Mary Walker: Kenya's differences create hurdles

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Mary Walker

Editor's note: Clark resident Mary Walker works at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya. The center was built in 2002 with funding from the United Nations, and it provides a safehouse for Maasai girls who have run away from their families to escape or been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage. Walker's updates from Kenya will appear periodically in the Steamboat Today.

I have been back in Narok, Kenya, for three weeks. Every day has its ups and its downs. Because of what can at times seem to be impassable cultural differences in the way things are done here, many days can feel very wasted and idle. But I try very hard to remember the reason that I am here - to assist Maasai girls living at a rescue center because they want to escape female genital mutilation and forced marriage, and just this thought usually keeps me focused on the big picture, not the small failures.

As an example, I have just spent the past two days trying to secure national identity cards for six girls from the center who have completed secondary school and wish to apply to teacher's college. Chicken and egg doesn't even come close to the dilemma presented with this seemingly simple endeavor. In order to apply for an ID card, one must have a birth certificate. In order to obtain a birth certificate (assuming, as is true with the vast majority of Maasai people who give birth in the bush, that one did not get one at birth), one must have an ID card. In order to vote, apply to college or university and travel, one must have an ID card. So around and around we go.

Add to this that in order to acquire an ID card, you must present a photocopy of one of your parent's ID cards. Most of the girls living at the rescue center haven't had any contact whatsoever with their parents for four to five years. And the only photocopy machines are in the large towns or cities, usually a very long journey from their homes in the bush. The task of traveling home for the first time in years - to see parents who you ran away from and who may still reject you for this decision - to obtain these documents is daunting, if not terrifying. And yet it must be done in order for them to move to the next steps in their lives.

The political situation in Kenya still is unsettled, although there are not the acts of violence such as those that happened after the election. The coalition government is at a standstill as the two parties argue about cabinet positions. Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans continue to "live" in Internal Displacement Camps under deplorable and inhumane conditions. Meanwhile, there is news that the vice president's new home will cost 197,000,000ksh ($3 million) and that there will be a new tax charged to Kenyans for this cost. This is the reality of life in this country - many, many people here survive on one meal a day (potatoes and rice) while politicians quibble about meaningless and inefficient cabinet posts and their pay. The absence of large-scale violence is welcome in the lives of most working Kenyans, but it is a wonder that there is not more discontent about the current situation.

There continues to be interest and investigation into the post-election violence. Some members of Parliament are being questioned about their roles in financing and instigating the outbreak. All have, of course, denied any involvement. But at least there is some effort to prevent future outbreaks by letting these members know they are being watched. For the majority of Kenyans who simply want to work their jobs and care for their families, the hope is that the current stalemate between the two parties of the coalition can soon be broken.

Comments

Pres Plumb 6 years, 6 months ago

Puts our burdens, whatever they may be, in perspective. Thanks and God bless you Mary.

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nikobesti 6 years, 6 months ago

What is most unfortunate about the ethnic violence following the election is the Balkanization of Kenya. Every major tribe has had their stronghold province, but there was still quite a bit of mixing. Not any more. All Kenyans that weren't of the dominant tribe in the region were driven from their homes and businesses. Trust has been completely lost and these folks will not return in many years, probably their lifetime. The election violence will have detrimental effects on the country for generations to come.

Poor governance is the scourge of Africa. Most other problems stem from corrupt incompetent governments. What Africa needs is a few dozen Nelson Mandelas, who put the well being of their people above all else, even their own lives. Unfortunately, these leaders are very few and far between.

Mary, endelea kufanya kazi nzuri, na salamia watu huko.

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OneFly 6 years, 6 months ago

Below is a link to a short essay that expands on nikobesti's post. It may help those who wish to learn more about Kenya and why it faces the problems it does.

http://oakcreekforum.blogspot.com/2008/03/situation-in-kenya-by-rodger-billings.html

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