Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day 5: Many Places


Today the team was in many places: Barasa arranged for Katie to observe family court, Naima, Robin, Benita, and Kelli worked at Ray of Hope, and Craig and I went to the office of Other Sheep Kenya to lead a strategic planning workshop for the staff.

Other Sheep Kenya (OSK) is one of the few pro-glbti faith-based organizations in Kenya. At the start of the workshop, we asked the staff to give us a history of the glbti movement in Kenya. It was fascinating to learn how new it is (within the last decade) and how homosexuality is still considered a criminal activity and can result in a  14 year prison sentence.  Religious conservatives add to a repressive political climate for glbti persons.  OSK seeks to promote social change through educational seminars.  Additionally, they have partnered with another organization to create a safe house for glbti persons.

Any start-up is difficult for an organization. Craig and I had a glimpse into how much more difficult it is in a place like Kenya, where poverty is rampant.  We hope the work we did together will be helpful for OSK's future.


The Women's HIV Support Group came to Ray of Hope today and performed for us unbelievably joyful song and dance.

Once again...moved to tears.


The children have been finishing up their "This is My Life" booklets and today's topic was on community.  I asked the question, "What do you wish for?"  Some of the responses included: food (they usually do not eat between 2pm and 10am the next day, when they arrive back at school), water (their families pay about $.25 for 5 gallons of water), education, reading, health care, free from fear, and trees. As one boy said, "I wish trees would be planted every time a tree is cut down." Kawangware is very barren.

After visiting some of the children's homes yesterday, the responses made me cry as I had a glimpse into their lives.


Karen and I spent the day working with Pastor John (Riruta Methodist Church and Other Sheep-Kenya) , his wife Anne and five of their team on strategic planning and goal setting.   What an amazing group of people, committed to fighting for justice and equality for all in East Africa despite facing frequent threats and overwhelming bigotry.    John and team are courageously fighting a situation probably even more difficult that that of the civil and gay rights movements of the 60’s and 70’s in the U.S., and they are but a few individuals battling government, church and society.   It was an honor to spend the day with them and learn about their plans for the next few years.
Naima, Kelli, Benita, and Katie: Time for tea
I rode a bus into Nairobi this morning, to meet Barasa, whose niece Carol would take us to court. I met Carol, an attorney with the Kenyan Attorney General's office, last year. When Barasa learned I am a lawyer, he kindly offered to introduce us, and for Carol to show me to court, so I could observe a Kenyan court proceeding.
As it turned out, there was not time for the court visit last year, as my Glide team schedule was tight, and I spent enough time away from Ray of Hope work getting downtown to visit Carol's office. This year, it worked.
I arrived downtown at 7:20. Though Carol did not expect me in her office until 8:45, the more seasoned Kenyan bus riders in our Glide team warned that I should take an early bus, just to play the timing safely. I was not to meet Barasa until 8:00, but I was happy to stand at our designated meeting spot for forty minutes, people-watching the downtown professional foot traffic.
I was in this same area last year, when Barasa took me (and Robin, our team nurse, whose hospital visit we made before mine to the AG's office) to Carol's office. In my memory, there was racial diversity downtown, at least between Mzungus ("white people") and Kenyans. Not so, I learned this year. As I observed the bustling masses, I noted that I was the only Mzungu for forty minutes.
Not that it's a big deal here. In my understanding, tribal tensions are far more of a social issue in Kenya than black-white relations. As a Kenyan who had visited the United States once told me, HIV is to Kenya what racism is to the U.S. A native Kenyan who has spent his entire life living here, he confirmed my perception from my one (at the time) trip here, that Mzungus are welcome in Kenya. That's what I felt downtown this morning. I wouldn't say I blended in - people noticed my whiteness - but I was graciously received, in ways I am not in predominantly black neighborhoods back home.
When Barasa stepped off his bus to meet me at 8:00, he asked, "How long have you been waiting?" When I told him it had been forty minutes, his eyes widened, and he replied, "Yah? I hope people have not been staring at you the whole time, saying, 'It is a Mzungu!'" I laughed, and we were off to Carol's office.
We awaited Carol's 9:00 arrival - the meeting time changed last night, in a conversation between Carol and Barasa - and went upstairs to Carol's office. We discussed which court we would visit, and shortly, we were off to the Children's Court, where, in Kenya, all matters regarding children are heard, except those involving child custody and support incident to divorce. That is, whether the matter involves child protection, nonmarital child support, or juvenile delinquency, it is held in this court. As a family law attorney and child advocate, this was naturally where I wanted to go.

We arrived at the Children's Court shortly after 9:00, and waited for the Court to call the calendar. After Carol and I had sat in the gallery and talked for quite a while, she asked an attorney, who was obviously waiting for his appearance, what was happening. He answered that all of today's matters would be heard in chambers (the judge's office, behind closed doors), because only maintenance (non-marital child support) issues would be heard today.

Upon learning this, we walked over to another court, where criminal proceedings are heard before the public. Carol chose this venue because, in Nairobi, many other types of cases are closed to the public. I was happy to witness a criminal proceeding. While it is not my area of practice, it interests me far more than general civil litigation.
We arrived to one courtroom where the Court was on break. Carol popped into the courtroom to ask one of the attorneys how long they would break. He answered that it would be ten minutes. About 25 minutes later, the proceedings resumed. As we walked into the courtroom, I noted a few differences between a Nairobi courtroom and the ones I know in the Bay Area. Here in Nairobi:
1. The judges wear wigs. Not the bouffants seen in history books and on period piece movie sets, but something sitting much closer to the head, with no side action. So, in other words, a curly white mullet.
2. Judges take handwritten, word-for-word notes of the entire proceeding. There are no court reporters. This is, of course, a nightmare for the judges and a dream come true for the attorneys, who need not think quickly on their feet, since the judge is always telling them to slow down.
3. Attorneys wear black robes - even fancier than those our judges wear - when appearing before the judge, whose robe is red.

4. Anyone entering or leaving the courtroom while court is in session must bow before the Court. Literally: Stop walking, bow to the judge, and proceed into the courtroom or out the door.

5. Most, or at least many, murder cases originate as land disputes. Land is a hotly, lethally contested commodity in Kenya.

Which brings me to the type of proceeding I saw. This was a murder trial, and the witness questioning that I observed was from the daughter of the woman whom the defendant had killed. She spoke a tribal language, so the court interpreter translated this into English, for the lawyers to understand, as both are from a different tribe than the witness and the interpreter are. The lawyers and judge spoke to one another mostly in English, but occasionally in Swahili.

I was rapt throughout the part of the proceeding I observed, and deeply grateful to Barasa for making this experience happen.


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