Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Love Triangle Sparks the Latest Flame

After a leisurely lunch with some friends, Rock let me in on the latest news: ODM MP David Kimutai Too had been killed by a police officer in Eldoret. Within minutes of Rock hearing this on the news, Hubby called to verify my whereabouts and fill me in on the same. As I said to Rock at the time, I had been foolish to let a mere day of peacefulness allow my hopes to rise.

Unsurprisingly, Raila Odinga grabbed the chance for a sound bite before having all of the facts. "I condemn this second execution of an ODM member of parliament. The purpose of this killing is to reduce the ODM majority."

According to reports, the truth has less to do with politics and more to do with romantic jealousy. It seems that Too was having an affair with the policeman’s girlfriend. The policeman, who has been arrested, shot his girlfriend twice in the stomach and then turned on the MP “hitting him four times in the head.”

Upon learning all of the details, Rock echoed a fear that has become commonplace here among Kenya’s Kikuyu’s lately, “They are going to take us all one by one.” This latest news, you see, had come on the heels of a discussion he had with of the other staff here at our building. For instance, the home of one housemaid from Kibera had been looted and burned yesterday – although she and her family escaped unhurt, they now have nothing and are living with friends.

At the same time, such uncertainty affects other groups as well: we heard from our day guard today that police were shooting tear gas into non-Kikuyu homes in Kibera and then letting the Mungiki gangs have their way with them once they were flushed out.

Even those who have not been physically affected yet are feeling the effects as landlords from one tribe have started raising rents for tenants who come from a different tribe. Other landlords have outright kicked people out of their homes. As Tori told me yesterday, “There is no safe peace anywhere. Even locked in my house I could be a target.”

In case you’re wondering where Kibaki is in all of this, he is currently attending the African Union meetings in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, also present at the conference, was quick to point fingers of blame in both directions, “President [Mwai] Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga... have a special responsibility to solve the crisis peacefully. I call on the Kenyan people: stop the killings and end the violence now before it's too late."

The two men may do well to listen to reason lest the local military start listening to Rwandan leader Paul Kagame who all but called for a military coup to solve the situation. “In the wake of such senseless killings with no immediate solution, if anybody suggested that [military] option to me, I would say I agree with it.”

I have tried my best to remain impartial when writing about recent events in this blog. I have also tried to blame both Raila and Kabaki equally for the violence that has broken out across Kenya. As stressed out as I have been over the past month, I am a white woman who lives with guards behind big walls – people like me are safe and almost apart from what is going on. But I cannot help but cry out that if someone doesn’t do something soon, the Kenya I love will soon be no more.

Won’t somebody please listen?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Where do we go from here?

As I was getting ready to attend the Association’s monthly coffee social this morning, I received an unexpected call from Hubby. “Have you left yet? Good, don’t go via Ngong road – there are riots because new ODM MP Mugabe Were was killed last night.”

Oh crap. It was the only thing I could think to say – the only thing that seemed appropriate at the moment.

When Rock came back from dropping Hubby off at work, he told me that at the Junction, he saw the rowdy crowds already beginning to gather. One friend trying to go to work in Karen was stopped by a makeshift roadblock on James Gichuru and forced to turn around back toward Lavington.

The latest sparks of violence and Were’s murder were seemingly the only topics of conversation at the meeting. Several ladies spoke of pulling out of Kenya altogether. Even those who have called Kenya home for decades were discussing “contingency plans.”

What seemed like a spark of hope last week when Kofi Annan arrived was extinguished with flames of violence in Nakuru and Naivasha (where Rock’s wife and family live) over the weekend. Most international media outlets have attempted to put the situation in this area into perspective for their viewers by explaining that Naivasha is home to most of the greenhouses where a good portion of Europe’s imported flowers are grown. The people dying may be sad but the true tragedy to some of these reporters is the lack of roses being flown to the UK.

The Vigilante Journalist painted this eerily vivid picture in her blog earlier today.

For the last three days, the Lake Naivasha Country Club hotel’s front lawn has been a refugee camp for a group of Luo families who have not eaten anything since they arrived. In the meantime, out front, a large gang of Kikuyus gathers around the clock with makeshift weapons, aiming to kill those Luos hiding inside. It was terrifying to see such a thing and recalls harrowingly the scenes in the movie Hotel Rwanda.

Despite the fact that police are reportedly not treating Were’s murder as politically motivated (although they have not gone so far as to rule it out), people are still speculating, and in some cases, making thinly veiled accusations. "We suspect a foul hand of our adversaries in this," Raila Odinga is quoted as saying. “We hope and expect that investigations are going to be carried out by the law enforcement agencies, but as you can see, the country is drifting into a state of anarchy.” Kibaki, for his part, has called for peace and urged people not to jump to conclusions about who is responsible.

As I type this, a live press conference has just started downtown with Kofi, Raila, and Kibaki sharing the spotlight. The latter two managed to sound contrite during what could easily have been mistaken as campaign speeches. The three men urged all Kenyans to live in peace with one another and to put an end to the violence and retaliatory attacks that have become so common in the news here of late.

I want to have something to say about the situation here other than “oh crap” but until Raila and Kibaki start being the leaders they purport to be, Raila’s comment at today’s press conference may be more prophetic than anyone thought. “There may be no nation left to save.”

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Picture of Harmony

This photo of Kofi Annan, Raila Odinga, and Mwai Kibaki might have you thinking that Kenya is well on its way to reconciliation and having a peaceful and working government. Pictures may be worth a thousand words but in this case they can also be slightly deceptive.

Thursday marked the first time that the two stars of this tragedy have met in person since the election. And while the meeting itself reportedly went well, the fireworks started afterward with an initial salvo from Kibaki who pointed out that he was “the duly elected president” and insisted that any reconciliation would be on his terms: “I will personally lead our country in promoting tolerance, peace and harmony.”

Never ones to let such a comment go unopposed, ODM leaders shot back: “True to his fraudulent character, Mr. Mwai Kibaki abused the occasion by attempting to legitimize his usurpation of the presidency.” All I have to say is that Mr. Annan has my sympathies in dealing with these two and their quarrelsome entourages.

