Unrest (ŭn-rĕst’) noun: An uneasy or troubled condition.
Considering that I’d typically define my Kenyan home as “tranquil,” this past month has caused an unwelcome paradigm shift.
It’s notable that I’m having a hard time writing a blog post. I’m usually effusive, gushing about a new perspective I’ve gained, or an experience I’ve learned from.
This time, I don’t know how much to write, and how much to keep to myself. But there's unrest in Kenya, there's unrest in me, and it’s become obvious to me that complete avoidance of WHY there's unrest isn’t an option (especially when it comes to family and friends). I owe it to be honest with people back home, and my silence would say more than intended if I didn’t address the current state of Kenya, and how it’s affecting my life.
It’s no secret that Kenya is at war. It’s more than a little strange to be sitting in another continent, watching heads of state on TV speaking the same words that the US president said a decade ago: “We are not at war with a nation. We are at war with terror.” “We will not pull out of their country until we feel safe.” “We will not negotiate with terrorists.” Talk about déjà vu. But this time it’s Somalia, and not Iraq. And this time it’s the Kenyan military, and not the US military. The similarities are more abundant than the differences, though. People are on edge, worried about their friends and family members. Travel has slowed down, certain places are considered unsafe. We’re all on our guard, “remaining vigilant” and hoping for a speedy resolution. Peace Corps volunteers have unique concerns. Our freedom is compromised. We are losing sleep, worrying about evacuation. Although it’s extremely unlikely, just the thought of leaving our pupils, our communities, our friends and homes is enough to make us feel sick.
But in the midst of war, I have learned something about peace. I joined the “Peace Corps” for a lot of different reasons, but the most important one was its method – peace through friendship. Not through preaching, not through deposing governments or modifying culture, but through genuine understanding and acceptance. Those things are the foundation of peace, and I am proud to be part of a group that’s committed to building such a foundation. We really are "watu kwa amani," and it's something I am lucky to experience. But my conception of peace has changed. Now it’s not just an abstract dream I have for people and nations. It’s a state of being that I recognize intimately as a requirement for humans to function properly. It’s as essential as food or water. The suspension of a peaceful life and the replacement of love with fear is toxic and degenerative. Since seeing conflict closer than I ever have before, I don’t just hope for peace someday. I realize that I desperately need peace to feel like myself. Just like the rest of Kenyans and Somalis need it. Like the rest of the world needs it.
To reassure you all, I really am safe. It’s like I’m leading a double life – my school and my village are moving at their typical leisurely pace, while the news in Nairobi and the Kenya/Somalia border changes faster than I can track. Even though peace has been shaken, I feel secure where I am. I had trainees here from Machakos this past week, shadowing me to experience the daily life of a PCV. Exams at school are done, all except the BIG exam: the KCPE for class 8. They’ll be tested next week, and once they go home the term will be officially finished. I’ll be halfway done with my service, already gearing up for next year. I’ll be making holiday plans, helping out with training, and spending some much-needed quiet time at site. I'm maintaining the status quo in my life as much as possible.
Please keep Kenyans and Somalis in your prayers (as well as the rest of the people in the world who live without peace every day). And if you want to stay updated on what’s happening in Kenya, I’ve found that Al Jazeera has some of the most accurate news coverage (http://english.aljazeera.net/).
Peace is rest, and this unrest truly is "unpeace." Maybe someday we'll all be able to rest well, without fear. But for the time being, I refuse to feel threatened. I'll work on nurturing true friendships instead, because the foundation of peace is never really finished.