Celebrating East African Writing!
Looking from a distance the Eldoret show ground looked like a camping site. Tents of all colors and sizes were spread all over the show grounds. These tents had been erected to accommodate the internally displaced persons. The skies which had been rather clear now opened up and a massive downpour ensued.
Muthoni who had been nursing her nine months baby outside her tent ran back into her tent. She had been displaced from her home in burnt forest. She did not know where her two other children were. Since they had come into the camp she rarely saw them except at night.
As the rain stopped she walked out to find out that a trench had formed outside her tent entrance. She could see pieces of human feaces floating just next to her door steps. She jumped over the trench and looked around. Just next to the trench not far from her tent, she could see mama Gili starting a fire. She always prepared food for those who had money to buy. Not very far from where she was there was a child relieving herself.
There were no toilets in the camp neither was there clean running water. The internally displaced persons had to relieve themselves wherever. Most the tents leaked and thus during the rainy season some people never slept. She was a bit lucky because her tent did not leak.
There was no sign of her children so she walked back. It was difficult to live under these conditions. She could afford to buy food at mama Gili’s kibanda. The food the government offered was being sold to them instead of it being given free. You either had to offer money or prostitute to get food in the camp. She had taken some food from mama Gili’s on credit but she could not do so perpetually. They had not taken anything the previous might and she feared now that she would not be able to breastfeed her child.
“Habari,” she was startled from her deep thoughts by a beautiful lady. The smartly dressed lady smiled at her. She was tall and slim and in those tiny clothes that Muthoni despised. She sensed that she wasn’t an internally displaced person.
“Mzuri.” she replied after a short pause.
‘May I seat?”
Muthoni laughed, “Where are you going to seat?” She had been sitting on a peace of a log which was now wet so she had all along been standing outside her tent.
“Okay, can I talk to you?”
What did this lady want? She seemed not to be in a hurry, people of her kind were usually in a hurry.
“My name is Jessie I am a journalist said I would like to ask you a few questions”. Her instincts had been right she had known that she didn’t belong here.
“I don’t talk to journalists.”
Jessie hadn’t been expecting that at all.
“I am not only a journalist but I am also a displaced person in this camp.”
Muthoni looked at her closely. How could she be displaced? She didn’t look displaced at all.
“I would like to air the problems that women in this camp experience.”
Muthoni kept quite thinking. Talking too much may be suicidal. “What do you want to know?”
“Everything that women suffer in this god forsaken camp.”
“Jessie what is your second name?”
Jessie laughed she had known that this would come. “You want to know my tribe, don’t you?”
“Well I am a Kalenjin before you hate me remember that my house was burnt down by Kikuyus. Now I am in this camp a displaced person.” Muthoni had always thought that the only displaced persons I the camp were from her tribe only.
“I want to help you and every other person in this camp, irregardless of his or her tribe. I can help you get supplies.” Muthoni’s mind snapped back to attention. She could listen to anyone who could give her food.
“How do I get the food?” Jessie smiled. “At least I have your attention.”
“Oh! No.” She exclaimed.
“What?” Muthoni asked as she looked at what Jessie was looking at. Two police officers were walking languidly towards them.
“What’s wrong? It is the police.”
“That’s wrong. They have been trying to stop me from reporting what is happening here. They gave me a last warning the day before yesterday. I have to leave now.” She started walking way briskly only for one of the police officers to shout at her.
“Hey lady, where do you think you are going?”
She turned around and gave them a saccharine smile. “Hi officers, I hadn’t seen you. How are you?”
“That’s none of your business and this …. Whatever you are doing is none of your business reporters…….. Reporters are never contented with their own business you must poke your nose everywhere.”
“Officer I don’t think talking to my friend here is illegal or is it?”
The police officer who had been talking laughed.
“Of course not my dear lady but did I say that it was illegal? I said you are poking your nose where you are not supposed to.”
“Then if it is not illegal then I should be going.”
“Don’t even think about it.”
“You are under arrest.”
Jessie could not believe it she had done absolutely nothing wrong.
“For possessing 10 rolls of bhang.”
“What? Where are they?”
The police officer proceeded to search her.
“Isn’t this illegal? I am supposed to be searched by a female police officer.”
“We don’t care whether it is legal or not.”
Jessie was now full of venom. The police officer who was purportedly searching her was instead squeezing her breasts.
“I bet you want to slap me, go ahead.” he derided her.
She had the urge to slap him but instead she closed her eyes. She could not believe that this was happening to her. She had written many stories about police harassment but had not thought that it would one day happen to her.
