I feel like I should address right up front that it’s been about 3 months since our last post. Oops! Huge apologies to anyone who actually reads this blog, but recently at work we’ve been at a full run just to stand still, like going the wrong way on an escalator. We are exhausted and a little brain dead, but the great news is that our study is launched (!), and we got to have some much needed rest and experience some culture shock in London over Christmas.
Now that we’re back, we’re full speed ahead trying to finish the first block of our study before Kenya’s general elections, which are set for March 4th. As we work ourselves into a frenzy in the office and in the field, all around us political activity is heating up. Kenya seems to be collectively holding its breath in anticipation of an election that will really determine a lot about the future of democracy in this country. Everyone is nervously hoping that the widespread violence that followed the last election in 2007 will not repeat itself, and the new constitution that was drafted in the wake of that tragedy would successfully provide guidance to the whole process.
In this election season the great contrasts in Kenya are thrown into even starker relief. Kenya has big business, pockets of great wealth, white sand beach resorts, safari lodges and incredible natural beauty and wildlife. The climate is just about all I’ve ever wanted – in Western Kenya it’s warm and sunny, with regular bursts of refreshing rain (except in January, when it is scorching hot!). At the same disease is a constant threat, only 5% of people in our district have electricity, and political instability and ethnic clashes stunt the growth of a country with magnificent resources. Despite all the lushness around us here in Western, Kenya makes the list of the top 10 most food insecure countries in the world.
We experience this divide all the time, because we’re lucky enough to have the resources to appreciate those things that make Kenya so wonderful, but our work is focused on (and often encounters!) the huge challenges here. For example, this past weekend we settled in for a bit of relaxation – we have become great(er) cooks since moving to Kenya, and we made lemon chicken, hummus, tzatziki sauce, roasted tomatoes and rice (my favorite food in the world!). I’ve also been indulging in a spectacular number of dirt cheap local plums, and Tim has been a guacamole making machine. We also spent a day driving down the gorgeous route from Kakamega to Kisumu to relax onthe shores of Lake Victoria. It could not have been more idyllic as we sat there appreciating the cool breeze off the water, drinking mojitos, and eating fish curry. It was calm and beautiful and we returned home to Kakamega refreshed.
But this is election season, and on Sunday morning we woke up to news of riots all over Kisumu after the political party primary results were released and the peaceful illusion we experienced on Saturday was shattered. Fortunately we had gotten ourselves back home and far out of the way, so we spent the rest of the weekend in the deep calm and quiet of the outskirts of Kakamega, filling our apartment with the aroma of good cooking, exercising, and enjoying the view of the rainforest in the distance. The most startling thing was a cow mooing loudly (and believe me, that actually can be pretty startling). We’re just praying that the beautiful, peaceful Kenya that we love is the version that prevails.