Monday, January 07, 2008

Kenya Troubles -- A View From Kitale

I seem to be stumbling on a whole bunch of blogs tonight. Here's someone from Kitale who had the misfortune of having to travel to Nairobi and back right when things were exploding.
Saturday, December 29, 2007

Things have gone from bad to worse. I don’t know where to start.

Faith and I left Kitale on a bus yesterday morning at 8:30am. We reached about an hour outside of Kitale when we saw cars turning around and racing past us. When we reached the point, the bus stopped to see what was going on. He was told that there was a huge riot in Eldoret and we couldn’t pass. It would be best for us to go back to Kitale and wait for things to calm down. The bus was quickly alive with everyone’s phones ringing. People calling to see what was going on or being called to see if they were ok. Mass rioting had broken out all over the country. We were stuck in the middle.

In the early morning, Raila was leading the presidential race by over a million votes, but in only a few short hours, he was behind. An impossible event. It was getting clear that the current government (PNU Party) was being accused of rigging votes. The supporters of Raila (ODM party) hit the streets in mass mobs, blocking roads, burning cars and killing people in protest of the sudden change of votes. Also, the fact that it has taken 4 days to count votes when it was supposed to only take a few hours had increased the anger.

Faith and I sat in the bus, scared. Some people were shouting at the driver to turn back and others were telling him to go forward. After about 30 minutes, he slowing drove forward. Every passing car flashed their lights and yelled at the driver to go back. He stopped again, second guessing his decision. We found out that there was a road block about 4 miles outside of Eldoret. It was being manned by hundreds of angry ODM people. He stood up and told the passengers on the bus in Swahili “We are ODM, we will go through.” We had no idea what was ahead.

As we slowing approached, we saw boulders blocking the road and hundreds of people yelling. There was no turning around. People started throwing rocks at the bus as they surrounded it. Then 8 angry guys boarded the bus by force with rocks in hand and started yelling in Swahili “We want every Kikuyu (the main tribe backing of PNU party) off the bus. We are going to kill you.” The yelling went on, and then they told everyone to get off the bus. One guy looked at me and yelled “mzungu (White man) get off the bus.” I didn’t move fast enough and he started hitting me on the back of my head. I quickly got up and told Faith to stay close. As we got off the bus, we were faced with a mob of angry and many drunken people. I prayed for wisdom. Guys started telling me to give them my phone and money. I kept quiet. They were getting rough. I still kept quiet. Then I felt like I needed to talk to some of the guys who seemed to be the leaders. I started shaking their hands and being friendly with them as I spoke Swahili. They were surprise and quickly changed their attitude. After talking for a few minutes and assuring them that I don’t have problems with them, they too told me that they didn’t have a problem with me and told us to just stand aside. Faith and I rushed to the back of the group, a bit to the side where we were out of the way. We watched as they shoved people around, trying to weed out the Kikuyus. When they asked people what tribe they were from, they just kept silent. The whole time the driver was trying to talk our way back onto the bus and to safety. The mob went to one girl and said ‘We know you are Kikuyu and we are going to kill you.” One man looked at the other and said, “Don’t kill her, just rape her.” After about 15 minutes of this, they let us back on the bus and told us to go back to Kitale. It was only by the grace of God that every one of us got back on the bus. We quickly turned around and headed back in the Direction of Kitale. About 1 minute down the road, another road block had been constructed and another angry mob gathered, wanting their turn with the people on the bus. The whole bus, even the PNU people started yelling “ODM, ODM,…” The driver slowed down but everyone on the bus yelled at him to keep going. He drove through the block and over the huge rocks. We drove quickly. Just a few minutes later, cars started driving in the other direction once again flashing their lights at our bus. We stopped and were told that another road block had been constructed ahead and there was no way we could get past it.

We were like a trapped animal knowing that there was danger in all directions. The driver sat there, not knowing what to do, knowing that the mobs were closing in on both sides.

One person on the bus said we should try to get to the nearby army barracks. They were sure that we would be protected there. We drove there quickly and found more buses and vehicles by the gate. The driver went to the gate and told them we want to come in, to be protected. The driver was told to back the bus away from the gate and that help would come soon. Three hours later, no help had come.

