to purchase note books, pens and pencils.

School

Kenyans believe in education. The establishment of a school in the IDP camp fits the profile. As soon as the basics of life–shelter, food and water–are met the next step would be education. The camps had no shortage of teachers as they too were amongst the people forced to flee their homes and found themselves living in the camps.

This primary school–providing education for children in Standard 1–8 (grades 1–8) had first been established outdoors, then in a tent and finally in this brick building that had been constructed by the members of the community. One of the teachers was funded by the government and the others were paid by the parents of students through Parent/Teacher Association fees.

The school was crowded–two or three students per wooden desk–lacked electricity, had limited basic school supplies such as paper and pencils and only a few text books.

What they lacked in materials they made up for in spirit. They welcomed us into their room, sang beautiful songs, and proudly recited poetry.

Before leaving we offered them two things–a song in return sung by Mutuku, and money to purchase note books, pens and pencils.

Internal Displacement Camps (IDP camps)

The United Nations formally defines IDPs as, “people or groups of people who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border.”

In the case of Kenya, the 2007 federal election was infused with ethnic and tribal tension as Mwai Kibake of Kikuyu ethnicity ran against Raila Odinga of Luo ethnicity. These ethnic associations typically have political associations, meaning that political rivalries within the government become ethnic rivalries within the state as a whole.

When Kibake was inaugurated as the Kenyan President on December 28th, 2007, suspicions arose about the election being rigged. Suspicions quickly turned into violence, displacing Kenyans from their homes, which were either destroyed or simply too unsafe to remain living in.

2007 was not the first time Kenyans were displaced from their homes because of internal violence, but this was the most recent case. The Waki Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence states, “Starting with the eviction of natives from their ancestral land to make way for settlers in colonial Kenya, to recent violent evictions accompanying the 1992, 1997, and 2002 elections, IDPs have been a constant feature of the country’s political landscape.”

The United Nations predicted that after the 2007 election, approximately 600,000 people were displaced from their homes and of those, 300,000 sought refuge in various IDP camps across Kenya.

Because IDP camps are set up to be temporary housing solutions, not long term settlements, basic infrastructure and services are often absent. Those living in IDP camps generally lack easy access to clean drinking water, electricity, and sufficient amounts of food. The lives that these displaced residents had before coming to the camp, including their jobs and sources of income, are left behind. Those living in IDP camps are at the financial mercy of the government, NGOs, and “well-wishers” to give them enough funding to survive.

In theory, IDP residents will one day return to their homes and integrate back into their previously normal lives. Unfortunately, this is not a reality for many people in the camps. Temporary housing often turns into permanent communities as those within the camp are too afraid to go back to their original homes. Even though the violence in Kenya has subsided, the chaos of 2007/2008 led to the destruction of many Kenyans’ property, houses, and livelihoods, therefore making returning home somewhat futile.

Now that IDP camps are being accepted as micro-communities rather than temporary living spaces, the Kenyan government and NGOs are starting to fund projects within these camps to improve living conditions and quality of life. Churches, schools, health clinics, and agricultural and water projects are being introduced throughout IDP camps and act to symbolize their permanency within the Kenyan landscape. Although some IDP camps are improving, they remain a constant reminder of the hardships and violence that tore Kenya apart in 2007 and 2008.


References
Deng, Francis. “The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.” Published by The United Nations, September, 2004.
Daily Nation. “Waki Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence.” (2008): 271.

P. 19

At the time of the political violence there were estimated to be up to 600,000 people who were forced to flee their homes under threat of violence or death. In excess of 200,000 have still not returned home. While some were able to find shelter with family members, many ended up in make-shift camps. Kenya, overwhelmed with ongoing issues of poverty, had also had over a million refugees from Somalia enter the country over the past decade. It was estimated that there were 6000,000 refugees living in camps in the northern-eastern part of Kenya at the start of 2013. Like the images you see here, those refugees who were able, packed up all their belongings in search of a new place to live. I try to imagine what a rich country such as Canada of the United States would do: how would they handle an influx of refugees of this magnitude? How would they provide the basic infrastructure; the necessities of shelter, food, and water for so many people?

CHAPTER-TWO-13-image

There are many early morning noises that are so familiar in Kenya: dogs barking, roosters crowing, and the sound of sweeping. Women and small children–often girls –use rough brooms that are usually nothing more than a clump of twigs tied together to sweep in front of their residence. Areas of hard clay and dry dirt are cleaned of leaves and debris and made clean. No matter the circumstances it is important to take pride in their place of residence whether it is a brick house, a mud hut, or even a tent.