Kisumu = Mosquitoes and Mosques| July 29, 2010
I couldn’t have picked a better final (complete) work week in Kenya. I’ve been
staying in Kisumu this week, which, compared to Mbale, is a bustling metropolis of epic
proportions with real coffee and about six supermarkets to choose from, and working
with an attorney named Peter. He works for a British NGO called CLEAR (Christian Legal
Education Aid and Research) and takes a variety of cases ranging from criminal pro bono
work to custody disputes to estate administration. CLEAR also received IBJ funding for
the same year that Evans did. Much like Evans, Peter is a tireless worker for justice
in Kenya. In addition to his daily work, he’s involved in all kinds of extra projects
like radio talk shows in the evenings to educate people on the rights provided by the
new Constitution. It’s pretty evident after spending about five minutes discussing the
variety and breadth of his work that he’s a man very committed to helping people in his
community by securing justice for those that wouldn’t otherwise have an advocate.
This week has been eventful for me, and most things have been conducted in
English! On Tuesday I tagged along to a paralegal training where Peter was giving a
talk on inheritance procedures and property law to a group of volunteer paralegals.
The class was held at the Nyando Community Justice Center, which is one of four centers
established around Kenya by a governmental department called Kituo Cha Sheria, which is
somehow incorporated into the judicial branch (the representative from Kituo who was
attending the training informed me that they also have legal interns for the summer...from
some school called Harvard…). Apparently the project has been very successful; the
trained volunteers are able to help members of their own communities who can’t afford an
attorney with routine legal matters, which can make all the difference in a system that
requires a lot of paperwork and a lot of steps done in proper order within the prescribed
time limitations in order to achieve anything. The process of just identifying who will
administer an estate takes approximately a year, with a series of forms having to be
completed at certain times and sent at one point to Nairobi, after which you have to wait
for another two months before moving ahead, etc. etc. For people that have no idea where
to even start, the volunteer paralegals can fill that gap by directing them on what
official documents are needed, where to get forms, how to complete them, and where to file
Property law in Kenya is actually pretty similar to property law in the U.S.,
which shouldn’t be too surprising since they both have British roots. I was able to
assist in giving definitions of terms and to clarify the difference between half siblings
and step siblings after it provoked debate as we were moving through a chain of possible
heirs. One major difference, of course, is that the U.S. does not recognize multiple
spouses whereas Kenya sure does, at least for inheritance purposes.
Yesterday, we took another field trip, this time to Kibos Prison to explain to
inmates who’re allowed to vote next week some of the provisions of the new Constitution.
The group was attentive and asked a lot of questions about the rights of those who are
arrested and the rights of those who are detained, both of which are included in the new
bill of rights.
Tomorrow, Peter will appear in High Court, so I will probably try to attend to see
in person how their courts operate. Like I said, a great final week! Next week I
anticipate doing some work with Evans, but also wrapping up my time in Kenya, buying last
minute gifts, saying bye to people, taking pictures that I’ve been meaning to take for weeks,
etc.. My co-workers are contemplating a going away party that may or may not involve
roasting an entire goat… We shall see.
For now I’m still living the life in Kisumu, a smallish city right on Lake Victoria
that has lots of mosquitoes but also its share of charms, including about four mosques.
I’ve found a couple really good restaurants and I even managed to find the library and
convince them to allow me a temporary membership, thus avoiding the necessity of buying more
$10.00 books before my departure next week. One week from tomorrow I head to Nairobi and
then leave for home the following Monday.