We sat there for three hours, tired, scared and hungry. Faith and I ventured to a shop we could see in the distance. We found some water and bread. Heading back to the bus, we saw in the distance a huge mob coming out way. We watched for a minute as they were far. But they came closer and gained speed. We started running for the bus. When we got there, all the passengers were alert and scared. We didn’t know if we should get on the bus or run for the gate of the barracks. The mob came to the path we were on and stopped, trying to decide what direction to go. From there I could see that they had sticks, chains and machetes. They started coming in our direction. We all started moving for the gate, not knowing what we would do once we got there. Just then a car drove by and the mob moving their attention to the car and forgetting about us. They moved back up the main road.

Another hour of waiting and we got news that the police had come. I asked why they didn’t come earlier and was told that it was because they are considered to be with the government, with PNU and it would have only caused more problems. But now they came. We got back on the bus and headed for Eldoret. I don’t even remember what time it was at this point, maybe 3:00pm. Going to Eldoret, there were no more mobs but many road blocks that we had to drive around. In Eldoret, there were several smoldering piles of burnt tires. We kept on moving in the direction of Nairobi, not knowing if Faith would make her flight the following morning. But at this point, we didn’t care. We only cared about our life. We passed many more road blocks. In some places, power poles had been taken down and used to block the roads. At one point our bus got stoned by a few lingering drunks.

We arrived in Nairobi at about 10:30pm, 14 hours after we started that morning. The city was vacated and getting a taxi was not as easy as normal. We got a few rooms for a short sleep until Faith needed to be at the airport. I needed to stop at an ATM to get money as we didn’t want to travel with much money in case of problems. All the ATMs in town were not working. Between the two of us, we had enough money to pay the taxi and get the rooms, but not much left over.

This morning I got up early to go to the ATM to see if it was working, I prayed the whole way. It worked and I got money. I got Faith on a taxi to the airport at 6:20am and headed to catch public transportation to Kitale. There were no vehicles. I finally found one going to Nakuru. I thought if I can get there then I can catch something to Eldoret and then to Kitale. I got to Nakuru in a few hours only to find that not a single bus, van, or car was headed to Eldoret. Everyone is saying that things are going to be really bad today and no one wants to be on the road.

Faith got to her plane OK and is in the air now.

10:45 AM now and I sit stranded in Nakuru. They are going to announce the results today and it is expected that things are going to get really bad. I think I am safe here. It is better to be inside then on the road. Meredith and the crew in Kitale are ok, safe. They got caught up in a few things yesterday, but are good. Meredith got a call from the Canada embassy today to make sure she is safe.

I am really tired and nervous, it is kind of like a time bomb ticking away, not knowing when it will go off. Even as I sit here typing, my mind is in so many places and the slightest noise makes me jump.

My faith has been challenged as I have to trust God every moment of all that is going on. I have no control. Today’s paper was full of pictures of people burning cars, riot police throwing tear gas into mobs and stories of people being killed. It is a scary time here now. We need prayers.

I hope that I will be able to get back to Kitale tomorrow. Once I get there, I will post another blog and some pictures from today’s paper. Thank you all who we woke up in the middle of the night yesterday to pray for us. We needed it and it was so clear that the Lord was with us and will continue to be with us.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

I know this is a sooner update then most of you expected, but truly by the hand of the Lord, I made it back to Kitale and in God’s perfect timing.

As I was posting my last blog from Nakuru, a small riot broke out. We could hear the roar of the mob from a distance, as it grew louder, people started to run into the internet café for safety. The owner quickly locked the doors. There were about 10 of us crowded around a small window watching as the mob walked by waving sticks in the air shouting “ODM, ODM.” They stopped in the intersection for a few second before taking off running in all directions. From our small window, we couldn’t see what was coming. Shortly after, we saw a large truck full of riot police suited up for the worse. There were about 30 of them in the back of the truck, some sitting on top and other hanging out the sides. It felt like a victory to see them moving so slowly, yet causing the mob to disperse quickly. Following the truck were several small cars full of armed police. They had made it clear that they would not allow their town to be disturbed. A huge change of control from the day before.

After getting my blog sent off I decided to check the stage one more time just in case a van or bus was heading to Eldoret. I thought at least if a private car wanted to pick a few people up, they would come to the stage. I had nothing else to do other then to wait. Upon reaching the stage, I found one van (matatu) heading for Eldoret. I quickly took a seat as people were rushing madly for the only matatu brave enough to face the conditions on the three hour trip ahead. I didn’t care, I just wanted to get home. At least every minute on the road was one minute closer to home. It quickly filled up despite the inflated price. We each paid about $9 rather then the normal $3. But no one cared. The drive was slow and mostly uneventful. I kept calling Meredith to see if there was anything on the news about elections announcements. I knew once they came out, things would get really bad. We came up to a few road blocks that were being dismantled by police. It seemed that they police had taken over just a few minutes before we got there. Police stood their ground; some threw the rocks aside that were blocking the road as the angry mob watched for a distance.

