Wednesday, January 30, 2008


There are places that, despite the fact that you have never been, you feel you know as well as you know your hometown.

Listening to the news from Kenya today I heard the names of towns I have known all my life. They are the Kenyan towns in which my mother spent her childhood; Mum and her siblings were born in Kisumu, Nairobi and Mombasa, but they lived in Nakuru, Eldoret and Naivasha.

I asked Mum today what she remembers of Naivasha, and she talked of the beauty of the town and the lake pink with flamingos. Of the political landscape my Grandmere remembers that the Luo were the shopkeepers, stereotyped by others as stupid, but in fact clever, whereas the Kikuyu were the intellectuals.

The news reports may be from Rift Valley towns that are just names and black and white photos of my Mum to me, but the violence does not just seem closer to home, it is in my home, because those towns are part of my history. As is the rusty, but still scary machete, or panga, my Grandmere has in her house, a replacement of the machete that was protection for the family during the Mau Mau Revolt, the core of which were the Kikuyu. That machete, and the family story of the houseboy who lost his hand to a Mau Mau machete, makes every report of mutilation out of Africa that bit more real for me.

The people of Nakuru, Eldoret and Naivasha are dying, horribly, in their hometowns at the hands of their neighbours, and I will never understand the horror of those streets, but I still cry tears of shock each time I watch the news from the towns of my mother’s stories.