A very productive morning, after which my colleagues headed out "into the bush" to spend some time on safari in Samburu. Samburu is not particularly Shabbat-friendly (not that Nyeri is significantly better, but at least I have the span of the Green Hills to roam), so I opted to stay alone. My Sunday free, I signed up for an early morning excursion into the Aberdares, the nearest National Park to the area, and a hike to tour the Mau Mau caves.
I haven't written much about our home base of Nyeri, but it is Kikuyu Central. The Kikuyu are the largest of Kenya's 42 communities, yet hold power, wealth and influence even in excess of their numbers. In fact, President Mwai Kibaki is from this town. Nyeri now is indistinguishable from many other towns its size in Kenya, but during the dying days of the British Protectorate, this area served as the home base for the Mau Mau Rebellion, a bloody and vicious time prior to Kenyan independence. The myth and history of the Mau Mau have become indistinguishable in many cases, but it is likely that they were driven to revolt by the typical excesses of colonialism - shortage of land devoted to the natives, outrages visited upon the local communities, a complete stripping of their political rights - and it is undisputed that they dwelled in the forests around Mount Kenya, stockpiling captured weapons to add to their signature Panga long machetes, and unleashed violent attacks ostensibly in the hopes of driving out the British and other white Europeans.
At this point, the accounts veer into the gory and easily exaggerated, but hyperbole or no, they were trying times for Kenya. Tens of thousands of Kenyans died (a significant number due to internecine violence) and another 70,000 were imprisoned over the course of a conflict which killed less than 100 Europeans but made the case that the British protectorate was failing and likely led to Kenyan Independence in 1963. All this within a small radius of our current home. In fact, the local university where I'll be speaking at the end of next week is called Kimathi College, named after Dedan Kimathi, a Mau Mau freedom fighter/terrorist (your pick) who is currently hailed in Kenya, but was known at the time for strangling to death those who he suspected of treason until his alienated followers joined up with the British, captured him, held him less than a mile from our hotel, and then executed him by hanging after a court decision in absentia. I'm hoping for a knowledgeable guide who will be able to provide some first hand or close second hand knowledge of those times for me.
In the meantime, I've got my own Shabbas Safari planned that consist of pray, eat, walk, read, sleep, repeat. Shabbat Salama.