NAIROBI, Kenya (BP) — Suitcase in one hand and daughter's hand in another, the young couple picks their way through a charred landscape that just yesterday was a thriving used-clothing market.
They slow their pace so the 4-year-old can see a burned-out bus sitting on its side. They weave in and out of more burned-out vehicles blocking the road. A man leans over an upside down car, tools in hand, searching for anything salvageable.
Finally, the young family reaches the main road leading into Nairobi. Police had it barricaded yesterday. They still stand nearby with guns at ready, but today they simply greet those passing by. Ashes from tires set ablaze liter the pavement. The stench of burned rubber still lingers.
The couple steps across the calf-high barricade of rocks and playfully swings their daughter over it. “Things are quiet,” they explain, “so we decided to leave and find a safe place today before the violence starts up again.”
Kenyans around the country tried returning to normal life last week after a week of post-election violence.
Some shops and businesses reopened. Pedestrians and cars hit once deserted streets. Many left “hot spot” areas in search of food or a safe place to ride out an expected resurgence of riots. Others ventured out into the uneasy peace simply because they were tired of being confined to their homes.
Samson Ojienda, administrator for the Baptist Convention of Kenya, spent the last week confined to his village home in Nyakach. His cell phone became his main source of information as violence erupted around him. Charging the phone by a car battery, the Baptist leader kept in constant contact with churches throughout the country.
“I'm glad to report that so far, our Baptist churches are fine,” Ojienda says, via the cell phone. “Many want to help out those without food, but right now there's no way to transport the needed supplies.”
Roads into many hot spots in Kenya are either blocked or closed down. The Kenya Red Cross is trying to make food drops in those areas and government officials are trying to send food to help isolated areas in Western Kenya, the Rift Valley and Kericho.
“There are many people around the country that are locked in,” Ojienda says. “It is getting very serious now with no water and no food for thousands.
“Many people have died in Kenya because of this post-election violence, but more are going to die because of hunger if we can't do something about it soon.”
A representative for the United Nations office for humanitarian affairs in Nairobi says about 500,000 people are in acute need of assistance. They estimate around 180,000 are displaced.
Hundreds of these displaced found a refuge at Jamhuri Park in Nairobi. Piles of plastic grocery bags bulging with any personal belongings that could be carried line the walls of an exhibition hall. A makeshift clothesline cuts the room in half. Pots of thin porridge and chai boil on small, portable gas burners.
While it may not be much, people here are just glad to have food, water and some shelter. In the towns and slums from which they fled, little is left.
Women, children and senior citizens roam the yard and grandstands of the park. Some took refuge here as early as Sunday, Dec. 30, when elections protests became violent and deadly. Men stayed behind to protect houses that have not been burned.
Rosemary Omunga's home burned to the ground Sunday night after election results were announced. She says riots actually started in Kibera, her home of 30 years, soon after she voted on Dec. 27. On Sunday, it escalated. Enraged youth started setting fire to houses.
“It kept getting worse and worse,” Omunga says. “Shops were burned. There was nothing left. There was no food. They burned my home.
“How can we stay and put our lives in danger? Here, we are safe.”
Sue Sprenkle, an overseas correspondent for the International Mission Board, has been reporting from Africa for 10 years.