Dear Kenya, my friends and family know I have been one of your biggest advocates and ambassadors. I love you. You are mine and I am yours.
I chose to leave the bright lights of the west to come home and use my craft towards building our vision of ourself and transform the world’s vision of us.
Whenever I was away from Nairobi I missed it.
Well, what to say, a few weeks ago I went away to Europe, a place where I had once lived and a place I chose to leave.
This time, when away, I was struck many times about how I hadn’t realized how badly the situation in Kenya had affected me.
How’s Kenya people would ask.
Immediately I would shake my head. Not because I wanted to.
Well first we had the election situation, then our airport burnt down, then we watched a saga for days as kilometers away people were brutally shot down in a mall, then we learnt our army looted as they drank tusker, our government gave us no answers, then we had bombings on buses and markets, then our politicians still kept demanding larger salaries, and blindly arrested anyone that looked Somali and kept them in a cage, but all the government did was implement a law on drinking and driving, then we had the killings at the coast and blamed it on the opposition and so on and so forth and so it goes.
Friends I met wanted to come visit you, instinctively and strangely I discouraged them.
Don’t come, at least, not now.
Away, I saw and experienced things I had forgotten I longed for. Clean drinking water. Spontaneity. Stumbling upon a cafe, a bar. Art house movies in cinemas. Great music. Drinking and taking public transport home. Not having your bag searched. Historical architecture that was respected and not mowed down.
But more importantly. Walking. Alone. At night, as a woman. Freedom to talk about politics with anyone. Police you did not need to fear because they did their job and did not harass you. Demonstrations that were respected. Social security; free or affordable good healthcare. Being in a car and not having to lock the door. Sleeping in the countryside with no fences or gates or guards. Going to bed and not having to worry if I will be robbed or raped. One night in Berlin I heard fireworks and thought it was bombs.
Last night my taxi driver picked me up from the airport and as we drove through the night he said,
Philippa now there is a speed limit. 50 km is the limit. So be careful on the roads.
Oh, I said any thing else the government has imposed?
Be careful which roads you take. They are really making money through bribery.
Don’t get me wrong, Kenya, we lose too many of our people to road accidents. I appreciate this gesture.
Yet speed limits, higher salaries and limits on drinking and driving against the backdrop of citizens living in fear of crime, terrorism and not having food to feed your children?
Gee whiz, thanks.
I am not idolizing the west.
Kenya has an understanding of community that, I would like to believe, thousands of euros cannot buy. We laugh easy. Make jokes easily.
But you see dear Kenya, how much longer must we take everything with a pinch of salt or search for ways to laugh through the pain in our hearts? How much of our personal freedom and security do we have to sacrifice?
Dear Kenya, I have longed for you for so long. I have loved you for so long and that’s why I returned. We’ve had some breathtaking and fun moments together that made me love you more. I was so proud of you. But you have never seen me as your own and I feel I have finally realized my love is still not returned, not returned to me and not returned to anyone else besides those who understand the game of serving one’s best interests regardless of the anguish of others.
Dear Kenya, give me something, give me anything. Give back please. My commitment to our love is waning.
Philippa Wacera Ndisi-Herrmann