Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Give us today, bread, and deliver us from evil.

"If I survive at the expense of another, death would be sweeter and more beloved." ~anonymous Arab American
The poor along Kenya's coast are being systematically displaced by government's cooperation with the wealthy.  Their ancestral homesteads are being declared government land, sold to influential businessmen, and bulldozed, leaving the residents on the street.  Some of my friends have received notice that they're next.

Street boys in northern Mombasa are split between honest folks trying to do a little business with foreign visitors, and the con artists and crooks.  All are desperate, trying to survive.  One honest young man became my friend over several months.  We did a little business in trinkets and ebony name plates.  He's a sweet fellow, trying to support his family.  He eventually invited me to his home in Shanzu to meet his family.

The ride in a 3-wheeled taxi is interesting (and noisy).  Making our way through the village reveals most homes are built of sticks, mud, and coral stones.  No electricity, no water, no sanitation infrastructure are in evidence.  It's not the worst slum in Kenya, perhaps, but similar.

In their simple home, I meet mom, sister, others.  No father, as is so heart-breakingly common, is around to lead the family.  Mom struggles with health issues, as do most of the poor; reoccurring malaria in her case.  Treatment is available, but drugs are expensive.  A month's medicine will cost perhaps half the family's income.

They're struggling each day to survive.  Kids are irregularly in school; costs for tuition, materials, and uniforms aren't always covered.

Their home will be taken by the government, perhaps in the next year or two, and with no compensation or assistance for relocation.

On the far side of Shanzu, dear friends live in simplicity difficult to imagine.  A simple hut of sticks, mud and stone is their shelter.  My friend lost her husband and the use of her legs in the same accident.  She lives with her mom, brother, a couple of aunts and their children, and her three year old boy.

Her brother works irregularly as a safari guide for tourists.  He worked for a construction project this summer, mixing concrete by hand.  Their combined income barely feeds them and keeps the four school-aged children in school.
With a little start-up money, they built and stocked this kiosk where they re-sell vegetables and some dried fish.  It generates a small, if irregular, income for them.  "Its good to work."  From her wheelchair, mom explains. "If you don't do something to help yourself, then you just sit and think and become hopeless. So, we pray and we work."

They proudly show me the chicken coop they're building from scrounged materials.  Some start-up funds will pay for the chicken wire fencing and a small flock of chickens and chicks to get things going.

They also have received their eviction notice from the government.  Their home and little businesses will be bulldozed.  Again.

Two years ago, the government sent heavy equipment into the area and leveled hundreds of dwellings.  With nowhere to go, the folks lived in the open while they rebuilt their simple homes.  Since then, the government has been deeding select plots to wealthy, influential individuals from the north.  The plots are then walled in (photo, left) for later development.  The boys show me several such newly walled areas.  Once the walls are up, the residents don't dare rebuild for fear of arrest and beating.

This luxury, walled apartment complex sits on land just 200 meters from my friend's home, kiosk, and chicken coop.  The folks who lived on this plot for generations were evicted without compensation.

Kenya has a new constitution, a new governmental structure, and elections.  Ministers for this region are elected by the people based on promises for change, they go to Nairobi and get bought off with a lifetime's income, and the crime continues.

Despite the occasional showcase arrest of jerks like the fellow here (left), government attempts to end corruption appear half-hearted and ineffective.  The poor continue to be victimized. 

Nairobi (right) and the adjacent slum (below) illustrate the gap between rich and poor.  Discrimination by ancestry has plagued the world for millenia.  In Kenya, the tribes with wealth and land often abuse their position and influence at the expense of the poorer tribes.  We've all seen this before.

 In the US, we did the same to the Native Americans.  We took the best of the land and drove them away to survive as best they could.  It's wicked beyond words, what's been done in the name of 'manifest destiny', and it continues.  Kenya's policy ensures the poor will be driven away, out of sight, to die.

Racial discrimination, class discrimination, gender discrimination, religious discrimination, all are familiar.

In Kenya, the Kikuyu in the north hold the reins of influence and power along with wealth and the best of the country's land. The poor are being systematically disenfranchised.

Along Kenya's coast, the native folks are the Mijikendas. "Mijikenda" literally means nine homes or nine homesteads (in Swahili), referring to the common ancestry of the Mijikenda people. The nine Mijikenda sub-tribes are believed to be nine different homes of the same tribe. Each sub-tribe speaks its own dialect of the Mijikenda language. They've lived on these lands since the first millennium AD.

Among the nine Mijikenda sub-tribes, the Giriama and the Digo are the most well known, most populous along the Kenyan coast. The other seven are the Chonyi, Duruma, Jibana, Kambe, Kauma, Rabai and Ribe. My friend and his nephew (left) are Giriama, and their family has lived here for generations.

Oral history traces the origin of the tribe to the southern regions of Somalia. Over the centuries, they dealt with the Persian, Arab, and Portuguese traders who frequented their home territory along the Kenyan coast. Interaction and intermarriage with the Arabs gave birth to the Swahili culture and language. All of it is at risk as government discrimination and corruption combine to sweep them away.

With our friends here, we pray for divine intervention in government, in leaders, and here on the ground. Perhaps even angels might stand around the homes of these faithful folks to defend and deliver them from the evil that approaches. It's happened before.

It's a broken world, Father.  Give us today, bread, and deliver us from evil.