March 8 is International Women's Day.
In preparation, the reporters of African Woman and Child Feature Service have been traveling around the country this week, gathering women's stories about the post-election violence.
I went to Eldoret, a community that was briefly in the international spotlight after dozens of people were killed in a church where they were taking shelter.
I talked with women who are living in camps for displaced people, Kalenjin women who are married to Kikuyu men, people who are left without jobs because their Kikuyu employers have fled.
All of the stories are moving. However, for those of us living here, none of them are particularly new.
The tale of Mercy Moses surprised me, though. She's a 21-year-old woman from a middle class Kalenjin family. Nothing particularly terrible has happened to her directly. Nonetheless, the way she thinks about her safety and her future has changed significantly...
Mercy Moses is wandering the dusty roads of an estate on the edges of Eldoret. She’s fashionably dressed in a skirt, blouse, and long white scarf. She greets friends in the road. Most are people she’s known for most of her 21 years.
As she walks through her neighborhood, she points to houses that were abandoned during the post-election violence. She gestures toward hills that are scorched black by the fires that razed Kikuyu shambas to the ground.
She says the chaos at home began on December 30.
“After the [election] results were announced, everything went haywire. I knew things were bad when I saw a group of youths, at least 800, walking together. People had crude weapons: rungus, pangas. I saw police with guns and teargas canisters. I saw houses being burned.”
Moses is Kalenjin. She says at the end of that first day of violence in Eldoret, she called her friends one-by-one to see how they are. It was only then, scrolling through the list of names in her mobile phone, that she realized her group of friends is a great mix of tribes.
“I never actually though about it,” Moses says. “I am of the generation that was brought up to know that this is Mark, this is Nduati, this is Timothy, this is so and so. It never really hit me that 'You’re a Kikuyu, you’re a Luo, you’re a Kalenjin.' It’s only until the chaos began that it hits you.”
At least seven of her lifelong friends have fled Eldoret. Moses says she's sure that one family will not return. The others are trying to sell their property and build new homes elsewhere.
Still, Moses says, the recent conflict hasn't changed the way she feels about her comrades.
“These are people I call my lifelong friends. As much as they are no longer in town, they are still my friends. If anything happens, it is them that I lean on.”
Moses is dating a young Kikuyu man. She says their relationship is still strong, despite the recent bloody revival of long-standing Kikuyu-Kalenjin land clashes. They don't talk about politics together, but Moses says they do pray for peace in Kenya.
While her friendships have not changed, Moses says her sense of safety at home has.
In late January a close friend of hers was raped at knife point. Moses says her friend thought she was boarding a taxi but ended up in the hands of two unknown men. Since then, Moses says she is much more careful about when she travels, and with whom.
“I think I am getting paranoid but maybe it’s for the better,” she says. “I can’t board a private car right now. If I have to travel somewhere, I’d rather use public means. I don’t travel past six. I travel only during the day.”
She and her friends used to meet in town every afternoon during the holidays, for ice cream and movies and shopping. They would return home by eight or nine at night. Now, she says, they meet mid-morning so that everyone is home long before dark.
Not far from her family’s home, Moses rounds a corner to find four young men walking toward her. She looks up at them and edges to the other side of the street.
“Seeing a group of men freaks me out,” she says. “I see a group of young people and I think they are up to no good.”
Moses is studying business and economics at a school in Nyanza. Their Christmas vacation has been extended to April because of the clashes. While at home, Moses has been running a small business of her own, making mandazis and groundnuts for her family’s shop.
When she graduates, Moses says she would like to start a tourism business. There is not much tourism in Eldoret. Before the December election, Moses says she was willing to move out of her home area to a more tourism-rich area. The recent violence has made her question such a move.
“I think I’ll really consider where I settle later on in life,” she says. “I’ll have to consider how safe it is and the political climate and all. I wouldn’t have thought of that before.”
She says she never imagined she would see so much violence in Eldoret, or in Kenya. Although she voted in December, she says she does not plan to vote in 2012. Moses believes in democracy but, right now, she's skeptical about the potential for fair democratic process in Kenya.
She says Kenyans need to come clean about the violence that has wracked this country over the past ten weeks. People who have wronged one another need to sit together and explain their actions. Only then will people be ale to move forward as one nation.
“I want to be in a land where people live where they want to live, without the insecurity of the five-year deal. Right now, people are thinking, things will cool and after five years [during the next elections] it will be the same story. I am hoping for a Kenya that will have peace. Not just peace for the moment, but Peace peace.”