On an interesting (to me, anyways) and semi-related note, I attended my book club that same day where we discussed “Imperium” by Robert Harris. The morning started out with everyone catching up and finding out about people’s holidays and lives since the elections. As secretary, it was my job to take everyone’s minds off politics and get them talking about “Imperium,” which is about ancient Rome and the famous advocate Cicero. (The book concludes just before he becomes Consul.)

It didn’t take long for Harris’s story of power and corruption to become an allegory for the current situation in Kenya. After everyone had their turn discussing why they liked (or didn’t like) the book, we returned once again to talk about how various similar situations described in the book could be found in present day Kenya – everything from “tribal voting” to class warfare.

So I’ll close today’s blog with a few apt quotes from our good friend Marcus Tullius Cicero.

"It is the peculiar quality of a fool to perceive the faults of others and to forget his own."

"Orators are most vehement when their cause is weak."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Birthday Time!

Happy Birthday, Dad!!!
Sorry there aren't enough candles but I couldn't afford to buy that many!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Feelings of Discomfort

Two incidents marred our trip to Amboselli and left us feeling a little uncomfortable and more than slightly awkward. The first involved Leonard the Masai and the second, oddly enough, involved chocolate cake.

Since there is so much downtime between drives, the lodge tries to keep people busy with activities like nature walks and “cultural explorations.” The latter was an opportunity to learn about the Masai from a Masai employee of the Serena. It would, we were told, start with an informative talk and finish up with a dance performed by several people from a local village. We were also told about a popular outing to a Masai village which included going into people’s homes but we felt that option was too intrusive into people’s lives. We didn’t want to be the ugly wazungu.

At two o’clock, we met Leonard and introduced ourselves. Since my name was difficult to pronounce and remember Leonard started calling me, “My future wife.” This became rather amusing as he kept asking BBS how many cows I was worth.

After dismissing all of my questions about the book “White Masai” by calling the book “ridiculous,” Leonard went on to discuss everything from his dislike of German and French women to the incidence of HIV within the Masai people. In telling us about the diet of traditional Masai, Leonard observed that since his people were traditionally nomads their staples included “milk, meat, and blood.” Eleanor and I later discussed this last tidbit as being rather dubious but said nothing of our doubts to Leonard.

A discussion about both male and female circumcision was a prelude to what would be the most uncomfortable ten minutes of the entire afternoon. The three women and ten men who entered the clearing to dance for us were all dressed in traditional Masai clothing. The dance, which seemed mostly to be a contest of which man could jump highest went on for several minutes and was, at first, fascinating to watch. The chanting that accompanied the display was quite interesting but the whole thing went on too long and the look in some of dancer’s eyes made us feel like the ugly wazungu we had hoped to avoid becoming.

After the dance, beaded necklaces were put around our necks for a series of photos that only added to the voyeuristic nature of the entire debacle. Masai people do not normally like being photographed and here they were putting themselves forward for our “amusement.”

The incredible discomfort we felt with the Masai dancers was only equaled on our final evening. As I mentioned previously, all of the meals were essentially buffet style with waiters bringing us our mains at dinner and drinks during all meals. A point of amusement among the three of us had been the fact that although we were always one of the first tables to seat themselves we were also the last to leave since people kept forgetting to bring us the cheque for our drinks each evening.

We were always polite to the staff of the lodge and I practiced my Swahili when I could. While we were never rude or impolite, we didn’t go out of our way to break the “nice” barrier either. (Don’t worry, this entire preamble will make sense in a second.)

Our final night we had a nice meal and decided to ask for the cheque at the same time as Eleanor’s nightly cup of tea in hopes that it might ensure it came more quickly. While her ginger tea arrived fairly quickly, the cheque, unsurprisingly, did not. Our young waiter kept saying it was coming before disappearing back into the kitchen.

All of a sudden the kitchen doors swung open, with several waiters banging pots and a guitar player and a chef bearing a cake emerging from the kitchen. Singing a song I vaguely recognized from other tourist events, they made their way up the main alley of the dining room while everyone clapped along and smiled.

I spotted a few kids peeping from around a corner and realized that it must be one of their birthday’s – indeed the conga line turned in their direction. When it turned again we continued to clap and smile looking around to see who else could be the intended target. As if in slow motion the line passed the table behind us and stopped at ours.

As if the conga line weren’t bad enough, they continued to sing as BBS, Eleanor, and I all stared at each other in humiliated terror. Hoping for the best, I took the knife that was offered to me and cut a slice of cake, which thankfully stopped the singing. The headwaiter explained to us that the cake was a gift from the staff for our kindness during our stay.

After he left we stared accusingly at one another each blaming the other for the embarrassing cake, which sat before us. Then we turned on loved ones who weren’t with us including my mother and husband. I defended the latter knowing he valued his life too much to do such a thing and BBS pointed out that our mother didn’t actually know where we were.

So there you have the tale of two very different yet still discomforting events. One left us feeling like voyeurs participating in a very private ritual in which we had no rightful place. The other left us the very confused owners of a lovely chocolate cake. Make of these takes what you will but if you know who sent the cake PLEASE tell me!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I’ll Fly Away

In addition to the elephants, Amboselli is also a famous birder’s paradise with over three hundred different species once being identified in a single day. There are the obvious egret, ibis, and ostriches but there are also the pretty blue ones, and the cool brown ones!

Ok, so I’m not a professional birder and I forgot to write down many of their names, but at least I took their photos and paid attention to some of their cooler stats. For example, the brown ostriches, we were told, are the females. So in addition to not being able to fly, these large tasty ladies are also cursed with dealing with their prettier (and therefore more ego driven) husbands. Poor girls!

On Tuesday afternoon, the three of us went on a nature walk with our Masai guide, Leonard. The walk was surprisingly brief and, despite the heat, we all wished it could have been a wee bit longer. Taking us around the outer perimeter of the lodge, Leonard showed us several different varieties of birds, some of which he was able to identify only from their call.

One of BBS’s favorite birds was the Crested Crane , which I kept thinking was something else every time we spotted one. These rather distinguished looking birds never seemed bothered by our car and just sat grazing on whatever patch of grass they had chosen for the day.

I wish my camera had a better zoom on it so as to better identify some of the birds we found. During our four days of safaris, we spotted everything from eagles to Egyptian ducks but many times these could only be seen off in the distance.

