I have never been so happy to see a man with a gun.
On Friday I went into Korogocho with the Kenya Red Cross, as they tried to bring food supplies to almost 1,000 people who have been displaced from their homes.
Poor security, a few bad apples and desperation born of hunger led to a mob scene that forced the Red Cross to leave after giving food to only a handful of people. It took tear gas and a couple of gun shots to get the convoy out of Korogocho before the situation became violent.
I do not really know how to begin writing about what I saw on Friday, but I have 200 photos. You are welcome to read on for an annotated photo essay.
As they try to meet some of the basic needs of the more than 250,000 people who are currently displaced, the offices are open 24 hours a day.
They are accepting donations of food and clothes from the public. Businesses, non-profits and the government are also contributing food and hard goods.
The warehouse on the complex is stocked full of food, water, mattresses, blankets. One corner of the compound is now a makeshift drop point for bulk food and bagged clothes.
When we arrived early Friday morning, most of the outdoor goods were covered in tarps. Trucks of all sizes were easing in and out of the small parking lot. An excess of volunteers were busy loading donations to take to sites around Nairobi, and to other cities and towns around Kenya.
The Red Cross has brought staff from across the country to Nairobi and other crisis centers, to help organize the relief effort. Many ordinary Kenyans are volunteering their time to help as well. Mid-morning, about 40 people from an accounting company arrived to help load the trucks.
It took most of the morning to load three small trucks. We set off with about 30 staff people, heading for Korogocho.
Unlike Kibera, Korogocho has a reputation for violence. Theft is widespread. The Mungiki gang is said to be very active in the area. As we were driving in, my friend Felix pointed down one street and said, "That is Kosovo. Even the police don't go down there."
We drove deep into the heart of the settlement. Most of the homes are built out of corrugated tin. Rent is cheaper here than in Kibera. The population tends to be more transient. Many residents have fled conflict in Somalia, the Sudan and other countries in the region. One person told me that, because of that, there are many more firearms in Eastleigh than in Kibera and some other Nairobi slums. Felix says all of those factors contribute to lower incomes, and more crime.
On the way through the slum, I kept an eye on the roadside food stands. Many were empty. Others had only a few items on their dirty, make-shift shelves. There were some greens, a few hanging bunches of bananas. Nothing compared to the bounty of mangos, tomatoes, papaya and pineapple that I normally see on stands across the city.
The convoy of three trucks and two SUVs got a lot of curious looks as we drove to the District Office. The Red Cross had not distributed any food in the area before today. Because of the high degree of violence here, there are fewer international aid agencies working in Korogocho than in Kibera. A convoy of NGO trucks is not a common site.
There were about 200 people waiting at the District Office when we arrived. As we were pulling into the dusty parking lot, one woman yelled from the side of the road, "You will give food to everybody. You will not just give food to people on your list."
Before the Kenya Red Cross brings food into an area, they send out an assessment team to figure out how many people are in need. In this case, they went to the churches, mosques and schools where people are camped since their homes were burned. They make lists of the affected people and come up with a plan for getting food to them. At the Korogocho sight, they had approximately 1,000 people on the list. Most of them were women and children.
It took at least an hour for the Red Cross staff to arrange the trucks and follow the necessary protocol with the District Officer. Despite Kibaki's promise from Thursday, to put more police officers on the ground to protect Kenyans and help "restore peace" I saw only one policeman at the District Office sight. They had been warned that the Red Cross was making a delivery, but there was no security escort in or out of the settlement and there was no visible security presence on the ground.
While we were waiting for the food distribution to begin, I talked with this nine-year-old girl, Pamela. She comes from a family of nine children. They were not on the list to receive food aid but her mother had sent her to the District Office with a small empty jar. She was picking up the stray legumes and pieces of maize that had fallen on the ground from a World Food Program distribution earlier in the day.
