Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Political Crisis in Kenya

This email is from the Summer Literary Seminar's Mikhail Iossel, who runs a great set of writing programs in Russia and Kenya (the Russia one, I can say from personal experience, is highly recommended). Iossel here reflects on the political crisis in Kenya and offers some resources to begin to understand what's going on.

Dear Friends of the Summer Literary Seminars Programs in Russia and Kenya, Friends of Kenya and Russia, Friends in Literature,

This is not one of our usual SLS program updates. But it is about Kenya, and these certainly are not the ordinary times in that glorious land.

All last week, along with the rest of the world, we watched the macabre crisis unfolding there, the grisly internicine strife, with great sorrow and deepening sense of dismay. As someone for whom Kenya is not a mere sun-kissed spot on world's map or fascinating tourist destination full of gorgeous vistas and exotic wild animals, but rather an integral part of our very beings, the country we know in the all-embracing totality of her aspects and love ever-stronger every time we get to set our feet on her red earth – the place where many of our close friends live or hail from – we feel as though, with each succedent day that passes without offering a glimpse of hope for the end of the impasse, there's another small dying of that Dylan Thomasian light within us. Simply put, we are saddened beyond words.

What's to be done? More to the point, what can we do? Hardly anything at all. Nothing of any measure of consequence, to be sure. We realize, with helpless self-directed anger, how vast is the sheer degree of our impotence to help ameliorate the situation, lessen the lurid chaos. Yet still, we are people of letters – and, perhaps over-enthusiastically at times, we view our literary program, SLS, as a multi-tributary conduit for writerly communication – and after all, even the smallest drop in the ocean is infinitely larger than an infinity of nothings. So we send you this letter – or rather, we're attaching this brief note to the texts and links you'll find below.

The texts are essays written by some of the most talented, and already accomplished, among young Kenyan writers; we're honored to count them as our friends, friends of the SLS program. These are powerful, poignant, profoundly thoughtful pieces on Kenya's past, tenuous present and difficult future. They have been compiled and kindly forwarded to us by the great (we wish there had been a way for us to make this hopelessly hackneyed adjective sound a little fresher, in this particular instance) writer and literary force on the first order of magnitude, Binyavanga Wainaina – the permanent SLS faculty member.

The first link will lead you to the highly informative site of The Red Rose Nursery and Children's Centre in Kibera, Nairobi. It is a terrifically praiseworthy project of the Washington, DC-based Ken Okoth, the Kibera-born young Kenyan native, Georgetown graduate and, at present, high-school history teacher. Among the site's contents -- the great many photographs, by turns amusing and heart-breaking, taken by the children of Kibera: one of the largest slum areas in Kenya – and indeed, all of Africa – where much of the conflagration in Nairobi originated and recent bloody clashes have taken place: contains a comprehensive, and ever-growing, compendium of articles and news items dedicated to the events unfolding in Kenya.

Please, read the essays, visit the sites – we would encourage you to circulate the attached among your friends. It is important for as many people as possible to know what's happening in Kenya now. Circles on the water, if they're persistent enough, do end up crashing on shore – and, however slightly and incrementally, changing the latter's configuration.

That's it, friends. Our next update – the regular one – is to follow in a couple of days. It will contain some exciting news concerning SLS/St. Petersburg-08 program, our literary contest, et al.

Belatedly – Happy New Year to all of you! Much perseverance and luck in your literary endeavors.

All the best,


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