I got to Eldoret at 3:30pm. It was a ghost town. Not a single business or shop was open and the transport stage that is normally full of hundreds of buses and matatus was completely vacant. I asked around looking for a matatu to Kitale only to be told that there was none. I was so close to home, yet so far. I didn’t want to give up. I walked to the edge of town where I found about 100 people all wanting to go to Kitale. Most were just sitting on the sidewalk, defeated. I tried to wave down every private car, willing to pay whatever I needed to in order to get home. After about an hour, a matatu came from the direction of Kitale, we all started running for the matatu hoping to get a seat. I felt bad for running and pushing, but I didn’t want to be in Eldoret once things got bad. I got a seat and was charged twice the normal amount. Once again, I didn’t care. Tension was building everywhere and I just wanted to be home. We were told that trouble was brewing ahead, but forged on. The matatu built for 14 passengers now had 19. It was a crowded ride.

My heart began to beat faster as we got closer to the place where Faith and I were pulled off of the bus the day before. As we got close, we saw a group of maybe 50 people beginning to put rocks across the road and put tires in the middle to set on fire. We slowed down, not wanting to get caught in the middle. As we slowed down, the mob took off running in all directions. We looked behind us to see a truck full of riot police coming. Some people moved the rocks out of the way so we could pass. My heart was beating so fast. Now every passenger in the matatu was watching intently to see what was ahead. No one talked. We reached the junction and then Soy. As we neared Soy, we saw a growing mob all with sticks, bows and arrows. The bows and arrows are a sign of intent to kill. Our driver (who by the way was Kikuyu) slowed down and started speaking the local language of Nandi to the mob. They greeted him back and let him pass. We started laughing as we pulled away because our driver is from the tribe that the mob is after, but he had tricked them by using the greetings in their local language. It was a really smart tactic on his part. I was still disturbed by the site of bows and arrows. This was getting out of control.

We passed soy and neared Matunda, the half way point between Eldoret and Kitale. As we got close to this market place, we saw several billows of smoke rising in the distance. Nearing closer, we saw that several houses were on fire – the first sign of serous tribal clashes. Upon reaching Soy, there was a group of maybe 1,000 people huddled behind the gates of the police compound, riot police guarded the gates and about 200 angry mobsters armed with machetes stood at a distance, glaring at the police. They wanted the people inside the gates, surly people from the apposing tribe, the same ones burning houses. It shocked me as to how these people can be neighbors living in total peace, maybe borrowing food from each other or attending parties at each other house, and now they want to kill each other and were burning houses down. I just don’t understand…

The mob was too focused on people in the police compound to care about us. We moved on. I reached Kitale, a sight I didn’t think I would see for several more days. As I reached the gate to our house, I got a call telling me that Kibaki, the current president (PNU) was announced to be the winner of the elections, a true upset and clearly a result of vote rigging. I know that is a bold statement and because of lack of sufficient evidence, let me say my opinion. Although I am sure evidence and proof will surface in the next few days.

It was God’s timing that the results were not announce until I got home. As soon as they were announced, riots and chaos broke out all over the country. Kitale didn’t escape this time. We started getting calls from Kenyan friends who live in or near town telling us how bad things are. Cars being set on fire, people being beaten, etc. We told several people that they could seek refuge with their families at our house if they needed to. The problem would be driving in the midst of such rioting. All around us, we could hear yelling of those celebrating their victory. We quickly gathered as a team and prayed, we prayed for the nation, for our friends, for peace, for protection in our own compound.

It’s now 11:50pm, things haven’t calmed down. Every half hour or so we hear gunshots coming from town. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. It has been declared a public holiday, but that only means that it will be too dangerous for people to move around. We will be meeting as a team in the morning to pray together, then we will see where we will go from there.

Even as I am typing this, new news is rolling in, people are calling our phones, it seems that things are getting worse. I don’t want to post rumors but only facts so I will stop this blog for tonight.

Please know that all from the TI team are safe in Kitale. We are together and have night watchmen. We don’t expect any trouble as we don’t have any part of political issues. We also have God and know that He is protecting us.

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