How Pamela's mother can feed ten people on such a tiny amount of food, I have no idea. Another person from Korogocho told me that a cabbage that usually sells for ten shillings is now selling for 70. This is a community where, on the best of days, most people are surviving on less than a dollar (about 150 shillings) a day. Feeding a family is a struggle most of the time. Combine gross inflation with a limited ability to get to work or find casual labor, and perhaps it makes sense to send a small girl to pick free food off the ground.
The Red Cross staff spent at least an hour trying to get people to line up. As they do at Jamhuri and other distribution sights, they were asking people to sort themselves into distinct lines. There were rows of old women, old men, people with disabilities, women with children, women alone and men. People were crammed together, holding empty bags and buckets. Although the midday sun was merciless, there was a general air of optimism as people looked at the three trucks full of survival.
A few young men made a bit of a fuss at the beginning of the queuing process. They were angry at having to wait. They were frustrated not to have their names on the right list.
Some of the men were sniffing glue to try to ease the hunger pangs that are a part of daily life here. Long-term glue sniffing can make people a little aggressive, a little irrational. When the young men started yelling and shoving aid workers, the lone policeman escorted a few of them out of the office compound.
The Red Cross staff unloaded only a few items out of the back of the trucks. They arranged the maize meal, milk, bread, oil, sugar and soap so that people could walk down the line with their bags and buckets and quickly collect the supplies.
Since there was no security, a group of young men were conscripted to form a human wall to prevent people from rushing the supplies. The men themselves look thin and ragged, but they joined hands nonetheless.
The first to come down the line were old women. Women with babies were next. Men on crutches and with missing limbs came down the line before old wazees.
About 20 people had collected food before the trouble began. I was shooting photos of one old man who, despite it all, was beaming his grin at the aid workers, when there was shouting at the front of the line.
I looked up and our human security fence had dissolved. Some of the young men were now trying to get food themselves. They were yelling and shoving a small group of aid workers who were trying to manage the front of the line. I watched as hands flew in the air in frustration. Any order disintegrated and suddenly Red Cross workers were yelling, shoving food back into the trucks.
People were wrestling over packets of sugar, tug-of-warring two kilogram bags of maize meal. Felix caught a sadly beautiful photograph of a man running from the site with only a four-pack of cookies. Certainly not enough to feed a hungry family.
I heard the pop of teargas canisters and did the only thing I could think to do, climbed into the cab of one of the trucks to get out of the way.
We got about 40 meters down the road when the truck in front of us stopped. The people who had been running behind the trucks joined the hangers-on and tried to get in the load beds. The Red Cross worker beside me was shouting, "Go! Go!" as more people who had been in line came running toward the trucks.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a police officer with a big gun was standing beside the truck we were in. The aid worker shouted something to him in Swahili and I saw him point his gun in the air. I had just covered my eyes when he shot two rounds into the sky.
All but one of the people on the truck in front of us dropped off and the convoy kept moving. We sped over potholes and speed bumps, while people on the side of the road looked up to see what all the commotion was about.
On the edge of Korogocho, the convoy stopped again. This time (only in Africa!) a herd of about 80 goats were in the middle of the road. By that point, however, there was only one brave young man still clinging to the back of the truck in front of me. A Red Cross staff person jumped out of the truck and shooed him away.
Although the aid worker beside me kept yelling for the convoy to keep on moving, we waited for the two SUVs to catch up with us. I got into the Land Rover I had arrived in and we all made our way back to the Red Cross office.
Along the way, another aid worker kept saying, "What a shame, what a shame. Because of a few bad guys, only twenty people got food. All those other people won't get any dinner tonight."
Despite the aid worker's optimism that homeless people in Korogocho will get food soon, it seems to me that they are going to have to wait more than a few days. After mediation with Kufuor broke down last week, opposition leader Raila Odinga has called for three days of nation-wide protest beginning next Wednesday. The administration has outlawed any demonstrations in the country. Parliament opens on Tuesday. Odinga has vowed to sit on the government side of the room. Any or all of those events could spark more violence in this country.
I have a great deal of respect for Annan. Let's hope he can help. People in Korogocho are hungry.