October 2010

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Had a little visa snafu this week, but thanks to a senior immigration officer who, in my hour of sitting next to his desk I learned really likes the Sacred Heart of Jesus posters and is also a big fan of Lil’ Kim and Fat Joe (we listened to We Thuggin’ a few times) – my crisis was averted.

The process ranks high on my bizarre experiences list, from the way my friend the immigration officer seemed delighted to see me, but less delighted to serve my fellow immigrants, to the water bottle full of what smelled like turpentine that he keeps on his desk for you to wash off the ink after your cop-style fingerprinting session, to the knowledge that all of this was taking place in a fading yellow circa-1980’s style building where the government once tortured political dissidents

But all in all the whole thing took less than an hour and a half, which is really like 1.7 seconds in the world of bureaucratic slog.  So now I can say… Extended visa? Check.  Registered alien? Check!

Have you ever wondered what purgatory is like? I’m here to tell you that it does exist in the form of the Kenya Posta Parcel Retrieval Office, and it goes a little something like this….

Step 1: Enter building.

Step 2: Take the elevator to second floor.

Step 3: Hand yellow slip to woman who retrieves your parcel. Show identification.

Step 6: Open your parcel.

Step 4: Wait in parcel assessment (this will take a while)

Step 5: Assessment Man assesses the value of your parcel.

Step 6: Tape your opened parcel back together.

Step 7: Hand repackaged parcel to Assessment Man, who gives you a receipt.

Step 8: Take receipt to Customer Cashier.

Step 9: Receive duplicate receipt from Customer Cashier (whose desk is so far away from the window that she retrieves and gives pieces of paper to customers by sliding them across the counter with a long yardstick.)

Step 10: Take original receipt and duplicate receipt to Assessment Man, who stamps them both furiously before tucking them away in a little wooden drawer. Assessment Man hands you a third receipt, with your parcel and points you toward the woman sitting unnecessarily far away from him at the other end of the counter.

Step 11: Give Far Away Woman your third receipt, show identification, again, and pay (in my case, a whopping 70 shillings, or 93 cents). Don’t worry – she’ll give you a fourth receipt.

Step 12: On your way out, stop and give Man Guarding Door your passport number and sign his (security?) sheet.

Step 13: Take elevator to ground floor.

Step 14: Show passport and receipt numero quatro to Actual Security Guard as you exit the premises.

Step 15: Vow never to complain about long lines at the DC DMV ever, ever again.

Three articles have appeared in the news recently and shocked me, even though they shouldn’t have.

They proclaim things like: thousands of teachers have been fired for sexually abusing students in this country of only about 240,000 educators and more than 500 teachers have been fired this year for sexual misconduct with students.

This brought all kinds of questions to my mind.

How many girls drop out of school every year or attend sporadically because of this phenomenon?

Knowing the stigma that rape still cases in rural communities, if these statistics are only based on reports cases, how many more girls are suffering violence at the hands of their teachers in silence?

When and how did teachers begin to view their students as sexual objects to be had as opposed to children they are charged to keep safe and to educate?

Why, why is this problem so widespread and why does it feel so intractable?

There is certainly not one great panacea for child sexual abuse in Kenya, especially when there are layers of cultural, religious, and political factors that keep victims silent and abusers free. But when the secretary general of the Kenya National Association of Parents blames the government and the Teachers Service Commission for the inappropriate teacher conduct because there was previously no policy framework to guide the teacher-student relationship, I just want to scream.

“In rural areas you will find a student cooking and fetching water for a teacher in his home,” he said. “This makes it easy for her to be defiled.”

It is certainly true that the conditions of students in rural areas increase vulnerability and risk. But passing off the responsibility for rape to anyone other than the rapist only underscores the severity of this crime and perpetuates the attitude often found in rural communities that this is just an unpleasant part of life with no real recourse.

I strongly believe that part of the first step is certainly to break that silence, make the public aware of the depth of this problem and stand by families who choose to fight back.  That choice can often have dangerous consequences for girls, but I have seen strength and bravery rise from within victims when they know their voice matters and when they know they have an advocate, a friend or a family member to walk along side them.

Thousands of teachers abusing their students?  This has to stop.

