Drums of South Sudan

The smell of gunfire. The shots have been coming since morning. Yesterday the huge guy in heavy American accent told us that all would be well. But it has not been well. Towards today dawn, there were sporadic exchanges of fire. We woke up to shells falling and guns racking the wild of the night as children, women and men scampered to find holes where we could hide our heads. Nobody stood to wonder why a hospital was under attack. Amid those shouts and cries and in the darkness, we ran, sometimes knocking into each other and changing direction.

There’s a rumour that those who hid in the Paediatrics Wing were evacuated. Those who ran to the admin offices were all killed. Those of us in the lab have not registered big casualties. Only three shot dead. Plus a boy whose death did not come from a bullet.
We are clutched to each other, to shield each other in the hope that a bullet will not find us, and that if it finds us, it shall not penetrate. We are clutched to each other hoping that if we go back to the God who hates us, we shall at least go back demonstrating what love is.
A child cries somewhere in the heart of the hall.  I hear a man growl to reprimand the mother. Such noise is a crime here. Yesterday they strangled a three year old because the idiot decided to start wailing in the dark for no clear reason. We pretended not to know what was happening even as we heard the boy gasp and fight for air. In the morning his body was pushed to the edge of the room before someone got the courage and threw it out through the window.

I am a nurse. Or nurse aid. After Green Light Secondary, I trained as a primary school teacher. But the situation at Kakuma was dire and a friend in the WHO made me assist her in almost all the tasks at the camp. That is how I began. In Kenya, there were no big health issues. Here, especially in the last two years, we have been receiving people with serious physical injuries. I have stitched hundreds. There are days I attend to more than 50 men and women with serious machete injuries, much as that may sound unrealistic.  I have attended hundreds of civilians who fall casualties to fire attacks. Some of them go back home. Some of them I have seen die.

We never knew our fate would get to this. There was the fighting, but at the hospital we knew we were safe because we were restoring lives to both camps. Then they struck the first time. It was said to be friendly fire. But two Chinese died and a number of locals were injured. Then last week, one of our staff was caught on his way to work. I think he gave the soldiers the wrong answers because apart from being given the chance to text us at the hospital, they killed him and dropped his body on the roadside. Now it is scary.


People have been going away silently.

Foreign nationals have been leaving in the few chances that calm came our way. The South African nurse was evacuated the other day. The two Canadians at the laboratory were also flown back home. We have been left alone to kill each other if we like. Even though it is hard to believe, the hard truth is that nobody will ever evacute us because we are home. The role to find peace squarely lies in our hands.

I have lived in Kenya for four years. In those four years I stayed at the Kakuma Refugee Camp except on two occasions when I travelled to Nairobi on a paid trip for Duol’s wedding and the second time when I was going to take the flight to Juba. On those two occasions I learnt two things. One that Kakuma was never the representation of Kenya. Two, that the whole area of Northern Kenya would never be like Nairobi even in the next thousand years. The two regions are like day and night in terms of urbanisation and technological advancement. But what i now come to think about is how the two regions come together to call themselves kenya. They are one thing despite the seasoned inequalities that politics and nature have always done to their fate.


Last week they told us that some people were already moving north into Sudan as refugees.  Which was not a bad thing. But I thought we would be better going up north as visitors and equals and not as beggars after we decided to secede from Khartoum. But a person in war does not choose.

Fire continues outside. There is an explosion, followed by the cracking of heavy war guns. Unlike in the morning, there are no more human cries. It is like they have killed all of themselves and left a gun at either end to fire and respond to fire.  


I wonder. Why do we keep killing? At Kakuma we had Somalis, Rwandese, Congolese, Burundians. All of them said very nasty stories of wars in their countries. They were so horrible that I thought Al-Bashir was a bit fair he killed Garang softly. Then we got independence and most of us came back. Nobody just told us what we were coming back to. Nobody cared to tell us that we were coming back to moving graves South of the sick Sahara.

Yesterday I saw perhaps the most horrifying thing before I die. It was a huge blast. Then the hospital began coming down. We were on the first floor of the three-floored building. Many died. Others had themselves or part of themselves trapped in the rubble they couldn’t move. Yesterday I lost my left leg.

When we lay in that rubble, there was no tribe. There was no religion. There was no country or race. Just humans with blood pretending to have hopes in a future we knew would never come even if miracles were given chance. It was no need crying to a God we knew was too overwhelmed with the situation he could never save himself from it in the first time. In that rubble I knew what life is. I knew the cost of having a human, even in misery, walk on their two legs and live a life of their own.

What I need now are two things. A glass of clean water and a big hug from a random stranger. I want to live again.




