Celebrating East African Writing!
The journey had begun like no other. It was not like those good time journeys mum and Papa prepared me for during December holidays to go for holiday at the coast. Yes, this was December but all was strange and very different. It was in the middle of the night, one chilly silent night. I had been sleeping and was woken up by shouts and screams from outside our house. I wondered what was going on because we had slept peacefully after eating chicken and rice. I even remembered my Papa say it was going to be a historic day because of the general election. My mother was there beside my bed, shaking. You cannot believe it. Something historic had happened but not the way Papa had expected. Sophia this story is going to make me cry but I have to write.
As I rubbed my eyes my mother hurriedly went around my room collecting things and stuffing them in a big black leather bag, others in a brown suitcase until it bulged and could not close. Then she came to me.
“We are going away.” She said looking away. Her voice was sad.
“Away from home?” I asked with pity for her sadness
“Michael, it is sad that we have to, do you hear those screams from outside”
“What are they for?”
“There is no peace and when there is no peace there is no love as the bible says. Good boy, Michael.”
I had never seen my mother so sad in all my life even as she said those words
“Things are bad, my son, things are really bad.”
I did not understand
Her voice was hoarse I could see she was preventing tears from falling. She never wanted to cry before me, I know you don’t know that Sophia. So, I picked my toy cars, my books, and the picture I took with you when we had last year’s Christmas party with my cousins from Nairobi and stuffed them into my school bag. My mother gave me a heavy woolen sweater and a pair of jeans trousers and leather boots to wear. I remember that’s when you came in looking scared. Then my Papa came in too. He was looking scared and that scared me. My Papa had never looked scared from the time some thieves had invaded our farm. He had picked up his gun and threatened to shoot them all but that day something really seemed to scare Papa and I wondered where his gun was.
“What is it Papa?” I asked.
But he gave me a long look and grabbed us, hugging us tight, something he had never done.
“All will be okay, my family, all will be okay”
But his hoarse voice told me he was lying. All was not going to be normal.
“Papa, are you scared?”
“No, I am not.”
“But you don’t have a gun.”
“They are not thieves’ son, they are killers”
Before he answered there was a loud knock. Then a commanding voice
“That’s Inspector Omondi, come with everything the security escort is here.” Papa said.
“But Papa, we can’t leave Sophia” I cried
“Come, she will find some help.” my mother said to me.
“Come, we are going to a safe place, Sophia will take care of herself.”
My Papa was reassuring
Sophia you must have heard this because you ran away immediately as we went out to the waiting security vehicles in front of our house. I tried to come after you but you were gone. I began to cry. My mother took me into her arms. It was hard to comfort me nobody understood the closeness I had with you. I had no brother and home was boring without you.
I miss you, Sophia. I can never forget what I saw, so many security men with guns in our compound and other compounds in our neighrbourhood. All were talking in low tones. There was noise all over and I saw bonfires in the Rift valley hills towards the Nandi escarpment. It was like what I sometimes saw on TV or a movie on Sundays after church. It was scary and I closed my ears so that I could not to hear the neighbours scream. Soon we were in our Ford Pick-Up Truck and driving off from Kapsabet.
I missed you as I watched through the grills at the back of our old Ford Truck. My mother cuddled me but all I did was cry. Cry and cry until tears did dry and I just looked behind me in a convoy of Army land rovers, and a helicopter hovering above our convoy. There were also long vehicles in the convoy; I heard children crying and mothers’ telling them that they were going to be safe. It was painful and I remembered the long journey from you so hurriedly done. I got tired and slept.
I woke up to find myself in a bundle of blankets.
“Where are we mum?”
Was the first question I asked, she was looking down at me pleading with her eyes that I ask her no more questions. But you know me Sophia I don’t stop when I want to know.
“Mum, where are we?”
“Nakuru IDP camp”
“Yes, son we are in a camp where people who have lost houses property and relatives are. Internally Displaced People.”
“But we didn’t lose anything mama!”
“They were coming for us, they were coming to kill us and burn our house just like they did to those children in a church in Eldoret.”