The best place to see birds was the wetlands about ten minutes from our lodge. In addition to being home to some difficult-to-spot hippos, the wetlands are also the nesting place for hundreds of different birds. Much like the grazing animals, these birds seemed to hang out together regardless of species. The water, grass, and bugs were there to be shared and they didn’t seem to care who partook of the available feast.

My apologies for not identifying most of the birds in these photos but as I said, I just don’t know. Feel free to play amateur ornithologist and share your knowledge with me. (Please!!) After enjoying several days of birding for beginners, I must say that the next time I go on safari I will bring a bird book with me so that I too can participate in this interesting new hobby.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tears for Change

It seems like every time the international news shows a story on the current conflict in Kenya they show the same thing: police firing on, attacking, and beating their fellow Kenyans. Depending upon whose press release you're reading, this brutality is either unprovoked attacks upon innocent bystanders or the police merely doing their job and trying to keep the peace.

I have attempted not to take sides during the last few weeks when blogging about the current situation, but there is only side to take when videos and photos of police brutality are being shown by every media outlet from Al Jazeera and CNN to the Daily Nation and even YouTube. What sense is there in throwing a canister of tear gas into someone's home? Or shooting unarmed people at point blank range?

Depending upon which political party you align yourself with, the fingers of blame are equally busy: Raila and his ODM are at fault for all the deaths, displacements, and injured since they continue to encourage mass demonstrations and won't accept defeat. On the other hand, Kibaki and his PNU are to blame since they cheated, should step down, are encouraging the police, and won't accept defeat.

Just about everyone on either side of this fence seem to agree that Kofi Annan's newly scheduled arrival this week may bring hope to everyone and common sense to the men in charge. (Hopefully Annan's "flu" doesn't return and once again delay his arrival.) I hate to sound cynical but we may need more than a single man, more than a league of superheroes, and more than tears, screams of terror, and funeral pyres to put an end to images like the one below.

Dear Raila and Kibaki, this is Kenya you have wrought. Congratulations.

Just a Kitty Cat

BBS, Eleanor, and I were lucky enough to be in a private van, which meant that we didn’t have to play nice with others or share our ride. Other vans we saw weren’t as lucky – some were filled to the brim with up to eight passengers in addition to the driver. The truly amusing vans were filled with safari-goers who had obviously overpaid for this “African Adventure.” You could spot this type by their uniform-like safari clothes they wore (far too many of which had sequins and beads). By contrast, the three of us were positively laid back dressed in jeans sitting in our roomy van.

The very first day we went out on safari we hit the jackpot. After seeing what was, for me at least, some run of the mill zebra, impala, and the like, we drove past the local airport and soon found ourselves parked less than a foot away from a lion.

Our lion (which was clearly not a lioness, thank you) was sleeping in the shade when we first arrived and seemed rather annoyed to have his nap disturbed by a bunch of camera wielding humans. After a quick yawn and another withering look in our direction, we watched him go about his daily routine as if we weren’t there which made him seem almost like a slightly oversized tabby cat.

Curiously, despite a quick scratch, he didn’t seem bothered by the collar around his neck, which Alex explained away as a Park practice. Our driver/guide was surprisingly short on information during much of our trip, which was in sharp contrast with other guides we overheard who seemed far more knowledgeable about the park and its inhabitants. Much to our consternation, we later discovered that the names he told us for some birds were incorrect. It didn’t help his case that every time we went on a drive, Alex kept saying how much better the Masai Mara is and how we should have gone there instead. He kept up that annoying litany literally until the moment he left us back at my front door on Wednesday afternoon.

Lions weren’t the only predators we saw during our stay in Amboselli. The carrion eaters were seemingly everywhere throughout the park. Although we didn’t get to see them close-up, we spotted a pair of jackals likely on their way to finish off someone else’s kill.

Hyenas also seemed omnipresent- we even found a lone male on our first day! We didn’t see them hunting although we did see them doing just about everything else. One family of hyenas we spotted was napping on a sunny rock and didn’t seem terribly disturbed by our presence or the sound of a dozen cameras snapping away.

On our final day in the park, we stared at the same patch of grass for about a half hour. About a half-mile from our car, we were told that a family of lions was hiding out in the tall grass. No matter how much I zoomed in on the vague area I was told they were sitting, I was completely unable to spot a single lion that day.

Remember that scene in “Jurassic Park” where they bring a chained goat up out of the ground to tempt a dinosaur into making an appearance? Well, on that final day I desperately wished that I had a goat or gazelle to tempt the lions out for a snack. Darn my lack of magical powers!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Elephant City

Although I had been on safari before, this was the first time I have been on a “guided” drive with a professional calling the shots. The first thing you notice in the van is that whenever you’re out the driver has his CB radio on all the time. This is so drivers can share with each other when they find something good that the wazungu will want to see. Since many drivers (and customers) believe that the driver’s tip will ultimately depend upon the game seen during the trip, finding good game like lions is considered to be of prime importance.

Amboselli is known as a great place to visit if you want to view elephants and it definitely lived up to the hype. The afternoon we arrived, we went on our first drive at 4:00 p.m. and one of the first things we saw was several elephants hanging out in a swamp. Those pictures aren’t of short elephants – they’re just knee and neck deep in a swamp. Throughout our time in Amboselli, swamps proved to be a good place to find pachyderms.

Our first morning drive was definitely elephant-themed. It started out when we (and about a dozen other vans) gathered around to see several dozen elephants out for their morning walk. With some elephants no more than a few feet away, we were able to observe the animals and their habits in some detail.

The small white birds that always hang out with the elephants are called egrets and were always fun to spot. Alex explained the symbiotic relationship, telling us that the elephant’s big steps woke up and dispersed bugs for the egrets to eat. I was never terribly clear on what the elephant got out of the relationship other than a cute mascot. (I wonder where I can get an egret to hang out with me?!)

The first thing you notice is that the Big Daddy of the herd usually walked alone. His immense size and huge tusks also marked him as slightly different than the younger bulls who seemed to enjoy play fighting more than looking studly.

Baby elephants, which seemed tiny next to their older siblings, always stuck as close as possible to their mothers. Our driver explained that you could guess their age based on their size and the length of their tusks.

