Kenyan student fears for parents back home

‘There’s no way they’re going to be chased out of their own country’

Nael Bhanji, ArtSci ‘08, said he thinks people in Canada sometimes take their security for granted.
Nael Bhanji, ArtSci ‘08, said he thinks people in Canada sometimes take their security for granted.

Nael Bhanji got what he describes as a goodbye phone call from his parents this December.

“They were actually saying goodbye, mostly because they could hear a lot of shooting outside the house,” he said. “It’s been a bit hard to handle, everything that’s going on at home.”

Bhanji said this Christmas was particularly stressful for his parents, who were running low on food and hadn’t left the house in two weeks. They didn’t let him come home for the break.

Bhanji, ArtSci ’08, was raised in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.

He said his parents still live in Nairobi, and have been on standby to evacuate since widespread violence broke out after President Mwai Kibaki’s disputed re-election on Dec 27, 2007.

“It’s gone from bad to really bad,” Bhanji said, adding that many people said they could see blatant rigging on the ballots. “The media indicates that the elections have been rigged.” Bhanji said the neighbourhood where his parents live borders where the violent outbreaks are taking place, and they’re prepared to evacuate if necessary.

“Because we live in a residential area that borders a larger slum area, we’re pretty close to the violence,” he said.

“They could hear gun shots and couldn’t leave the lights on and they’ve been on standby.”

Bhanji said his parents are staying in their home for the time being.

“My parents are staying mostly because they’re stubborn,” he said. “It’s their home; they’ve lived there all their lives, and there’s no way they’re going to be chased out of their own country.”

Bhanji said he has experienced violent outbreaks while living in Kenya, and has been in the position where the threat of evacuation was present.

“We’ve had to deal with election chaos before,” he said. “I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to prepare to pack up and be evacuated.” He said the last time he was at home and received a phone call putting his family on evacuation notice was about 16 years ago.

Bhanji said a certain level of violence is part of the reality of living in Kenya. He said people here often take their safety for granted.

“[When I came to Canada] it was really, really amazing for me to just take a walk,” he said.

Bhanji said safety is always a concern for him when he’s in Kenya.

“You always have to be really careful about where you’re going and be aware of your surroundings,” he said. “People are angry, and justifiably so.”

Bhanji said he has read Kenyan newspapers and kept up to date on media coverage of Kenya since he came to Canada.

“I’m glad there has been media coverage,” he said.

“The Kenyan government has pretty much put a ban on national live coverage, which I means I hear about stuff before my parents do.”

Bhanji said although he knows of several outreach groups at Queen’s who send students to Kenya for various projects, he advises them to hold off on entering the country amidst its current civil upheaval.

“They really need to consider the situation. There’s no way to be safe in the country right now,” Bhanji said.

“This is a long term thing,” he said. “Unless the president steps down, I think it’s going to continue.”

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