By Heidi Skallet
If you could pause real life and spend some time living with a family anywhere in the world, where would you go?
This question has always been such an easy question for me to answer; in fact, anything related to living or going anywhere in the world is easy. If such a thing was possible in my life, I would move to Kenya in a heartbeat.
In 2005 I went to Kenya for the first time, on an archaeology dig up in Lake Turkana. I spent 6 weeks there and one week on “safari” (safari means trip in Kiswahili, but tourism appropriated the word to mean a specific trip in which wazungu—white folks but also foreign folks in general—travel to spendy resorts and see the wildlife within nature preserves). I went back again during the 2006-2007 academic year to focus on international development. During that time I interned at a shelter for former street youth in Naivasha. I went again two more times, once for 2 weeks in 2008 and again in 2010 for almost 6 weeks. I have yet to return.
My connection to Kenya began with that first trip. The country is so beautiful, the people so pleasant, the lifestyle so vibrant. It was very easy for me to fall in love with Kenya, even with its shortcomings (every country has its shortcomings, after all). I now have a permanent connection to Kenya, by way of my two little boys who are half Kenyan. Most of my Kenyan family still live in Kenya.
Of course there are issues within the country, one of the biggest being corruption that sort of pervades all other aspects of life (and the level of bribes significantly increases for wazungu), but there is also progress occurring in areas of women’s rights, children’s rights, even LGTBQ rights. When I was in Kenya in 2007 the LGBTQ movement sprang into light during Nairobi’s hosting of the World Social Forum. Although the leaders of the movement still spoke in anonymity, for fear of persecution or even death by mob justice, people began listening.
The new Constitution, signed in 2010, has given more rights to children, persons with disabilities, and minority groups (generally pertaining to minority cultural groups but not worded so). For example, in the past it was somewhat difficult to prove citizenship or obtain birth certificates for Kenyan citizens, and many children and youth who lived in the streets were in a sense citizen-less and afforded few rights. The new Constitution now states that any child “found in Kenya who is, or appears to be, less than eight years of age, and whose nationality and parents are not known, is presumed to be a citizen by birth.” Additionally children are given the right to be protected from various forms of maltreatment and the right to parental care and protection from both the mother and father, regardless of relationship status.
But the Constitution also explicitly states that only members of the opposite sex may marry. It bans abortions except for medical emergencies or if the life or health of the mother is in danger. The equality standards include women specifically but despite the historical marginalization of women, there is not a special section pertaining to a women’s bill of rights as there are for children, persons with disabilities, and minority groups.
If I could pause life for a second I’d take my kiddos and live with my Kenyan family. A selfish part of me wants to go back to just go back, because I miss Kenya. My kids could learn Kiswahili more effectively than my weak attempts have allowed. They could learn more about their Kenyan cultural background. They could bond with their Kenyan family. (Extended family is big on both parents’ sides.) They could participate in Kenyan life as Kenyan citizens. And we could join my Kenyan family and friends in the movements for equality and social justice in Kenya. While having unlimited access to English Premier League football matches and telenovelas. 😀