Of Thunder and Smoke

She remembers the events in a smoke of memory that cannot be dismissed as too blurred. After all, it was her playmates and everything that happened to them left permanent spots on her memory. Fatu had come and said they would be going away. She had asked where, and the other girl had said just away. Far away. That they were going home.

She had wondered whether there had been a world beyond the market of Elureko where her mother sometimes took her when she went to buy panadol for sick chicken. That was the furthest she had known to be away. That was the end of the world. And it didn’t require a lorry to carry anyone there. She had asked her mother if there was another home for anyone else apart from the village where they played at night and basked in the moon. Her mother had only told her to go out and play. She had gotten so upset at the funny thing her friend had said. Perhaps when they grew up, she would ask her why she had lied of a possibility of a home away from this home.

Then the fever to go away had ended the way it had come. And they held hands and  went to school together. They sang behind Mwalimu Ellen during the afternoon lessons when the sun was hot. They lived for sometime. And then Fatu returned with the nonsense news. This time she didn’t want to hear any of the lies. But the other girl was adamant. She said her father had said that someone had said that some people were not needed. And that they were those people. She asked needed by who. And how would they distinguish between those who were those people and those who were not those people when they all looked the same. The other girl could not answer. The next day Fatu and Ebi were not there. She heard a truck rev outside their house and when she came out, only the smoke was what she could see at the corner where the road wound its tail towards the river. She tried to run in trail. But soon she was exhausted and she stopped.

She wonders how their home looks like. She wonders where this world reaches. She wonders if any single person can own a big part of the world like Elureko. Everytime she sees a lorry, she hates the driver because of what she cannot get off her mind. How could they drive away such beautiful souls from her life? She feels alone without Fatu. Fatu was her sister. Fatu was her friend. These days she no longer played. Even when her small sisters shared their toys, she never felt the taste. She sits aloof. She thinks of Fatu. Did she find another friend? Will she come back so they go to school together? It has been many days since. Has she shed her teeth? Did her parents die too? Is there even a world beyond this village and Elureko or the driver plunged them into the river?

She remembers the day people came to her home at night. It was about 8 in the evening. It was her father who responded to the knock and he remained at the door in conversation with the men outside. She couldn’t hear anything because they were whispering. Then her father closed the door and joined them at the table. But it didn’t take long before the men returned. They didn’t knock. They entered past the family into her parents’ bedroom. She could hear them overturning the bed and breaking their wooden box. They came to the sitting room, checked under the table and under chairs. Then they had gone away. She had wondered why her father had not stood to defend her and her mother.

She wishes her mother could die today. She’d have taught her how to cook and sit and walk like a girl. She’d have taught her how to sew clothes for the family and even make some money. She’d have taught her how to be a good girl and avoid flies. If her mother died today, she would die having taught her how to live like an orphan. How to run away and eat from the food thrown away at Elureko. She hears her small sisters play. She hears them call her to join them. She cannot.


Child of war
Child of war

She remembers how her mother died: It was Small Father who came with them. It was not many days after Father’s death. They grabbed her by her hair and hit her head on the wall. They kept asking why she had betrayed them. They said she had told people to come kill Father. I knew they were lying. Mother had loved father and me. I remember she had refused to eat anything after Father was buried behind our house. Now I was confused.
They beat her up. She cried. She bled. But they still beat her up. I couldn’t take it anymore. I jumped onto Small Father and bit his leg. He slapped me hard until I fell on the ground. I urinated. I couldn’t get energy to defend her again. One of the men drew a long knife and handed it to Small Father. He pulled Mother onto her feet by gripping her hair. Then he drove the brutal thing into her chest. It came out from her back. She threw her legs and hands. Then she died.
Small Father took me and told me he’d take care of me. He said I was now his daughter. He bought me good things and I played with my new our children. During the days that he didn’t go away to defend House, he would come and play with me and our children and say my father was proud of me. He would carry me on his shoulders and tell Small Mother not to give me a lot of work.

She wishes her father was still alive. To defend her. To take her to school every morning.

It was at night and Father had just come from his night shift at Factory. That night, there was an attack. There was noise all over as people ran. Father took me and Mother to the bedroom. He took the rake he worked with at Factory and told Mother to blow out the kerosene lamp. In that darkness, he kept telling us not to make any sound. Outside, people were wailing. They shrieked in pain. Even cows mowed if fear. Then I heard our door break. I heard feet on the floor. The bedroom door was whacked again and strong beams of light shone into our faces. I felt pain in my eyes. Father was contained even before he used his rake. When the torches shone on him again, he had been subdued. The men were talking in a different language. I heard Mother talk to them. She went to her knees and held the feet of one of the men. I knew she was pleading. But her pleas brought nothing. That night, I saw my father die. He wasn’t beaten. Someone just slithered a knife into his back and it protruded in his chest, opening ways of blood.