As we watched the herd wander off, we noticed that they all seemed to be very much in tune with one another. The head bull showed the way by heading off first but then one by one the others followed suit no matter what they had been doing beforehand. Although some lagged behind more than others, they all headed in the same direction in search of something they weren’t letting us in on.

Our next elephant sighting came only a few minutes later. Alex heard on the CB that some lions had been spotted and he floored it across the park in their direction. Unfortunately we didn’t quite make it thanks to an elephant that had different plans for the morning. Blocking the road in front of us was a large bull elephant who was quite content to nibble on trees and eventually to rip them out of the ground.

We weren’t the only van stuck waiting but not one driver was willing to push past him. As BBS said, “No one tells the elephant what to do!” We never saw the lions that day but we did get up close and personal with some local pachyderms.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Bumpy Road Ahead

Before we left for Bahrain and long before the elections, I promised to tell you about my Amboselli safari, so with apologies for the delay…

With Hubby about to leave for Thailand and Egypt, BBS, Eleanor, and myself left for our safari adventure that Sunday in the highest of spirits. Our driver, Alex, helped us load our knapsacks into the back of the van and we were off on the four to five hour journey to Amboselli National Park. The first two hours of the drive went by rather quickly and gave us all an opportunity to peek into a Kenya that is often hidden to those of us who live in Nairobi. Little did we know that those pothole filled roads were to be the most pleasant – and quiet – part of our journey.

After a brief bathroom break near the Tanzanian border, we turned left and drove through a small town that gave us all the impression that we were far closer to the park than we really were. After two or three minutes, we left the pot-holed road and started along a very bumpy gravel road. Five minutes into this portion of the drive, Eleanor and I spotted a sign on the side of the road: “67 miles to Amboselli Serena Lodge.” We both assumed (and prayed) that we had misread the sign or missed a decimal point. We hadn’t.

The next several hours were bumpy and loud to the point where I was beginning to worry that my eardrums were going to rupture. When we finally arrived at the park gate, we mistakenly thought that our journey was almost at an end. Alas, the hawkers who surrounded our vehicle were only there to mark the beginning of another 45 minute drive through one set of lodges and then finally to our own.

In the name of full disclosure, let me say that the Serena Amboselli is a lovely hotel/lodge. Our rooms were huge, clean, and prettily decorated; they even looked out onto a lovely grassy area that a family of monkeys enjoyed visiting. To my delight, the mosquito nets surrounded the bed area rather than just the bed that meant my usual mozzie net claustrophobia would not be tested. The rooms directly across from ours, however, were tiny and cramped, making us even more grateful for our spacious accommodations.

Our daily schedule included two drives a day – the first at 7:30 a.m. and the second at 4:00 p.m. This left us with A LOT of downtime to kill. The three buffet-style meals per day helped in that regard, as did the pool, but most of the time I found myself reading or wishing there was a TV in my room.

Over the next few days, I will share the stories of the game we were able to see, the many animals we weren’t able to see, and why we should have gone to the Masai Mara.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Economic Sanctions

The big news in Nairobi the last day or so is the current threat of economic sanctions. First came word that the EU was threatening sanctions. Now Raila has decided that it seemed like a good idea and has put out a call for a boycott of companies with government connections. While international sanctions may help wake up the men in charge, they are more likely to hurt the people who are already suffering as a result of the elections and the violence that followed.

But the most immediate sanctions seem to be those issued by tourists. With the exception of aid workers and journalists, many hotels are virtually empty. To make matters worse, many tourists have cancelled planned trips to the area. And it isn’t just in Nairobi: safari lodges throughout the country are feeling the pinch caused by closed roads, cancelled reservations, and a lack of new visitors willing to “risk” the trip here. Many charter flights have cancelled formerly popular routes. In a bit of irony, we’ve seen ads on CNN in recent days from the Tanzanian tourism board, possibly in an attempt to siphon away those tourists who still want the amenities that Tanzania, like Kenya, also has on offer but without the political troubles of the latter.

Since tourism is one of the biggest industries here in Kenya, the lack of tourist dollars (euros and pounds) is going to hit a lot of people very hard. With that in mind, I have decided to start a five-part series about my recent trip to Amboselli. Barring anything radical occurring in the next few days, I am going to try to talk up this wonderful tourism hotspot in hopes that people will remember what a wonderful place this used to be and will be again once the “big boys” start putting Kenya first.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Worth a Thousand Words

While looking around for different people's takes on the current situation in Kenya I found the Wired Blog which had an entry on just that. The Wired entry quoted from photojournalist Anne Holmes’ blog: The Vigilante Journalist.

The photo and quote below are from Ms. Holmes’ blog (as quoted by Wire). As emotional as this photo is, it is only one of dozens that Ms. Holmes has displayed on her website. I highly recommend taking a few moments out of your day to see Kenya through the lens of the Vigilante Journalist.

In the Nairobi slum of Kibera, where I spent the whole day, police used tear gas and live ammunition on protesters. I saw three young men with bullet wounds, two with non-fatal injuries to the thigh area, and one with a bullet wound to the neck. The latter was walking home from work when he was shot, and died from his wounds shortly after I left the hospital.

The day started with residents of Kibera setting up burning barricades to block police and chanting political slogans, singing and dancing. Then the crowd decided to head to the edge of town to loot the supermarket at which point they were met with 5 large trucks full of police. A long stand off ensued as residents threw rocks and police sent tear gas and opened fire on the protesters. After a few hours, police went in en masse and performed door-to-door raids, pulling people out of their homes, beating them and breaking down doors. The fired live ammunition in the streets and terrorized men and women on their way home from work. By 6 p.m. all was quiet and three were on their way to hospital with gunshot wounds. A third day of protests is scheduled for tomorrow.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Addicted to Words

I have previously blogged about my addiction to the Facebook application Scrabulous. I even went so far as to write a song about my addiction to this spelling bee of a game.

Through this game, I have been able to keep in touch with everyone from my sister-in-law to my across-the-hall dorm mate. I’ve learned cool new words like Qi and Jird. And my most wonderful friend Aurenna and I always have at least two games going on at any one time and continue to try to out “triple word score” each other.

But now they want my joy to end. *sob* Evidently, the sanity I receive from my daily games isn’t important to the folks at Hasbro and Mattel who are a wee bit too obsessed with silly things like “copyright” and “trademarks.” Don’t they understand that the thousands of people who play this game everyday aren’t trying to infringe upon anything other than other people’s vocabularies?!