“Here they are,” shouted the police officer. She snapped back to the present and opened her eyes. she had been in deep thought so as to avoid feeling those intruding hands.
To her shock, she found the police officer holding rolls of bhang in his hands.
“I found these.”
“What is that?”
The first officer looked at the other than they both burst out laughing. “You should be telling us that. They were in your possession”. Tears trickled down her face as her hands were pulled behind her roughly and then unceremoniously handcuffed. “Cant you let me go without those?”
“No,” Muthoni who had all along been watching slowly walked back into her tent. She had seen everything but wasn’t surprised. That indeed was what the Kenyan police did. May be she could have helped her. The problem was what could she do?
Jessie had never contemplated spending a night in jail. What did she do to warrant her arrest? She had overlooked the fact that she lived in Kenya. She was in deep thought until she hadn’t realized that they were heading in the wrong direction. They were not heading towards the police post instead they were heading to the show stands which were vacant.
“Where are we going?”
Her question was answered by a disturbing silence. She stopped only to be prodded on her back with a gun. She started to feel uneasy. “What were these guys up to?. They had by now passed the stands and were heading towards the show farms on the periphery of the show ground. She stopped again only to be prodded again with a gun. She heard the ominous sound of the gun clicking and knew that she had come to the end of the road. She closed her eyes and waited for the bullets, they never came.
“This is it.” She was startled from her fervent prayer by the voice of the police officer who had been talking. “Turn around,” he ordered. She turned slowly to face him.
“There are two ways to this, one is the hard way and the other is the easy way. Which do you choose?
“What are you talking about?”
The first officer turned to look at the other officer. “ She really is dumb or she is a perfect actor.”
“Well….,” the first officer said as he walked close to her. Then in a flash he pulled her close to him and started kissing her roughly. Before the shock could wear off, he had torn her clothes off. She screamed but nobody could hear. They raped her and then left her for the dead. It is only after they had done that heinous act did they release her. She passed out unconscious.
She gained consciousness as a tall Youngman shook her. She felt all her body sore.
“What happened?” the young man asked.
She tried to stand up only to utter a blood chilling scream “Don’t move. I asked you a question.”
“I heard the first time.”
“Who are you?”
“Are you a police officer?”
“I need to see a doctor.”
“You have already seen one.”
She summoned up all her energy and sat down. It is only then did she realize that she was almost naked. Her clothes were in pieces. She tried to hide her nakedness in vain.
“You said you are Sam?”
“Can you help me stand up?”
As Sam helped her stand up tears welled up in her eyes and all the emotions she had been holding broke loose. She cried like she had never cried before. Sam confused on what to do just did what came to his mind. He hugged her and like a vice she held him close forcing all the air out of his lungs. She cried until the tears could no longer trickle down her soft cheeks Sam did all he could to comfort her. After she had cooled down, Sam disengaged himself slowly.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Don’t be it’s alright. You can’t go back to the camp like that you will have to use my clothes.” He took off his t-shirt and trousers only to be left in a vest and a short.
“Take these please.”
She looked at him and he nodded his head. She took the clothes and in a voice that if he hadn’t been keen couldn’t have heard said “Thanks you.”
“Hey, you can now turn around, “She called.
She had already worn his clothes and looked rather funny. He smiled.
“You are laughing at me.”
“No… you look funny.” With that he supported her as they ambled to the camp.
“I have to see a doctor.”
“You forgot? I am a doctor.”
“You don’t look like a doctor. What kind of a doctor wears torn jeans and grows His beard?”
They walked past tents and shabbily dressed children playing in the open fields.
“There is definitely going to be an outbreak of cholera.”
Jessie didn’t have an idea of where she was being taken. When she asked him, he told her he was taking her to the hospital. They walked on silently as people stared at them walking hand in hand.
“This is my tent.”
“What? …. You didn’t say you were bringing me to your tent. You pervert… You… think that I am in this state so I’m not reasoning? You want to take advantage of me? Oh my God, why do you bring the evil men my way?”
“You think I would rape an already raped woman? And not by one man, but by two?”
“What?… You know what happened?”
“Yes and let’s get you inside so I can treat you. I use this tet as a special clinic.”
They entered in the tent, where she lay on a bed.
She talked as he examined and treated her. “Those ….. Animals raped me. I can’t believe it. The very … people who should protect us. What can I do? They will kill me if I dare report them and then they are the police to whom do you report?” She talked and talked asking rhetorical questions which Sam ignored.
“You are good to go now.”
“No need, just doing my work.”
She took his hand in hers and pressed it.