The next day, there was ash everywhere. Huts had been burnt. There was still smoke coming from the last thatches. Bodies lay scattered on the paths. Some did not have heads and some did not have hands. Some bodies lay on other bodies. Some faces were recognisable and others were not. I saw the head of the man who roasted maize for us at school. I knew it was him because the large birthmark on his forehead was still there and he was in his usual overalls with the picture of a child the front. I saw bodies of small children. I saw bodies of small girls like me and small boys. All lay scattered and quiet. I couldn’t believe that many people could get silent and immobile like that in just one night.

Many men walked on with bandage on their legs and hands and faces. There was blood everywhere. Small Father was among those who got off it unharmed because I didn’t see any bandage on him. But most of the others limped and cried. That day I saw big men cry. The attackers had injured and burnt. The next few days there were meetings of men because my small brothers told me Small Father was attending them to bring safety. But I needed not safety. I needed anyone to return Father back so I could hold him and ask him questions about Factory.

Her cousins are calling her. They want her to play. They say their mother will beat them if she sees Akwanyi not playing. She hears them call and plead. Now they have given her two dolls. But she doesn’t want dolls. Dolls don’t breathe. She wants her father. She wants her mother. She wants Fatu to come back so she could tell her that their school was burnt down and that they no longer go there. She wants Fatu’s mother to cook the food she used to cook.

She sees things in the smoke they do not see. She doesn’t want to play.

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The bus is full and we are squeezed very bad. A hot evening in Nairobi and a mass of humanity squeezing your ribs is not something you really pray for. But we are fairly happy. We are going home. Remove the traffic jam and we are safe in the hands of our neighbourhood. In the hood where we are known as that guy who gives loans to girls and women. Or as Baba Somebody. And even with the jam, Kariobangi to Kayole can never take an age. We shall reach.

The guy next to me is big. XXL. Which is why someone will understand my predicament. But he doesn’t give me time to reflect on it. The moment he sits down, he starts talking. He sucks the water from his bottle and talks about the city. He talks about poverty, crime, the heat and the congested roads. He is a driver.

When I try to get my coins ready for the conductor, the bus hits a pothole; my hand hits the seat in front and my two heads fall to the floor. But we are squeezed I don’t get space to think what to do. My companion senses this and asks if it was money that dropped. I say it was only twenty bob. He says it must be found because twenty bob is big money. He tries his spotlight. He tells me he sure heard the coins fall between his feet. I say it is okay. I have enough more coins. He says no, we must find the money which he swears is between his two feet.

He is one of those guys who speak slowly in a deep voice as if nothing is wrong. As if they are not in a city. His Swahili sounds funny. There is a way the Congolese make love with Y’s and W’s and this man is going bare and dry. I begin to think he is one of those guys who come to perform at Eastlands restaurants for a beer and a wink of Kenyan girls. Or that he is of that family that says they are from Congo and are selling gold by the riverside and by the time you realise your flaw, you are in deep shit and you are far, far away from your mother. Still I decide to be fair and believe that he is actually a driver.

Now after failing to get the coins, he sips from his bottle and calls the uniformed conductor for help. Mr Conductor looks at him with tired eyes. He’s had a tiresome day and won’t be taking more shit from people who pronounce Y like there is a hole in their tongues. But our Congolese persists, pointing where he knows the money is. He swears by Zambe’s eye that he heard it drop on the surface. He talks loudly such that everybody turns to look at him. The conductor at last heeds. He lights the spotlight on his phone and directs it where my friend thinks the money is. Nothing. Again. Nothing. I tell him it is okay. He will hear none of this and says it can’t be okay. He says this is December and there is no money. He repeats that the little we get is big money that should be protected with both hands. At least someone is talking sense these sides. The only problem is that I’ve lost so much today I just don’t want to have another hunting session with 20 bob hiding between a Kongomani’s legs.

When I give the conductor my money, something happens. The lady who has all along been on her phone lets out a cry. Her phone is gone. She is holding her chest and crying at us as if we have it. Someone dashes out and tries to run after the boy who snatched it. But he comes back empty handed and apologises to the girl. People click and hate but it is gone.

The Kongomani gets a story and lectures me on city thievery. Most of the things I agree. We are already brothers and there is nothing I will lose agreeing with him. He swears by Zambe that the thief who snatched the phone will never live a life.

I have seen purse snatchers live lives and laugh. When I was just new here our colleague madam went through the hands of such boys. Rounded her at midday and made away with the purse as unsuspecting people watched. The following day I was with her going home. We met two young faces who recalled her and started laughing. They called a third party and together they laughed at “the girl who walks with an empty purse”. Madam is their best friend to date.