A tear dropped from her eyes
“So the police saved us?”
“I will write a letter mum!”
You cannot imagine, Sophia when I told my mother I was going to write you this letter she laughed. She knows I don’t know how to write a letter. Nobody understands why we are so close friends anyway. It is only us who know.
I am shocked Sophia. I am confused. I feel so lonely right now, I miss you. Sophia, I was forced to part from you. I don’t even go to school because there is no school in the camp. I wake up and remember you and write everyday in my little book anything to make me forget what I have seen. Sophia, these words to you I write. How you always played with me when I was eating breakfast, not anymore. I hope you are still alive. I asked mother why we left home in a hurry to live like refugees we see on CNN. She told me politics and tribalism. That if we had stayed longer our house would have been burnt she said we were lucky to escape alive because our neighbors’ houses had been burnt.
“What is tribalism, Papa?” I yapped when we were having breakfast if I can call it that. It was one morning in Nakuru Internally Displaced People’s camp (IDP).We are IDPs for your information, mother told me it means we are refugees in our own country.
“Eat first.” was my Papa’s initial reaction
“Papa I just want to know. Mama said we are here because of tribalism.”
“Okay, it is when one tribe hates another tribe because of selfishness and greed.”
“Is it true mama?”
My mother just nodded
“So what is our tribe and is it selfish?”
“Kenya is our tribe, our nation, and it is selfless, just and peace loving. That is why we have our national anthem and loyalty pledge. Remember the national anthem my son.”
“Oh God of all creation.
Bless this our land and nation,
Justice be our shield and defender,
May we dwell in unity peace and liberty,
Plenty be found within our borders.”
My mother looked at Papa harshly. I guess she really wanted him to tell me something else.
Can you imagine just because we belong to a different tribe they were going to kill us in Kapsabet? So I asked mama if we would come home for you and she just kept quite as days passed in the camp. Then I asked her how my friends from school were doing back there. She shouted at me
“They are not friends, Michael, friends can not chase us from our land, and friends can not burn our house! They are enemies from the other tribe.”
I did not want to shut up so I nagged her more and this is what I asked next.
“Mama, for how long will we live in this horrible place that is so lonely? I miss Sophia.”
She kept quite then she stared into my eyes sadly before saying
“That is for the politicians to decide. We are helpless son, we are only little people the big people are quarrelling and we the grass are suffering.”
I don’t know why she was quiet afterwards.
Sophia I can’t say how life has been or is going to be. Papa says it is hopeless. Many kids are getting sick everyday and dying. My mother says it’s an epidemic of diseases that has attacked the camp, like cholera, malaria, typhoid and others. She says because we are too many in the camp we are more than the available facilities, there are less mosquito nets, there is less clean water and the mobile toilet donated by Red cross is not safe.
Some weak ones have already died. We sleep in a tent and when it rains water soaks my beddings, the utensils, Papa’s books and we can’t watch TV since there is no electricity. We use a kerosene lantern and stove. Life is boring, life is really boring.
The Red Cross men and women have been friendly all the time though I hardly get to see them daily since most of the time during the day I sleep. The Red Cross people, mother tells me, are trained to help people in countries where there is a war or a natural calamity like the Tsunami. Apart from that they are just boring people, telling me everything is going to be fine when they can’t bring you to me, they cannot bring life back to normal.
I wish I could speak to the politicians and tell them how life is good when it is just normal. There is anguish all over. I cannot play, I have no friends and all the time I sit with my mother cooking or just talking outside our Red Cross tent. Life for me has become miserable. Every time I am thinking why this had to happen, why our politicians as mother says, let this happen. My Papa said that the whole country is not safe. But are there no brave people to save the country? I have so many questions like when will I go to school, is life ever going to be the same, will we come back home.
I know I will come back home and will find you home. I know what I will do; I am going to built you a nice little pet house big enough for your kittens. You will have kittens one day at least if you are not dead. I hope you are not dead. That is the only hope I have right now. Sophia, my lovely cat, my mother saw me write this. She calls it nostalgia. Goodbye!