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Railway Museum: Land of gone magic

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By WILLIAM RUTHI
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I was secretly hoping I would catch the whiff of Meryl Streep’s perfume, maybe catch the sweep of her nightgown. It was an aesthete’s folly of course. But if you have watched the classic film Out of Africa; if you have, like me, replayed the scene where Meryl Streep, playing Karen Blixen — the Danish author and one of pioneer settlers — stands outside her coach as the train transporting her to Nairobi rounds up a corner, and smells the Kenyan highland air for the first time, then walks back in, her dog walking you can be excused for dreaming, for madness.

The movie, which also starred Robert Redford, would go on to sweep seven gongs at the Academy awards in 1986. I am at the Nairobi Railway Museum located behind the Technical University of Kenya, northeast of the capital.

I am in coach No. 301 — Streep’s train, which was built in 1923, retired in 1971 and roused from sleep to immortality for the famous movie.

If Nairobi is anything, it is history. It is in the previously Victorian-named streets, in its statues, in the trinkets and pictures in the national archives and the priceless collection of art in the main branch of the National Museums of Kenya. But of all the relics and emblems and buildings and places that house history, the Railway Museum, one of the lesser known of the depositories of history, is in a way the most central of all.

Indeed, the future capital of Kenya sprouted from the dust and mud as an outpost of the fledgling Mombasa-Uganda railway. Machakos had been the preferred terminus, but Nairobi-at the time known as Engore Nyrobi (Maasai name meaning ‘place of cool waters’ — eventually proved to be more valuable especially because of the streams that sped through the flatness.

The Railway Museum — which sits on a plot of land at the end of a dirt road lined with jacaranda — was established in 1971 by the then East Africa Railways and Harbours Corporation as a learning and resource centre on the history of rail travel in East Africa.

Run under the administration of the National Museums of Kenya (NMK), the museum has five sections: The Main Gallery that houses small artefacts; the Railway Art Gallery which was incorporated in 2012; a Resource Centre which has a library and also stores photographs; the auditorium, and the outdoor gallery — perhaps the biggest attraction of the five where locomotives from various eras are on display.

The Kenya-Uganda railway was — and still remains — the most audacious and enduring of all the projects the British colonial government ever undertook.

The British understood that rail travel was the most efficient way to economic growth; the railway line would open up the mainland, linking it to the strategic Kenyan coast.

But it came under a terrible cost: by the time the construction of the line was completed in 1901, more than 2,500 people had died, casualty of tropical diseases, ambushes by combative communities opposed to the construction of the line; unbearable heat, and man-eating lions.

To fully understand and appreciate the enormity of the railway project; to fully acknowledge the ambition, and also the depth of the madness of a dream inside determined souls, a tour of the main gallery and the resource centre offers the best window.

It is a trip down an entire epoch spanning the history of Kenya from its infancy as a British protectorate to the attainment of self-rule and also the short-lived marriage of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, known as the East African Community.

There is a certain musty, almost frightening feel to the hall; a sepia-toned presence that immediately invokes and stirs history, like pages torn from a history course book.

The museum has a collection of relics dating back to the early 1900s: a calculator here an antiquated rotary telephone, a manual typewriter, a restored bicycle.

On the walls are framed photographs of men at work, natives and Indian hires from Karachi and Punjab; stern white men with handlebar moustaches in hats and khaki.

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In some of the pictures one can see the fear and world-weariness in the faces of the men. It is not difficult to suspect why, and also commiserate with the poor workers. There is a yellowed newsprint ad announcing a cash bounty of £100 for the capture of a pair of maneless lions, the so-christened man-eaters of Tsavo, the two cats that terrorised the camps with their preference for human veal.

It is estimated that the lions killed at least 28 workers, including Supt. Charles Ryall who was whisked from his carriage into the night by one of the cats while his guards sat scared in the carriage.

Of course the lions were eventually captured, their hides dried and lived on in infamy as doormats in faraway Chicago.

But a physical reminder of those terrifying times stays on in the museum.

Among the paraphernalia is a small box in which are stored the clipped claws of the lions. The nails have been in storage for 118 years.

“I knew about the lions from history,” a young man visiting the museum for the first time tells me, visibly concerned. “but to see this box, I can’t imagine how traumatised the railway builders were.”

The railway line would come to be known as the Lunatic Express, a term credited to author Charles Miller in his book, The Lunatic Express: An Entertainment in Imperialism. He couldn’t have nailed it better.

Hardly anyone imagined the construction of a project of such scale, the snake from the south. To have undertaken the project called for a strain of lunacy.

It is a Saturday afternoon, and the Railway Museum grounds have taken on a carnival feel, like a movie set from the past. Among the old, retired locomotives roosting in the outdoor gallery, video cameramen are busy at work; a video for a song is afoot.

The director calls out instructions, the plan is to nail a vintage texture to the video.

It is not unusual to encounter such entourages: the railway museum is a popular photo and video shoot set.

Part of the estimated 7,000 visitors who buy a ticket at the gate are the beautiful people — models, actors. The near-charmed, endearingly crumbling grounds and its collection of locos appear to spin some celluloid magic.

On April 18, 2018, a journey, an asset that had been part of the country’s canvas came to an end. The last Mombasa-Nairobi passenger train hissed home after more than a hundred years of operation.

The world had moved on, moved East and now a shining Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line shone in the sun.

Out with the old and in with the new in one swell swoop; now there would be uniformed hostesses, the seats bearable, and the speed would double. The fear that had gripped the first curator, Fred Jordan, into creating the railway museum-the fear that there would come a time when the old would be done away with had come true. But even he would have something to say.

I was on that last southbound train, a trip I almost-missed, clambering up the staircase just as the train pulled out of the Nairobi terminus. I walked the narrow aisles of the train, looking for a story.

When I visited the third-class coach, I saw two men standing at the window, staring out. The light was low and the photograph I took of the pair — used-clothes traders from Mombasa — partly appeared in silhouette. There was a certain artistic sadness in their faces. They had travelled on the train for close to three decades.

* * *
Near the intersection of the Haile Selassie and Uhuru Highway avenues stands a large iron-sheet walled church with a big cross jutting into the sky.

When night creeps in, the cross lights up, only that none but one of the four beams has a working filament. The cross overlooks the railway museum, and when they turn on the light, the solo working bulb sends a flicker of light behind the church where all those long-retired trains repose.

It is an eerily beautiful sight, even fitting. In the broken light is Nairobi as it was when white men erected poles and strung wire across the growing town, one by one.

You hope the pioneering curator Fred Jordan would love it that way.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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