Saturday, Sept. 21 is otherwise known as the International Day of Peace. The morning started like any other as we woke up to the morning calls of the numerous birds and the faint light shining through the thin curtains of our banda. It’s 5:45 a.m. and I’m in Kenya, a thought that still seems to amaze and delight me. How blessed I feel to have been given this opportunity to live and work in a country and on a continent that I have been fascinated and drawn to since I was a young adult.
To share it with my beautiful daughter who at six has an open heart and mind and seems to continually find new ways to process her senses fascinates me thoroughly. This little banda with its cement floors and thatched roof has become our home away from home and we are thankful.
To celebrate the United Nations International Day of Peace at Daraja, we were busy organizing a program for the afternoon to empower the girls to be peacemakers in their communities. As a volunteer this term, I have been given the responsibility to develop a curriculum for the Form 3’s (equivalent to being a junior in high school) WISH (Women of Integrity, Strength and Hope) program entitled Conflict Resolution & Women Peacekeepers.
Ultimately the goal of the curriculum is to guide the girls through skill-building so that they will have the confidence and courage to facilitate peace in their own communities. Last week I led the girls through a process where they imagined and then created through art a community of peace in the year 2030. To know these girls, to hear their struggles and to see them overcome differences and historical tribal animosity, and to ultimately sit together, live together and work together gives them as well as myself hope for a new Kenya. The importance and relevance of this curriculum in the next few moments will be overwhelmingly clear.
At lunch over ugali and greens we are riveted and shocked to learn that gunfire has erupted at the popular and upscale Westgate mall in Nairobi.
In just a matter of moments, hope for Peace in Kenya is shattered. I’m writing this piece at 4 p.m. Sunday and at this moment 59 innocent people have lost their lives while hundreds are injured and others unaccounted for while the hostage situation continues.
Somalia’s Islamic extremist group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility and said the attack was retribution for Kenyan forces’ 2011 push into Somalia. The rebels have threatened more attacks putting everyone on high alert. The U.S. Embassy is currently monitoring the situation and sending regular alerts and updates.
Jayna and I are safe and yet the fear is visceral this violent attack has left a sickening numbness in the pit of my stomach that just doesn’t go away. I’m for a moment reminded of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in both Kenya and Tanzania when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi.
I remember how paralyzed the community was afterward and how you begin to question peace efforts. The mood in Kenya is currently very somber; there is great sadness evident on the faces of Kenyans and expatriates alike. There is no doubt that the country is immobilized by fear and yet when I see the students at Daraja I see hope, I see determination and I see change.
For many Americans, Africa is far removed from their lives, a place of distance where the issues that the continent struggles with are vast and often complicated.
Despite this disconnect, I hope that through these letters I’m able to convey a different side of Africa where peoples’ hearts pump to perhaps a different beat but the same rhythm, where smiles are universal and where people have hopes and dream of a better tomorrow, just as we do.
Amani — Peace!
Wenatchee native Jane Davis and her daughter Jayna are in Kenya this fall where Jane will be teaching at a girl’s school. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org