Well the time has come, my friends, to FIGHT THE MAN! Or at the very least sign a petition, join a group, and beg these companies to let us keep our Scabulous.

Fans fight for Scrabulous future

The threat to the hugely popular Scrabulous game has galvanised Facebook members into mounting a vigorous defence campaign.

In little more than a day more than 13,000 people have signed up to a Save Scrabulous group on Facebook.

Many have signed a petition asking Mattel and Hasbro to back down from their threat to have the game removed.

Others have bombarded the two toy makers with letters, e-mails and calls asking them to preserve the game.

Fighting talk
The joint owners of Scrabble, Mattel and Hasbro, launched their action on Tuesday saying that the Scrabulous game was a "gross copyright and trademark infringement". The companies asked Facebook to remove Scrabulous.

Neither Facebook nor the Indian brothers who created the online word game have so far commented on the row.

On Facebook, Scrabulous regularly racks up more than 500,000 users a day and many of these have leapt to the defence of the game.

A Save Scrabulous group has been created on Facebook and in little more than a day more has more than 13,400 members.

Discussion on the group has been broadly critical of Hasbro and Mattel and many have called on the toy makers to "back off" and leave Scrabulous running. In comments many Save Scrabulous members said they would boycott Hasbro and Mattel products if the game disappeared.

Some said the decision to launch the legal action was "short-sighted" and could only damage their reputation. In one discussion thread more than 100 people said playing Scrabulous had led them to buy a copy of the board game.

"Never played Scrabble until I played 'Scrabulous'," wrote Alexandra York. "This is the best application on Facebook and has brought Scrabble to many people who have never played before whilst allowing friends and family to enjoy the game in spite of living far from each other."

Jeff Wismer from Toronto wrote: "I completely agree however that their trademark has been hijacked and it's within their right to take action. They just have to make sure that action isn't shooting themselves in the foot."

Contact details for executives, customer service and complaint departments at the toy makers have been posted to discussion groups on Save Scrabulous.

Many members of the group posted information about the responses they were getting that the companies are being bombarded by concerned fans of the game. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Quick Update

Almost immediately after I posted my last blog, people started commenting and the news started showing that the protests had gone on as planned. Last I heard, at least two people had been killed in Kisumu. Uprisings in Kibera, Mathare, and as far away as Mombassa and Nakuru also resulted in conflicts with police.

With no call to cancel tomorrow’s planned second day of rallies, streets in downtown Nairobi have been closed off since at least this afternoon. Although he will be going in for essential meetings during the morning, Hubby’s offices will be closed yet again tomorrow as will many other businesses.

During a press conference this afternoon, Raila Odinga made the following helpful comments regarding the current situation: “Nothing will stop us from mounting such rallies. We showed in parliament yesterday that there will be no business as usual in our country.”

Express Yourself

Parliament opened yesterday here in Kenya and it was a full on circus event from beginning to end. But long before that 2:30 p.m. event, people in Nairobi were talking about what a debacle it could turn out to be. With streets around town being closed, and even my own Association’s meeting being cut short “just in case,” the faith that people had in their elected representatives was growing ever dimmer.

While there was no need for the riot police to be out in such force, everyone’s worst fears were still realized inside the hallowed halls of Parliament where the business of the day – electing the Speaker of the National Assembly – turned into a six hour debacle. The Speaker’s position is important because he can set the legislative agenda and, more importantly, can motion for a vote of no confidence that could result in the dissolution of the government. Most pundits believed this would likely not happen, since the newly elected Members of Parliament (MPs) wouldn’t want to jeopardize their own sweet gigs with the possibility of new elections.

Small insults were on the agenda for the day. From Odinga not standing when President Kibaki entered the room, to that same gentleman somehow forgetting the line about allegiance to the president when he was sworn in as an MP. On the plus side, previous rumours that ODM would sit on the government side of the floor came to naught as they took their proper places on the opposition side. That the PNU MPs reportedly showed up an hour early to take their seats had nothing to do with that, I’m sure.

The biggest initial hurdle was whether or not the vote should take place by secret ballot (as has always been done here) or by show of hands. The fear was that some MPs had been “bought off” by the other side and would not vote along party lines.

After everyone agreed to vote by secret ballot, the next several hours were spent going through three rounds of voting. The final winner was ODM’s Kenneth Marende who beat PNU’s Francis ole Kaparo 105 votes to 101 votes. ODM’s day was officially declared a win when Farah Maalim was voted in as the Deputy Speaker.

Hot on the heels of that six-hour marathon came the news that Kofi Annan would not be coming to help mediate between the two “big men” as he was “sick.” As he was many people’s last hope, news of his illness was worrisome to many Kenyans.

All of that brings us to today which was scheduled to be the first of ODM’s three days of rallies. Despite the fact that the police quickly declared these rallies illegal when they were announced last week, worry about what might happen prompted several businesses, including Hubby’s Organization, to close for the day.

Late last night, plans for a rally seemed dim as rain began to beat down against our corrugated metal/tile roof. And while I might have normally roused myself from bed to check on the inevitable leaks in my roof last night, my first thoughts were for the poor people in Jamhuri Park, many of whom are still sleeping out doors. A slight dripping onto the floor in front of our washroom suddenly seemed a very small and petty thing to be worried about.

The rain finally let up by mid-morning and returned the worry of rallies to the forefront of everyone’s minds. Thus far, despite the huge police presence in town, everything seems rather quiet. I just hope that this calm continues and that the demonstrations that ODM has called for tomorrow and Friday will be cancelled so that the nation can start to heal.

Monday, January 14, 2008

No End in Sight

I have been experiencing an almost dire case of writer’s block over the last few days when it comes to the to pic du jour – the Kenyan elections, of course. While some people are trying to help with great ideas like Ushahidi (which means witness in Kiswahili), others are giving an on-line soapbox to people who want their voices heard.

Many people thought that schools reopening would be the final step towards the return of normal living for the expat and middle class communities of Nairobi. But our good friends Kibaki and Odinga wouldn’t want people to become too complacent, so they’re still busy fighting over their favourite toy – the country of Kenya.

