Paradise Lost

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When I came to Kenya four years ago I expected to be covering wars in other countries, never my own. Kenya was the stable East African country, the regional anchor politically and economically. We didn't have land mines or genocide memorials. We have lions and elephants and white sand beaches. We have garden parties and croquet lunches and spend our weekends water skiing on Lake Naivasha trying to dodge the hippos. But yesterday 19 people were burned alive in a house in Naivasha, the charred bodies of 11 children broadcast around the world, redefining Kenya in everyones eyes, even my own.

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I laid awake last night for hours in my cute little cottage in Karen, the ex-patriot neighborhood named after Baroness Karen Blixon of Out-of-Africa fame. Down the hall was my 16-month-old son Lawrence, sleeping soundly in his bed. I stared at my bedroom door worrying about whether some thug was going to break in and rape me. I finally fell asleep around 4:00 am, waking up at 8:00 am to a round robin of text messages warning me of demonstrations in town, down the road, around the corner. Hundreds of men wielding machetes were apparently down the street calling for vengeance after a Member of Parliament was assassinated outside his home. We waited for them to disperse and then ran to the shops to stock up on bread and milk. Friends are leaving town, businesses are shutting down, schools are closing. It has all happened so fast. A month ago this was an idyllic paradise and we were proudly predicting a historic democratic election. Today we are living in fear and the coutry's leaders are saying little, more worried about holding on to power than healing a nation.

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By mid-morning I headed to the slums with a pack of journos. The path to the railroad tracks, now the boundary between the Kikuyus and the Luos, the two tribes that have been warring since the contested Dec 27 presidential elections, was filled with angry stoned vigilant youths. As the two closed in on each other the police let out a few rounds of live ammunition and we ran for our lives. We tripped over each other trying not to land in the raw sewage. I've never run so fast, and it wouldn't have mattered how fast I ran, if that bullet was headed my way I wasn't going to out run it. I rushed back to share the news with my friends who had gathered on a neighbor's veranda, placating themselves with wine and the false sense of safety in numbers. About an hour later the local police sergeant called me with an update. Two Luyas, one Kikuyu and one Luo had been killed this afternoon and one little girl raped. That really got me – as a mother and a woman – that one really stuck. My eyes welled up overwhelmed by the events of the day. The thought of some drunk Luo, high on power, pulling that little girl into a house next door to a row of burning slums and violating her. I am sure he is thumping his chest somewhere right now.

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