500 teachers fired in Kenya for sexual misconduct, CNN

Kenya sees rise in reports of child sex abuse, Associated Press

Hundreds of teachers sacked over sex abuse, BBC News Africa

“You know, you’re not so white as when you first came to Kenya. You were as white as paper!”  I laughed, but was secretly proud to have noticeably moved from paper white to any shade less ghostly.

Where will you go when you leave?”  I told him I was  looking at jobs in both America and Africa.

“You have to work and make money?”

“Yep.  Gotta pay the bills, even in America.”

“You don’t want to get married?”

“Eventually I do.”

“Marriage is not so complicated you know.”

“Oh no?  It’s a pretty big commitment.  Spending you’re whole life with someone…”

“No! Not a big commitment.  You people, you just plan and wait and hope that you’ll find someone.   But maybe when you’re old you never get married.  We just get married and never think about it.  It’s not so complicated.”

Well, I guess that’s one way to look at it.

“You should come back to Kenya.  We’ll give you dual citizenship.  You can find a husband.”

“Oh, you’ll accept my paper white-skin?  I had to tease him for his earlier comment.  Amos smiled.

“Yes, because you’re not white like paper anymore.  You got Africa sun.  Now you’re red.”


Crushed.  Eight months in Kenya and I am still not tan.

But good to know I have a back-up plan.

Every morning I am thoroughly entertained by the dozens and dozens of posters scattered along my walk to work.  I really hope this guys gets some calls.  So he’s probably a crazy con man, but he did go through a lot of trouble to flyer all of Westlands Road.

Can help with: Lost love?  Infertility?  Marriage?  Politics?  Lost Items? (Maybe he knows where my keys are.)

I, personally, would like to ask him how he became an expert in all of these very diverse specialties.  It’s like a game of One of These Things is Not Like the Other, except according to Dr. Asuman they all belong.


(Yes, times three!)

Last week we received the amazing news that a third conviction has been achieved for our client, *Laura.  I first mentioned Laura’s case in a June blog post and at that point only two of here perpetrators, who were her neighbors, had been convicted.  For nearly two years, IJM has worked with the police prosecutor to represent Laura in as she fought to hold her three abusers accountable for their crimes.  Finally, justice has been secured.

Laura’s case was difficult for many reasons, the first of which is the fact that the perpetrator who was convicted this week is Laura’s own father, who with great impunity abused his daughter for several years after the death of her mother.  Second, the medical report from the government doctor offered contradictory evidence to that of the hospital where she was treated by, shockingly, stating there were no signs of rape or sexual intercourse.  The testimony of the government doctor can carry great weight in a Nairobi court of law, and because of this IJM advocates were unsure whether he would be set free.  They worked tirelessly in this case to ensure that in the court of law the truth would weigh more than lies, and their hard work has paid off.

There have also been personal complications.  In the two years since Laura and her brother and sister were removed from their father’s home, great reconciliation has taken place between the siblings, especially Laura and her brother.  While Laura was living through hell each night, her brother saw their father’s doting on his daughter during the day as a sign of favoritism and paternal affection that he had never known – and he despised his sister for it.  Immediately after the truth was revealed, Laura’s brother was angry with his sister for what he perceived as tearing apart the family and refused to believe his father was guilty of rape.  Through the hard work of our Aftercare team counseling the children, they have come to a place of acceptance of the truth and love for one another despite all they have been through.  They have now been reunited and are living together in a children’s home near their grandparents and other relatives.

[Photo: Laura with her siblings playing near the banana trees in their home.]

For all of the tragedy in Laura’s story, abuse, neglect, apathy and impunity, I see how God is working a miracle in the lives of these children.  I had an opportunity to spend time with them earlier this week, photographing them for a profile that will be done on their case later in the year.  Even now, as I look through the photographs I am struck by the extent to which Laura’s smile sparkles.  Where I might expect bleakness, I see beauty.  Where I might expect standoffishness, I hear her warm laugh and saw tender innocence that makes your heart melt when you meet her.  Where I might expect insecurity, I found confidence I know she draws from the knowledge that she is now in a place where no one can hurt her.  It proves to me that God can take the worst of the very worst things in life and redeem them.  He will turn them into something new, something that glorifies Him.

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

[Photo: Laura]