International mediators from literally all over the world have tried to bring these two men to the table to hammer out an agreement that everyone can live with but the children… err… leaders in question aren’t into compromise. The next peacemaker on the list is former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan. To say that the hopes of millions hinge on this one man would, I’m afraid, only be understating the situation.

Parliament is scheduled to open tomorrow and this has people worried enough that my monthly Association meeting has been abbreviated to only an hour so that people can get home in case there are troubles. Of course, since a ban on live local broadcasts is still in effect, it isn’t clear just how these troubles will manifest themselves but people are scared “just in case.”

On the other side of the political fence, we have the opposition who have called for demonstrations on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday this week. Needless to say, the police have said that any demonstrations would be illegal but that hasn’t stopped either the planning on the part of ODM or the fear on the part of everyone else.

With all of this going on, a deadline for my Association newsletter looming ominously over any moment of peace I might have enjoyed, and a general sense of malaise in my own life, I hope you can understand why I haven’t posted much lately. So I apologize for being selfish but sometimes it’s hard to be fair and impartial when the wisest course of action seems to be a few well-placed smacks upside the heads of two very stubborn men.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Flying High

The following is an article that was originally printed in the Economist about two years ago. At the time our my good friend the Queen of Scots emailed me a copy but I was unable to share it since I don’t have an e-subscription to Hubby’s favourite magazine. (Yes, I realize I keep changing your name, QOS but I have a bad memory - sue me!)

Anyways, today I found a copy of the article online and once again ended up laughing hysterically. And since I’m procrastinating about my newsletter, and avoiding writing an original blog entry I thought I’d share my moment of hilarity. Enjoy!
Fear of Flying

In-flight announcements are not entirely truthful. What might an honest one sound like?

"GOOD morning, ladies and gentlemen. We are delighted to welcome you aboard Veritas Airways, the airline that tells it like it is. Please ensure that your seat belt is fastened, your seat back is upright and your tray-table is stowed. At Veritas Airways, your safety is our first priority. Actually, that is not quite true: if it were, our seats would be rear-facing, like those in military aircraft, since they are safer in the event of an emergency landing. But then hardly anybody would buy our tickets and we would go bust.

The flight attendants are now pointing out the emergency exits. This is the part of the announcement that you might want to pay attention to.
So stop your sudoku for a minute and listen: knowing in advance where the exits are makes a dramatic difference to your chances of survival if we have to evacuate the aircraft. Also, please keep your seat belt fastened when seated, even if the seat-belt light is not illuminated.
This is to protect you from the risk of clear-air turbulence, a rare but extremely nasty form of disturbance that can cause severe injury.
Imagine the heavy food trolleys jumping into the air and bashing into the overhead lockers, and you will have some idea of how nasty it can be. We don't want to scare you. Still, keep that seat belt fastened all the same.

Your life-jacket can be found under your seat, but please do not remove it now. In fact, do not bother to look for it at all. In the event of a landing on water, an unprecedented miracle will have occurred, because in the history of aviation the number of wide-bodied aircraft that have made successful landings on water is zero. This aircraft is equipped with inflatable slides that detach to form life rafts, not that it makes any difference. Please remove high-heeled shoes before using the slides. We might as well add that space helmets and anti-gravity belts should also be removed, since even to mention the use of the slides as rafts is to enter the realm of science fiction.

Please switch off all mobile phones, since they can interfere with the aircraft's navigation systems. At least, that's what you've always been told. The real reason to switch them off is because they interfere with mobile networks on the ground, but somehow that doesn't sound quite so good. On most flights a few mobile phones are left on by mistake, so if they were really dangerous we would not allow them on board at all, if you think about it. We will have to come clean about this next year, when we introduce in-flight calling across the Veritas fleet. At that point the prospect of taking a cut of the sky-high calling charges will miraculously cause our safety concerns about mobile phones to evaporate.

On channel 11 of our in-flight entertainment system you will find a video consisting of abstract imagery and a new-age soundtrack, with a voice-over explaining some exercises you can do to reduce the risk of deep-vein thrombosis. We are aware that this video is tedious, but it is not meant to be fun. It is meant to limit our liability in the event of lawsuits.

Once we have reached cruising altitude you will be offered a light meal and a choice of beverages--a word that sounds so much better than just saying 'drinks', don't you think? The purpose of these refreshments is partly to keep you in your seats where you cannot do yourselves or anyone else any harm. Please consume alcohol in moderate quantities so that you become mildly sedated but not rowdy. That said, we can always turn the cabin air-quality down a notch or two to help ensure that you are sufficiently drowsy.

After take-off, the most dangerous part of the flight, the captain will say a few words that will either be so quiet that you will not be able to hear them, or so loud that they could wake the dead. So please sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. We appreciate that you have a choice of airlines and we thank you for choosing Veritas, a member of an incomprehensible alliance of obscure foreign outfits, most of which you have never heard of. Cabin crew, please make sure we have remembered to close the doors. Sorry, I mean: 'Doors to automatic and cross-check'.
Thank you for flying Veritas."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

From the Mouths of Babes

Today’s quick quote blog comes to us from the 3-year-old son of a friend of ours.

“Daddy, why is Kibaki killing people?”

If that’s not depressing I don’t know what is.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Still Walking…

The time I spent yesterday at Jamhuri Park was amazingly moving in ways I find difficult to explain. I saw children playing with police officers and enjoying the fact that they weren’t in school. And I heard stories of people being beaten with pangas, and others who escaped being set on fire. There were also dozens of volunteers and even more arriving as we left – people, like me, who felt that they just needed to go out there and do something – anything - to help.

During our brief trip to the Jamhuri “kitchens,” we saw women trimming the green beans that would make up that day’s lunch and spoke with volunteers who told us that many people were simply dropping by with donations of everything from food to cooking equipment. “We started with four knives and now suddenly we have many more.” They explained that the meals were simple by necessity and that requests for buttered bread would have to be ignored unless armies of volunteers started arriving at 6:30 a.m.

We had unfortunately arrived too late to help distribute breakfast although we were able to witness the tail end of the incredibly long lines of people queuing for bread and tea. Children were always fed first and then the adults came in separate groups. Peter, an elderly man we spoke with, complained that not everyone was receiving equal amounts of food. “I get three pieces of bread and the man behind me gets five. This is not fair.”