Now we are close friends so I muster courage and ask the Kongomani his origin. He says he does not know. Again he says he isn’t Congolese. Has lived in Rwanda with the mother and at a time the family stayed in Burundi. Then Uganda. He doesn’t know his origin and I’m marvelling at how we became friends with a person who doesn’t know himself. Perhaps there is greatness in anonymity.

In anonymity, you don’t need someone from Mombasa to get courtesy. You don’t need to ferry cousins from the kingdom to have humanity. Humanity is everywhere. In the air we inhale. In the toilet. At the market. Humanity is everywhere.

It is early morning. The atmosphere is tense. There is this stray dog barking down the street. Perhaps it is complaining of too much food. It barks repeatedly and when a boy passes by, it pauses, then resumes. The boy goes and disappears into a culvert down the road. Everywhere there is the smell of rotting human bodies. Some more will be thrown this midnight. Every midnight a lorry comes to dump Africans here. Call this place Burundi.

It is midnight. A young man runs alone on a deserted street. The lights are scarce, but it is very clear his clothes are a mixture of fabric and holes, mostly the latter. His bare feet stump on the ground as he surges forward. He is to look back every other time. Then he tries to hide behind the garbage bins. Impossible. He empties one such bin, removes his shoes and slumps his body into it. Safety at last.

Moments later comes a small crowd running in his trail. They wield pangas and shokas. From their chants they want nothing short of blood.

They meet another group coming from the opposite direction. They talk in low tones and agree that their target is not very far away. Then they look around the bins. They see nothing. They see nothing until they begin to leave. Then one sees the shoes and thinks it a great idea to carry them home. On touching them, they are still warm. Halooo. He looks around and sees the funny bin. That is how our young man meets his end. He is asked to say his last prayer and the neck goes tsiokh!

Call this place Burundi.

Why do people fight? Why do people kill each other? Remember you can reverse other things but once a ninja stops breathing there is nothing you can ever do. So why?

You can fight and fight. You can kill and maim each other. You can do anything you want but know one thing: there are people in the world. There are people in Kenya and Uganda and Tanzania and Rwanda. There are people in Congo and Sudan. If you fought and killed each other so that there were to be no living soul left alive in Burundi, we shall come and inherit your country before the New Year. If we don’t, people will come from as far as Philippines and Bangladesh to live the life you were supposed to live. A Chinese Buddhist will build a temple upon your grave, oblivious that you lie under. A campus investor from Rome will build a brothel on your father’s silent bones. Girls will make noises of joy on your father’s head. A Zulu will erect a house on your grave. We shall all flood your former home and live there like no fool existed before.

You need to talk. You need to see yourself in the face of the other. You are brothers no matter how cliché this statement may sound. You are real brothers who belong to each other. And besides the biting truth in this, you are also on this earth on borrowed time. You and I. Even if you were to own the entire world today, you won’t live the next hundred years. On a certain Monday you will die; then rot, smell and turn to a mound of lazy maggots that will again die in the soil. When your time comes, nobody will look at you and say, hey, leave this guy because he supported Ideology-So-and-So.

Kenya was once in such madness. Look the present day. Those who were foes now shake hands and dine on high tables. Those who were friends now do not see eye to eye. Not that Kenyans are funny; the world of politics is. As we slaughtered each other, those we fought for were planning on how to unite and impose more taxes so they bleed more riches from us.

I attended schools where mathematics teachers were the walking versions of inhumanity. They caned you like a thief. They caned any place exposed. But some of them died. Some of them are old and awaiting death. Nobody is so superior to last forever. Not that if you do good you will last; it is only that it feels good leaving behind people who feel that you did them good.

If there is anyone who should not go to war, that is a Burundian. Burundians are next to Rwanda. They are next to Uganda. They are next to Somalia. They are next to Kenya. They are next to C.A.R. they are next to Congo. They are next to Sudan. They are next to Chad. And these are enough reasons why they should not go to war.

I know no Burundian is reading this. And if they read they won’t understand because Burundians don’t use English. But say it anyway because there is Burundi in almost every country and it is just a matter of time. I am Bantu of the house of Luhya, and on our journey from Misri we passed through Burundi. We left behind an old uncle whose bones were tired. We left behind a boy who was fascinated by the beautiful scenery of Burundi. We left behind a maiden who had not woken up by the time the caravan got on the move again. That is our blood that gave birth to you all. You are our children and our uncles and the children of our children. You are us and when blood spills, we lose.

Burundians expressing their rich culture at a function.

War is a waste of time. You waste time that you would have stayed happy. Smiling is such a good treatment – you lose this too.

We are all brothers.

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