Glenwood Springs High School grad knows a different Kenya |

Glenwood Springs High School grad knows a different Kenya

John Gardner Post Independent Staff Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Chas Salmen

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Arabic word “ghorba” means “an awareness of your roots” or “where you come from.”Chas Salmen knows his roots are in Glenwood Springs, but he also has deep connections with another similar community on the opposite side of the world.In a part of Africa that is typically quiet and warm with several native tribes all converging into neighbors in a city called Eldoret, Kenya, violence now dominates the region.

Violence has erupted in the western-Kenyan city, as well as the rest of Kenya, after political unrest provoked opposition tribes of re-elected President Mwai Kibaki, a member of the Kikuyu tribe, was elected to another term. But opposition parties and tribes thought that the election was not legitimate, according to Salmen. Legitimate or not, it’s tearing apart a community that Salmen’s grown to respect over the past year.”Blood and violence is all we read in the headlines, it sounds like that’s what it’s always like over there,” Salmen said. “But the Eldoret that I know is very different.”Salmen first traveled to Eldoret in March 2006. He spent six months volunteering with an HIV/AIDS education program before he began his first year at Oxford University in England last fall. He returned to Eldoret for a couple of weeks before Christmas to visit with friends he made there during the summer and everything was fine.Everything was peaceful.”I had three friends, each from a different tribe, and they would joke about the election,” Salmen said. “There was a tension there before the election, but I just never thought that it would come to this.”

The Kikuyu tribe has been in power for the past two elections. Since the recent election, just after Christmas, several international news stories have reported around 300 people killed in the melee that followed.Salmen would like very much to return to Eldoret, but that is very uncertain at the moment.”I know a Kenya that is very different from what you read in the news today,” Salmen said. “As much as I wanted to come home, to Glenwood for the holidays, I felt like spending some time in Eldoret.”His eyes are heavy with sadness as he flips through several digital images on his laptop computer, pictures of friends he made in Eldoret during his visits.One photo of a Kenyan family standing in front of a home fashioned from rusted metal panels evokes happy memories for Salmen.

“This is my friend Silas and his family,” Salmen said.He refers to his friends with their American names to protect their identity. Even mention of them in a news paper on the other side of the world could jeopardize their safety. Salmen’s calm manner signifies his sincerity.It’s been mere months since Salmen ate a pre-race meal in the rusted metal house in the picture with his friends. They filled their bellies before a road race Salmen, Silas and another friend Salmen calls Jacob ran last summer. That house is no longer there; it was destroyed, presumably by opponents of the Kikuyu tribe, to which Silas belongs. Silas hid in a nearby corn field and watched as his neighbors were slaughtered by the angry mob that burned his house.Silas and his family have fled Eldoret in recent days in order to survive the turmoil that has overrun their until-recently peaceful city after a suspicious presidential election turned the city of Eldoret into a battleground.

“It’s unbelievable what’s happening over there,” Salmen said, wiping a hand down his tired face.Worrying about his Kenyan friends’ safety, wondering if the ones he’s been unable to contact are even still alive, has kept him up most nights for the past week. The only time he’s been able to contact them is at night, when it’s daytime in Kenya.It’s the connection to the community he’s come to know that keeps him up.”I felt a connection to Eldoret because it felt so much like the community of Glenwood,” Salmen said. “That’s what has been so overwhelming, that the community which welcomed me into their homes and that I’ve come to know so well is stuck in the middle of the violence.”Salmen is raising money for a relief fund established by the Indiana University-Kenya Partnership. He set up a bank account at Alpine Bank in Glenwood Springs for those who would like to donate. The funds will be used for food, medical supplies, refugee transport, and for the reconstruction that will be under way soon.

It gives Salmen a reason to return to the community he’s become a part of. A community that’s become a part of him.”I will return,” he said. “I don’t know how soon, but I will go back and help where I can.”Contact John Gardner: 384-9114jgardner@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO

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