Hope and Horror in Kenya
Read about special promotions at some of our favorite camps to encourage visitors to return to Kenya in 2008.
Documentary filmmaker and conservationist Saba Douglas-Hamilton was raised in Kenya, where she still works alongside her parents, Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton, the authors of the renowned Among the Elephants and founders of Save the Elephants. Following is a letter that she wrote to her grandparents about the recent events in Kenya, which as her father says in his letter, “gives so eloquently the facts and feelings of this time.”
Darling Nonsi and Brian,
We think of you so often during these desperate times—what you both went through in the war, and how you kept hope, courage and compassion in your hearts. Everyday here more people need help. We are shocked by what has been happening, especially in Naivasha. Both Mama and I have thrown ourselves into the peace effort, Paps helping where he can, and Duds very involved in gathering information at the political level.
Everything that we love is under threat and people are being slain in the most brutally savage way. We never thought something like this could happen here, but it has. The Nairobi slums have been vomited right into our faces. All of a sudden we are meeting, dealing, talking, crying with people we would never have otherwise met. Cars spin in panic and roar down the wrong side of roads. Desperate emails and SMS circulate calling for help. We do what we can. Our tourism is finished, flower and veg exports shaky as many farms are blockaded, roads barricaded and workers can neither get in nor their produce out, almost 1,000 people have been killed, quarter of a million displaced, and another half million jobless in the next few days if the violence continues. It is sheer madness.
The only thing that keeps us sane and soothes the vertiginous pain in our hearts is to be involved, up to our necks, in trying to make things better. Mama and I have joined an extraordinary group of people, Concerned Citizens for Peace, led by an indefatigable old Ambassador, Bethwel Kiplagat, and some retired Generals. Members of CCP work at every level to restore peace and justice, from the slums of Kibera and Mathare to whispering in the ear of Kofi Annan. Our efforts come somewhere in the middle. We’ve started a peace initiative through flowers, building a monument of white roses and 10,000 other flowers (donated by flower farms) in memory of the dead, raped and wounded where citizens can come to cry, mourn, pray, call for peace and justice, or simply pay their respects. We had to jump through hoops to get it, begging permission personally from the Minister of Internal Security himself and Commissioner of Police, but now that it is up the response has been incredible. Today, a full three days after the launch and intense press interest, hundreds of people off the streets of Nairobi are lining up to lay flowers. And for the first time since New Year the park has been opened again to the public. Our event started on Wed when ten women, representing the full ethnic, political and social diversity of our country, came to lay bouquets of flowers and call for peace and reconciliation. On leaving they handed out roses of peace to the gun wielding riot police each of whom then approached the monument and paid their respects—it sent out a brave, potent message through all media and many people have come to show their solidarity, including twenty Government MPs on Thurs. Have a look at this link www.douglas-hamilton.com.
Some people simply break down or wail when they get there, the horrors that they have seen pouring out of their souls in front of the soft fragility of flowers. Never before have the words peace, justice, truth, reconciliation and healing meant so much to me. But then again, I never thought I’d see my own countrymen pulling each other from matatus and hacking them to pieces on our doorstep. Neither are women and children safe. The savagery beggars belief.
Many of the whites and rich Africans have hunkered down waiting for it to blow over. I understand their fear of the darkness but I am shocked by their complacency. After all that was learnt in Europe how is it possible to sit by and watch? I always think of that line ’... and then they came for me, and there was nobody left to speak out for me”. Over the last 3 weeks we have taken in several displaced families, sheltering them on our farm – 3 Kikuyu families from Eldoret, and 3 Luo families from Naivasha – the latter were so terrified they had to sneak in by boat and through the papyrus from the lake. Paps flew 7 of them out the next day – 4 very large adults and 3 kids squeezed into his tiny C185.
With the south side of the lake in flames, and hundreds of Luo fleeing into flower farms for protection, we joined up with the chief of our local village to hold a peace meeting for the 6000 residents. That morning hate leaflets had been found strewn around this ethnically diverse community. People were very scared and an incredible turnout of over 1000 adults attended. Elders from every community stood up to plead for peace, level heads, courage and solidarity. Then it was Mama and my turn. We made everyone join hands as we do at the start and end of each CCP meeting and sing the national anthem, and they roared out with one voice “oh god of all creation, bless this our land and nation, justice be our shield and defender, may we dwell in unity, peace and liberty, plenty be found within our borders”. It gave us all great strength and courage to know that we were united within our community and prepared to stand together against those who incite violence and hatred. Now the chief has organised for sentries on every hilltop to give early warning of unknown vehicles or intruding gangs of young men, and along with us other local farmers are funding the effort. We have come to believe strongly that successful peace keeping is merely a matter of who gets there first – the inciters or the peace keepers. We continue recruiting as fast as we can. It is the only way forward.
Yesterday I came up to Samburu to do a ten-day job with the BBC. With our economy imploding any work is a blessing. But I feel torn in two. Up here it is completely peaceful, the Park beautiful beyond belief and totally empty of tourists. Normally I would celebrate having it all to ourselves but this is at such cost. And in truth my heart and mind are in the south amongst my comrades in the peace effort! But my wonderful hubby and Mama join me up here tomorrow for a few days. We are all worn out and need to recharge. Then soon we’ll back into the fray.
Love and support from many friends across the world has been pouring in. It means so much to us. We hope you are all well and are longing to hear your news. The walks in the park, the small victories of Nonsi’s ever enlarging horizon, we love you and miss you and cherish you in our lives.
All love to you,
To read about Elephant Watch Safari Camp, which is still accepting guests, click here.
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