THE JOURNEY TO CANAAN
It’s raining. It’s cold. It’s dark. Of all the places in the world, we are sitting outside the August house; the house which has cost us our homes, husbands, sons and daughters. The atmosphere is tense and at every sound of thunder we hold hands and close our eyes. We are terrified and haunted by our predicament. It has been a long day. We need to gather strength for the long journey ahead. Ten of us stand guard at a time as the rest of us catch a few winks.
For me, sleep is not forthcoming as I recite the rosary over and over again. My beaded symbol of faith is the only weapon that I brought with me into this battle and it has never once before failed me. My fingers, like the rest of my body, shiver unceasingly yet I can’t tell whether it is from the cold breeze or from the worry that arrests my every thought.
Tears roll down my tired eyes as I remember my five beautiful children in a small white tent at the Nakuru show ground which we and other “statistics” have been calling home for the past ten months; we who popularized the words “Internally Displaced People” are now but a sour aftertaste in the mouths of fellow Kenyans.
I picture Mwangi, my eldest, putting his siblings to sleep on the thin, worn out mattress that was given to us by the Red Cross eons ago. They giggle and tickle each other in joy albeit in oblivion and naivety. My youngest, one year old twins Adongo and Apiyo are sandwiched between their sister Shiro and brother Ochi. Shiro is so motherly and headstrong, just like her late father… his is a story too painful to think of. Soon, they are all quiet as she leads them in bedtime prayers just as I had taught them.
As I lay me down to sleep,
Lord I pray my soul to keep,
And if I die before I wake,
Lord I pray my soul to take.
It is not long before they are all lost in their dreams and Mwangi sets himself under the small kerosene lamp’s light to study. He wants to be a doctor when he grows up, so the upcoming K.C.P.E exams are very important to him.
Another bolt of thunder brings me back to here and now, to the cold ground on which I now sit drenched in water. A city council vehicle passes by and screeches to a halt a few meters ahead. Everyone is woken up to prepare for whatever confrontation is to come. Three bulky men step out of the old, rickety truck in warm jackets and worn-out army boots. We are immediately terrified. As they walk towards us they pass amongst them a packet of SM cigarettes and we are even more afraid. But as they approach us they appear less confident. One of the pulls out a walkie talkie and rushes back to the car.
The two begin running toward us but we are all too frightened to move a muscle. We have done no wrong, I tell myself. “Mnafanya nini hapa, Malaya nyinyi? Nani mkubwa wenyu?” (What are you doing here you prostitutes? Who is your leader?) It is obvious at this point that this is but a case of mistaken identity, misplaced as it is. I think to myself, these men must be so blind and disrespectful that they make such an assumption about 500 old enough to be their mothers, sitting in the rain.
Two of our leaders walk out of the group and go aside with the council askaris as the rest of us reluctantly resume our positions. I am keen to find out what they are saying and can only catch a few words. “… this is not our case; we need to call the police.” With that there is a moment of whispering as one man pulls his hand from his pocket and discreetly pushes it forward towards our leaders. Our leaders are obviously offended by this corrupt gesture and begin to murmur harshly. The men did not expect this reaction and they turn back towards their truck, leaving behind a cloud of smoke lingering in the faces of the women.
They speed off and I can already smell the danger in the air. The leaders run back to tell us about their conversation and just as I had observed, those blood-sucking hounds were asking for a bribe and did not expect to be turned down. And like puppies with their tails tucked between their legs, they ran along to the police to fight their battles for them. But we are ready for war, our cause being far much greater than guns and teargas. We are mothers fighting for our children, sisters fighting for our brothers, wives fighting for our husbands.
We prepare ourselves for the coming of the dreaded policemen, men of ‘Utumishi kwa wote’, service to all; all but us. It is agreed that whatever happens we keep as close as possible to each other and should we be forced to part ways, we are to congregate at the same place at the crack of dawn.
We spend the next fifteen minutes in agony, praying, and singing. I am holding on to my rosary so tight that my hands get bruised. I cannot help but think of the story of King David and Goliath and can already imagine what we are up against; dogs, sirens echoing into the dead of night, big trucks, bigger men. A still, small voice reminds me of what they are against and I am calm.
In my calmness I manage to drift off to sleep. I am too tired and stressed to dream but the sleep is good enough. What I wake up to is nothing short of a rerun of events as they were after the elections.