Friday, April 27, 2007

Famine Feed at Riongo… and politics

(Written Monday April 30, 12:49pm – regarding Friday, April 27th)

Another famine feed was on the schedule for today. This time we went even farther out, about twice as far as the watering hole. Along the way we stopped at a storage shed where the sacks of food were being held for us (really, a shed, in the middle of the desert. Go figure). Here we loaded up with our deliveries for the day. I think we picked up at least one more passenger here, too. Maybe a few more.

Before Riongo though, we first stopped at the watering hole to deliver some goats the IHF had purchased for some families out there. No, they weren't in the van with us… we purchased them from a herd arranged to meet us at the Watering Hole. While there, we picked up some other people who were from Riongo and wanted to come out for a visit. So off we went!

Several hours of driving over marginally worn and never marked roads (turn left at the third big tree past the dry riverbed), we finally arrived. Oh, not before all having to get out and walk so the van could make the steep climb up an all rock "road", with several people behind it pushing for good measure. This whole trip is truly an unforgettable travel experience. This is all done in this beaten up Mercedes van. It's not even four wheel drive. Oh and at some point the starter died, so to get it started at any point we have to get out and push while Kip, the driver, pops the clutch. He's gotten good at parking on hills where available.

Upon arrival though, things got very interesting. There was no welcome group, which is, by Kenyan standards, extremely rude. In fact, it's insulting. Not that we would particularly care, except that it shows that something is amiss. While Carol got into heated discussions with who I assume was the head (perhaps the chief?) of the village, I wandered off to get some photos of a herd of camels passing through. By the time I'd returned, another vehicle with military personnel showed up, although they did nothing but observe. A very curious situation indeed.

Again this gets far deeper into the politics of the region than I understand, but it turns out the chief had not told the women that we were coming. Some of the people with us were from this village, so they ran off to find the women. Within an hour we had tons of people show up, just as happy to see us as the clans at the watering hole. And as the story came out that they hadn't been told of our impending arrival, they were pissed. I wonder what the results will be of that fiasco.

Without getting too deep, and only because I don't fully understand this yet and I don't have the time to really research and truly comprehend what's happening, here's what I see of the political situation.

The ruling tribe of Kenya, the Kikuyu, don't much like the Pokot. The president, chief of police, and basically every person of power here is Kikuyu. It's nepotism with a capitol N.

From there it gets into religion. The majority of educated, "westernized" Kenyans are Christian. And the aid group that is strongest here is Christian. IHF on the other hand is non-denominational. One of their directives is to not interfere with religion, and in fact volunteers are forbidden from trying to convert anyone they are providing aid to. So this leads to political conflicts… the other aid groups are providing aid, making money, and "saving souls". IHF just wants to provide aid (and doesn't profit). There's money to be made, and IHF won't have any part of it.

So add those two up, and suddenly you have an excuse for local politicians to get in the way of little IHF. For example, when the orphanage was built, it was built in the wrong place (near a Christian school out in the bush, and not at the watering hole where it was planned), when Carol was not in the country. Of course it was built using IHF money, with contractors used by the other aid agencies. The person in charge of construction lied to IHF, agreeing to their building terms then breaking ground elsewhere. And that's just one example.

It's really quite interesting. This isn't the story I came out here to tell, nor is it something I have time to get into in my short two weeks here. But I am going to try to enlist a certain investigative journalist I know to start digging into this story, which really is just one small door into a much, MUCH larger, global story.

But not in this blog post.

So this all brings us back to the people who were supposed to benefit from the famine feed. Once they arrived they, like the clans at the watering hole, were so grateful for what we brought that they sang and danced the afternoon away. And just like at the watering hole, we piled a few more people into the van to take to a clinic for medical attention.

What a day.

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