02 January 2008

The Return

The holiday festivemaking has been made, and no one could think of any good reason not to go back to work, and so back to work we went today. I don't think you could find a more dejected-looking group of privilieged Westerners than myself and my subway mates as we clanked our way across the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan today. I even forewent coffee in order to wallow in my more perfect misery. That, and the line was too long.

Anyhow, I was greeted with the Kenyan electoral crisis. We think we have a problem with the Democratic candidates who can't keep straight what side of the fence they're on and the Republicans who, if you added all their ages together, would be able to remember when Martin Luther's German translation of the Bible was banned and mail service began in Denmark, to name a few events of that year.

No, Kenya's electoral crisis is verily a crisis. The incumbent just somehow managed to squeak out 230 000 more votes than the opposition, who was running significantly ahead in all the pre-election polls. And just somehow, the body overseeing the election can't get their hands on the original stack of ballots, before someone just managed to alter 300 000 of them in the incumbent's favor. Now, understandably, people are mad. What do Kenyans do when they're mad? The same thing that Southerners do: go out and shoot somebody.

Well, it's not quite that simple. But the long and the short of it is, there's major violence and unrest in Kenya, and my students were supposed to have arrived there today. They are not. We've delayed their arrival until things settle down, or transferred them to other locations, as they wish.

Our onsite coordinator says things are already settling down, which is in contradiction to every media story I've read so far. But today, more than anything, what has struck me is a passage I remember from John Gunther's Death Be Not Proud: that the media generally reports on anything out of the ordinary. Rather than brood on the destruction and despair in the news, we should instead rejoice that our society still considers death of human beings an anomaly. It's when death becomes so banal that it is not reported in the media that we should become worried.

And we must calmly go about our business, with the thoughts of the Kenyan families in our heads, the ones that traveled great distances to vote, only to see their election stolen and their children burnt in church. I can't believe that this is the same country that I dreamed of visiting only a few months ago.

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