“I am sorry for thinking that you wanted to rape me.”
“It is alright I understand. I don’t bring my patients here but I couldn’t risk your life. I didn’t want then to know that I had taken you in.”
“Oh … by the way I’m Jessie.”
“What? … how?”
“You are a journalist.”
“That does not explain how you came about to know me.”
“Well, a friend told me about you.”
“Jessie I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Duh! It’s about me and you don’t want to tell me about it?”
“Men talk about things and your name came up.”
“Do you really want to know?”
She burst out laughing. “You must be stupid. Were you following me when you saw what happened?”
“I usually go for a walk. So while jogging I saw you and the police officers. I didn’t notice anything wrong, so I thought you were just walking. But when they came back alone I got suspicious. So I went where I had seen them come from.”
“Thank you again.”
As she walked out of the tent slowly Sam followed her.
“Don’t you have patients?”
“You are a patient”, she smiled. They walked in silence to where her tent had been. They found that her tent wasn’t there and her personal belongings disarranged. lucky enough she never kept her writing pads there.
She stood frozen not knowing what to do.
“I’m sorry,” Sam said after a long moment of silence.
“Why did God let this to happen to me?”
Sam moved and tried to look for anything they could salvage he found out that most of things could not be used. Since the sewer water was now passing exactly where the tent had been.
“This trench was diverted,” he concluded. He looked up to find Jessie still frozen, “Jessie.”
“My life is over where am I supposed to go? What will I do?” Sam who was well over six feet stooped so that he could look at her face.
“No, you are alive. These are challenges that are easily overcomed by great women like you. It is only in moments of crisis that great people are known. You are going to survive. This is what you should do, write down everything that happens in this camp. Don’t cower at all, that is what they want you to do, don’t throw in the towel. I believe in you and don’t let me down. Okay?”
“Okay, where do I sleep?”
“That is the least of your problems we need you to get this story out. You can Sleep in my tent.”
“I can’t share a tent with you.”
“I don’t really sleep there, I am always attending to patients at night in the clinic. But if I don’t have patients I do sleep there. Anyway I don’t have a choice?” She smiled over that and then said, “I guess I will need to share the tent with you. I don’t think I can sleep alone.”
“You have nothing to fear from me.”
She smiled. “I don’t believe you. A man is a man and for how long have I known you?”
“You will need to buy everything including clothes.”
“That’s a problem. My money is definitely gone.”
“I can help you with that.”
“What!! Prince Charming, where were you?”
“I was here. Sometime you search for something far and wide while you have it under your nose.”
“Who said I was searching?”
“You don’t have to deny it.”
“Okay, what do you want from me you can’t be just Mr. Nice guy.”
“What is wrong with women? Why do you jump to C while we are still at A? Cant a man be nice without needing anything?”
“Very few men can.”
“I guess that’s why am not nice to ladies because they always conclude wrongly. But there is something I want from you.”
“I want you to write everything that happened in this damn camp in painstaking detail and if possible portray it graphically. Will you do that for me?”
“Well I’m a bit surprised, I didn’t expect that request, but for you I will do anything.”
As she was about to answer, they saw a woman running towards them. She immediately recognized the form of Muthoni running towards them “Jessie, help me … please,” she panted.
“My child is dying,” she unwrapped the buddle she was holding to reveal the shriveled body of her child. Sam looked at the child once and looked at her.
“The child needs a drip.”
“Do you have it?”
“There are some supplies at my tent; they can help.”
They all dashed to his tent. It was only after he had fixed the drip that they relaxed.
“I feared that I wouldn’t find you after the police took you away” she smiled. “Oh, they released me.”
“Those police officers are not human. You are lucky if they let you go just like that.”
“They have been raping people all around the camp and it seems their civilian brothers have taken the cue. Yesterday night there were three incidences of gang rape in the camp.”
They both stared at her. They had not heard anything about gang rape in the camp.
“Did those ladies go for treatment?”
“Not that am aware of I had problems of my own, I didn’t have food. What else could I do?. I have children……….. Jessie to… What could I do?” Jessie hugged her as she broke down into tears. Sam looked at them quietly. He had no clue why she was crying but he kept quiet”. We could have died of hunger.”
“I understand you had to do it. Did you use my protection?”
It is only then that Sam realized what had happened and Jessie had asked the question intetionally.
“No, where is the money for that and furthermore they hate those things.”
Sam already knew that women in the camp were offering sex in exchange for money but he had not handled a real case.
