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Thursday, February 16, 2012

bitter coffee


And so we sat around cups of coffee boiled, filtered and poured. Our thoughts silent, considered and cautious.
There’s something about coffee and tragedy, am not sure what, am not sure whether or not its movies or the nature of coffee itself beans picked by tired labourers, washed till the water runs blood with mud, dehusked in a torrent of water, dried in the baking heat, roasted in an oven and served in a steaming cup of scalding water. Dark cups and dark thoughts, sour taste, sour memories. It sits there  dark and brooding. It sits there smoking and cooling. It sits there bleeding in heat, burning in steam and as you consider it considers you.

The tragedy?

Kenyan roads. I work for an organisation here in Norway with offices down in Kenya where among other things they organise study tours for high school students. The realities are so different between Norway and any third world country, so vastly different that seeing it is the only way that any of the problems we suffer with  any sense. The young are encouraged to travel, to see the world and learn it with endless tours and choices for them to make as regards their travel.

For the last 2 weeks a group of them were down in Kenya then on Sunday there was an accident. One dead, one in the hospital, the rest shocked and traumatised. I can’t begin to imagine the loss that parents feel when they lose one of their children and I can only guess that it must feel worse when the child is that far away. At this time all I can give is my condolences at this horrible tragedy.

The stats aren’t easy to find, I’ve spent quite some time scouring Google in search of them, in 2009 3,760 people died as a result of Kenyan road accidents according to the World Health Organisation. This means a little more than ten people a day died every day for this year. That’s not ten accidents a day, they’re not all fatal. Its ten bodies

Ten lives a day snuffed out in road accidents.

wasn’t it just last year that another organisation that I was associated with had a horrible accident on those Kenyan roads. In August last year  an accident  marred the coming together of AIESEC youth from all over the world in my dear country of Kenya. One sad day in august after attending an international congress and on the way to Mombasa a bus crashed, one died and one was injured.


When I was younger (and to this day) I was very careless, I would drop a plate when washing it and a thermos when pouring tea. It happens once and it’s an accident, these things can’t be avoided and the pieces are swept under the rug so to speak. But I once went on a streak breaking plate after cup after thermos till my father lay me on the ground and beat me. This was one of the beatings that survived in my memory from when I was young. It’s all an accident I thought how could he justify beating me for something that was essentially an act of god? But the deitifically ordained acts stopped soon thereafter. An accident happens and it’s an accident but if it keeps happening it can no longer be referred to by that moniker.


How about the Msongari School bus crash? That was just last year too.  A school trip, a bus full of girls in their preteens and a horrible accident. Deaths and amputations, blood and tragedy. My cousin was on that bus and she saw these things happen. I hear her talk about it and I can’t imagine that I could ever have been that strong or that she should have to be.


These three happened in the last year, in less than 12 months. These are the accidents I heard about on Kenyan roads and I only heard about them because of my personal stake. The only reason I could remember was because of my association.
How many others slipped through the cracks and in the smoke of the aftermath curled into the mists of oblivion? Not mentioned in my head, not remembered in my brain?

3,000 deaths pass the realm of the accidental. 3,000 death passes into carelessness. Our roads are potholed and poor true, our traffic lights irregular and indecent but our drivers are also rash and reckless. How many stories have we as young people heard about people driving while being so steaming drunk they could have powered a locomotive? The stories are fun to hear no doubt, told by people with a flair for making light of these situations, “I didn’t move towards the roundabout, it came to me…”

There is a law requiring people to drive at less than 80 km\h if they are operating a public service vehicle. It is more openly flouted and with greater impunity than even the one banning pornography. In Norway it costs about 20,000 kr, to get a license, that’s (to use purchase power parity instead of exchange rates) what the average professional considers a good salary. Forget the price. In Kenya the economic structure would mean that those most in need of the license so that they could get a job would be locked out. Behind this price is tests and tests and tests.

The drivers stop for you when you’re on a zebra crossing! They slow down and let you pass. This doesn’t happen in Kenya. A Ugandan I met here says that Africans don’t need democracy just discipline, no economic reforms or infrastructure just inner drive. A fidelity to rules and a willingness to live by them.

What is our government doing I began to wonder. The government any government is made up of people. People who have these same feelings, who feel empathy and can, ask themselves what if? What if I was in that situation? What if one of my peoples was? What if someone I knew was mowed down by a car? And then it happened again? What if?

Thank God my cousin did not die, but someone’s cousin did in that bus crash. Three crashes with fatalities that have a link to me that’s more direct than I like to think about. Something happened and is happening in Kenya.

Kenya is the most valuable country in the world to me. The things it holds I cannot measure, not the earth by itself or some vague sense of nationalism that is slowly making itself felt, but the people. The roads are not safe; they are grey snaking lines of doom. Lines drawn like nooses around my family and friends. Around other people’s family and friends.

I have no solutions for this, I can’t even drive. Just a faint nagging feeling that this isn’t right. 0.01% of the Kenyan population is lost to tarmac every year. If you are not infected you are affected they say about AIDS but with numbers like that they could soon say the same about roads.

I have no solutions and no idea where to search them out but I drank that bitter dark cup of coffee today. Maybe someone else does.