Peter also told us how people snuck into Jamhuri from Kibera to obtain food that they would later resell within the slum. These people who were taking the food meant for the displaced people, he said, were the same rioters and looters that had forced him out of his home in the first place. Spice explained to me that Kibera, which I had only ever seen from Langata Road, backed onto Jamhuri and could be accessed directly behind the arena where we were standing.

Peter went on to say that despite having his name on the official list (which Spice herself had helped draft on Saturday) he had not yet received a blanket. This is a complaint we would hear more than once during our time there. When we shared our findings with the organizers, they told us of a snafu the day before when a local charity distributed blankets during the night without consulting anyone in charge. Moreover, they pointed out, there were not yet enough blankets for everyone who was on the list.

Two women who had been following us since shortly after we arrived finally approached Spice and I to ask us for money so that they could return home to Kisumu. They didn’t want to remain in Jamhuri Park, they told us, but did not have any means to return to their families up-country. I had not brought a wallet with me so I didn’t have the 1,000 Ksh per person that they said would pay for their matatu ride.

Returning home is the ultimate goal of both the refugees and the volunteers. The problem is that many people simply don’t have a home to return to or are afraid of further ethnically driven violence. On the other hand, the organizers are afraid that people will become too comfortable with the meals and “comforts” being provided and will refuse to leave.

Either way, the question is how long these displaced people will have to stay and how long the donations, volunteers, and goodwill will last. Many people in Jamhuri believe that in a few weeks (or sooner), the world will forget about them and the food will run out along with the volunteers distributing it. It is up to people like us and organizations like the Association to continue to monitor the situation so that the current humanitarian crisis in Kenya does not worsen or become a forgotten line in yesterday’s news.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Walk in the Park

Yesterday’s “shocking” announcement from Kibaki that Kalonzo would be his new VP was a bit of a dark cloud on what was an otherwise decent day. My Tuesday started with the good news that the Association agreed to donate money to a local charity that is working on the ground with displaced people here in Nairobi. We were also lucky enough to have a guest speaker, Merry, speak on behalf of the Jamii Bora Trust and tell us what was going on in Jamhuri Park which has become a haven for internally displaced people (refugees) who have been affected by the post election violence.

The picture she painted was so vivid that I immediately asked around the table if anyone was going to the Park to volunteer and if I could tag along. Spice, a Kenyan friend of mine, said that she had been there on Saturday and would be happy to take me around the next day to see what was going on.

This morning, I spent two amazing hours at Jamhuri Park and saw firsthand what was going on there. Currently being run in conjunction with the Red Cross, the National Alliance of Churches, Map International, World Relief, and other local organizations, the grounds are currently home to over 4,000 people, over half of whom are children. After registering, the “guests” are given access to food, water, counseling, medication, and most importantly, security.

Our first stop was a building that usually housed agricultural displays but was now home to more than 50 people who slept on its cement floors. Although most people in this room had a mattress on which to sleep, not everyone was so lucky. This would also be the first of many times over the next few hours that we would hear about people not having enough food or blankets despite reports to the contrary from the organizers we spoke with.

Sleeping spaces are first come, first serve. So people who have been here longer were able to obtain covered spots to sleep. Those who have arrived more recently, and those we saw registering today, will likely have to sleep outside in the arena. I asked how people slept under the mosquito nets I saw being readied for distribution, if they were sleeping under the stars. One of the volunteers said that some people wrap themselves up in the nets but most have to do without – this despite the huge number of mosquitoes that have been in the area lately.

The next sleeping area I was taken to had families of 3 to 6 people sleeping in cinderblock areas that are probably normally used for vendors. The three-sided blocks are about 2 meters by 4 meters and plastic sheeting to form the door or fourth wall. The first “cube” we visited had a different family in it than Spice had met last week as the old family had left to live with families in a local shamba.

Families, many of whom were busy cooking meals, occupied most of these cubes. One mother explained that her kids were not being given enough food so she had to find extra food and ask the volunteers for cooking oil.

Next to the cubes was a small area where people placed their rubbish to be burned. This too, we were told, was home to several men who slept there at night.

I asked one of the organizers about the police presence in Jamhuri Park and was told that they had not had many problems and that the police made people feel safe. The previous night some men from Kibera had crossed the arena wall to bring in a man who was accused of raping children. The men, he told us, knew there were police in Jamhuri who could help them.

The police were also there to deal with what may have once been called petty theft. We saw one crippled man who was talking to several officers about how his clothes had been stolen. A few shirts might not seem like much, but when that’s all you have in the world – the loss isn’t that petty.

I realize that today’s blog is getting long so I will finish my tale tomorrow by telling you more about the food situation, why some people won’t be able to go home for a while, and why that worries many of the organizers.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A Return to the Everyday

Rock and Tori arrived at the house yesterday for the first time since before Christmas. The good news was that both they and their families were ok and that they managed to stay out of the worst of the violence. They were both appreciative and surprised that we had been so worried about them and had urged them to stay home last week rather than coming into work. Several of their friends, they explained, had been asked by their employers to make the trip into work by expats who felt they couldn’t live without their cooks, maids, or drivers.

Tori told me stories of being locked inside her home while women were raped and the small dukas near her house were looted. Her teenage son was in the house with her, terrified by what he saw and unable to understand what was happening among his usually peaceful neighbors.

Rock explained that just about everyone his neighborhood left during the worst of the riots, taking what belongings they could carry. He and his son were the only two who stayed. When his neighbors came back, they asked how Rock had been able to sleep knowing what was going on. He explained that he “had faith in God” to keep him safe. Later in the week, the police arrived to patrol his area and “keep the peace.” He and a few other neighbors joined the patrols and saw firsthand the results of the people who had taken advantage of the situation and looted homes and businesses in his community.

A quick drive down State House Road on Monday was proof that the Government is not entirely sure of the current air of peacefulness in the city. Armed policemen were situated in strategic spots around the area, ready to cut off access if need be. Armed guards were also still blocking entrances to Uhuru Park. None of these armed militiamen, it should be noted, seemed very worried as most of the ones we saw were napping, chitchatting with friends, or reading.

Downtown Nairobi was still incredibly busy with the usual traffic jams, jaywalkers, and insanity everywhere. The lack of matatus, we were told, was due to the fact that many of them are owned by Kikuyu and their owners are afraid that hooligans would target their vehicles.

