Mayling Simpson-Hebert: Road to Nairobi


— As a month in Steamboat Springs comes to a close, my husband, Paul, and I are trying to imagine our move to Nairobi this month in the midst of Kenya's new political turmoil.

I work for Catholic Relief Services as a regional health, water and sanitation advisor, serving six East African countries. After working in Ethiopia for most of the past four years, I am relocating to CRS's regional office in Nairobi while Paul will continue to work for the United Nations in humanitarian assistance.

Since the late December elections, Kenya has shocked the world as tribal animosities have surfaced, resulting in about 500 deaths and 250,000 people displaced. International observers are claiming election irregularities making it impossible to determine who really won - incumbent president Mwai Kibaki or his main rival, Raila Odinga. This political tension is leading to tribal violence, as Kibaki is a Kikuyu and Odinga is a Luo. The election campaigns played the tribal card and exacerbated tribal tensions.

Since the election, members of varying Kenyan tribes have been striking out against one another over the results. Relief agencies immediately jumped into action to help broker peace and deliver essential food, clothing and shelter to displaced people. CRS quickly pledged $150,000 toward relief efforts and already is transporting blankets, plastic sheeting and mosquito nets to the most affected areas to help thousands of families in need.

Even before the election, Paul and I were feeling some trepidation about moving to Nairobi, because of the crime. But we anticipated trips to the coast and game parks, the pleasing climate, and most of all working among the people of Kenya. Now that vision is a bit shattered as we hear tales of terrible acts of violence.

This will not be the first time we have experienced insecurity living in a foreign country. In fact, it seems to be our luck that a revolution or unrest occurs right about the time we leave or arrive! This happened in Iran in 1978, in the Philippines in 1986, in Nepal in 1990, and now in Kenya. Paul's humanitarian work for the U.N. often puts him directly in conflict situations, so we have learned to stay cool.

From what we hear, the areas in Nairobi where we will be working and living aren't badly affected by the violence at present - and fortunately most Kenyans are choosing peace over violence. But the people of Kenya cannot afford more in-fighting as many live day to day on meager earnings.

We hope life will return to normal for all Kenyans soon - and we expect many will spend much time in the near future reflecting on the meaning of democracy.

Part-time Steamboat Springs resident Mayling Simpson-Hebert is a medical anthropologist who has worked in countries around the world hoping to stem the impact of diseases such as HIV, AIDS and malaria.


GearyBaxter 9 years, 2 months ago

The mesure of one's life is not in what you have, but what you give. Godspeed.


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