“I will have to treat you for any infections and give you pregnancy prevention drugs then I will refer you to a voluntary counseling and testing centre. That night Jessie could not sleep. She turned and tossed all over. The sleeping bag that Sam had offered was very comfortable yet she couldn’t sleep. She listened to the quiet shallow breathing of Sam and realized he wasn’t a sleep also. He had re-arranged his tent so that he slept next to the entrance.
“Sam,” she called.
“I can’t sleep.”
“I know. You need counseling after what happened you also need to be tested, but the good thing is I have already given you H.I.V prevention medication.”
“Why can’t you sleep?”
“I am a light sleeper. You woke me up.”
“Liar, is it because am here?”
‘Well…… partly yes. I am alert in case anybody tries anything. Try to sleep now I am going to try to get the proverbial forty winks.” She listened for him to start breathing heavily but to her amusement he never slept.
The following morning she woke up to find Sam preparing breakfast outside the tent. She had slept at some point, she didn’t know when. ‘
Morning,” she shouted. Sam turned around and smiled. “Hey beautiful, how was your night?”
“Don’t worry, you shall be right,” he said as he gave her a cup of tea. They went in to take breakfast.
“Jessie you have to leave the cam. Go to Nairobi and make sure whatever is happening here is put in the public domain.”
“The roads are blocked we have been cut off. No one can leave Eldoret without police escort.”
“Let me worry about that. I have a plan but you have to assure me that you will go.”
“Aren’t you going with me?”
“Look, am a Kikuyu. I can’t make it out of here alive.”
“I can’t leave without you.”
“You have to go. Take my diary, you will find everything you need to know.”
The diary was a voluminous book that Jessie didn’t have any hope of reading through. I will make arrangement for your transport.
“Sam I am not leaving without you. They are going to kill you I …”
“Jessie listen you have…”
“I’m not listening. I will …”
“Why do you care if I live or die?”
She didn’t answer but instead she moved to where he was sitting and hugged him.” You are the only family I have got. I can’t bear losing you.”
“Oh! No. there is no time for feelings and even if there was time this is not the time”. A lot of people’s lives are in jeopardy if you do nothing. You might think that you are not a leader but do your small part to the best of your ability. This is your service to the country, do it in the name of the country.”
“I am disillusioned by what they call the country. I only believe in individuals like you.”
“I am touched but don’t worry about me.”
That evening Sam arranged for an ambulance to take a seriously ill patient to Nairobi. That patient was none other than Jessie. She couldn’t leave without a fight.
“Sam please come with me.” He shook his head adamantly.
She could not believe it. She had cried the whole day, begged, threw tantrums and anything she thought to no avail. He wiped her tears using his hands and when she looked at him she realized that tears had welled up in his eyes also. She could not contain herself. She threw herself in his arms.
“Promise me that you will come to Nairobi alive.”
Then surprisingly she kissed him. He disentangled himself. Tears were now flowing freely down his cheeks.
‘You have a vehicle to catch.” He turned around and started walking away. She stood and looked then she ran after him. “Sam is this it? You are staying?” he nodded.
She kissed him again this time passionately until Sam had to pull away “Jessie, you are endangering my life by staying here” she turned around and walking into the waiting van. Oh their way to Nairobi they passed mobs of youths who had erected barriers using stones and burning tyres. Villages and small shopping centers all burned to ashes. The damage was severe.
On the day that Jessie’s story was being aired on all T.V stations and radios. Sam was on his way to Nairobi.
The government had arranged transportation of the displaced persons to Nairobi. He sat glued to the screen in the bus they were traveling in. Jessie was there giving interviews. There was even a talk about her writing a book. He felt proud that she had done what he had believed she could do. Then out of nowhere she said. “I know very many people credit me with this but the man you should credit is not here. I can’t mention his name because of his safety but he knows himself. I know you are watching this wherever you are. You made a promise, please fulfill it. I know many people fear to say what they ought to say when they have the time. I am not going to repeat that mistake. I have been regretting all through why I never told you. May be I feared your reaction but I know I should have said it. I love you more than you can comprehend…. So long until we meet.”
Sam wiped away some of the tears that had welled in his eyes. He, the man, should have told her what he felt. He had all along thought that she had forgotten about him.
One year later.
Jessie was receiving an international award for excellence in conflict journalism. In the audience sat Sam looking on proud as a parent witnessing the success of his child. He was not listening to the speech until she called his name.
“…. Sam is the man who indeed is entitled to this award. To my husband Sam I owe everything that I have achieved. This award is for you…. Come.” He walked to the podium as cameras flashed all over. “Take it….. Let it be known that almost all the police officers involved are now behind bars because of the evidence that he collected.”
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