Later today, I will be heading out to meet with various people with a goal of raising money within the expat community to aid the people most affected by recent events. If Rock can share what little food he has with neighbors whose homes have been looted and destroyed then surely the rich middle class can afford to contribute to help rebuild those homes.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Bit of a Rant

Things have officially returned to normal in Nairobi: restaurants are packed, store shelves are well stocked, and people are being rude and obnoxious for no good reason. It is almost as if the last week never happened. And yet as I see the members of our privileged class going about their daily chores, I can’t help but wonder what’s going on in the Other Nairobi, the Real Nairobi where waiters aren’t bringing people sushi and water is less easy to come by than a turn of the tap or a quick trip to Nakkumatt.

It has amazed me how many people I have heard complain over the last few days about not having their housekeeper around, or how their cook still hasn’t made it into work. These people live in huge homes that were miles from any riots or unrest and yet they can’t see beyond their barbed wire walls at what has been going on around them. I realize that you probably think that I’m much the same as the people I have just described but I hope that I’m not. I hope that I am someone who has seen this humanitarian disaster for what it is – a tragedy.

Writer’s block kept me away from the blog over the weekend, as did the tension that has been building up not only inside me but all over Nairobi and Kenya as a whole. In high school, we used to have a day in Drama Class where we could just scream out our tensions – primal screams I called them. That’s what I think is needed here – a chance to release our anger at the politicians without violence and have our voices be heard.

Moderators from the African Union and the US among others have arrived to try to talk some sense into Kibaki and Odinga. While everyone is hopeful, few people are willing to voice the fear that these two men are too far gone in their quest for power to listen to reason. Although Raila Odinga finally cancelled the rally that was planned for tomorrow, no one is sure what the immediate future holds or what will happen if calmer heads don’t soon prevail.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Chuck Norris for President?

I initially thought that this clip was a joke and it was amusing. But then I discovered that it was an actual political ad. And that kind of scares me.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Hush

Early reports of a rally today turned out to be premature as most people, sick of the violence and uncertainty, stayed home. The rally was officially declared “cancelled” around noon but by then life had turned to a degree of normalcy not seen here since before the new year with some shops and restaurants open for business and matatus speeding down the roadways.

But life beneath the surface of these calm waters is far different. Yesterday’s aborted rally, which resulted in the police shooting water cannons and tear-gassing people, has left its mark. Some of the roadside vendors near the YaYa Centre had clearly been attacked and glass was still strewn all over the street when we passed by this afternoon. Their owners were righting the makeshift shops but it was clear that the area had been at the centre of some sort of mêlée.

While many dukas were open, locals complained that there isn’t much left to buy. The scene at Nakkumatt was much the same as earlier in the week with people buying supplies to last weeks rather than days. Many people in those long lines, however, were trying to do what they could to help the situation by dropping off staples like flour, maize, and blankets to be distributed to those most in need.

Listening to people talking, one thing has become clear: people don’t want more demonstrations and violence. They blame Kibaki and Odinga equally for failing to stop the hostilities that have already killed hundreds of Kenyans. The politicians, they say, haven’t visited areas like Kibera and Eldoret where people have died as a result of the elections. The politicians, they say, care only about who will be president with little thought to the people that supported them along the way. Thousands of people throughout Kenya who are currently homeless and calling themselves “refugees in their own country” are wondering where their leaders are and when they will be able to return to the lives they once knew.

Despite an earlier quote from a government spokesman who said, “You don’t share power with losers,” Desmond Tutu has come forward with news that Kibaki has agreed to a possible coalition government with his opponent Raila Odinga. The ODM leader, on the other hand, has been calling for a rerun of the elections. The final option is to turn to the courts. ODM spokesman, William Ruto, voiced the opinion that many people have regarding this subject: "It would be like taking sheep to a court presided over by a hyena."

While politicians are busy behaving like children fighting over a favourite toy, the people of Kenya are trying to return to business as usual. Our staff will hopefully return to work on Monday as will Hubby. Meetings for the Association are being planned and most people have sent tentative replies saying that they will attend. And business owners are restocking their shelves and opening their doors. But all of these plans rely heavily upon the actions and decisions of two men who seem to care little about anything else other than what is slowly becoming an empty title.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Waiting Game

After media images of protesters being forced back with tear gas and water cannons, today’s planned mass demonstration at Uhuru Park has finally been called off. The sad irony of this rather forceful reaction on the part of police is that many of the “protesters” were doing nothing more than holding branches of leaves and sharing their opinions peacefully.

Peace, however, is a word hard to come by in a country where words like genocide and ethnic cleansing are being tossed around to describe recent events. The ethnically driven violence can be seen everywhere from news reports to inflammatory remarks on networking sites such as Facebook. The government has even taken to sending out text messages to the populace reading, “The Government of Kenya advises that the sending of hate messages inciting violence is an offense that could result in prosecution.”

Initial reports indicated that the cancelled rally was being postponed until next Tuesday, January the 8th; however, some news outlets are now reporting that ODM has merely put off the demonstration until tomorrow. It isn’t yet clear if and when the rally will take place.

ODM supporters were initially upset that the rally had been called off without any reasons being given. It now appears that Nairobi has Desmond Tutu to thank for Odinga’s decision and subsequent agreement to sit down in talks with Kibaki and the PNU. That may be difficult, however, as the Government has said that they do not want international interference or assistance.

Current events are not only affecting the immediate lives of people in Kenya but also the economic future of the nation. In addition to burning out businesses throughout the country, the current unrest has also potentially damaged the tourism industry and has already caused the value of the Shilling to fall against the Dollar.

For now, things seem quiet with some businesses even opening earlier this afternoon for a few hours, but the pall of another potential rally is definitely in the air. The headline in each of today’s local newspapers was the same, “Save our beloved country.”

Perhaps the Daily Nation put it best, "Kenya is a burnt-out, smoldering ruin. The economy is at a virtual standstill and the armies of destruction are on the march. In the midst of this, leaders - who are the direct cause of this catastrophe - are issuing half-hearted calls for peace, from the comfort of their hotels and walled homes in Nairobi, where they are conveyed in bullet-proof limousines."