Through the eyes of a writer

I am a communicator. I enjoy telling stories.

Sometimes I get to stare into the souls of people I talk to, when they let me; and each time I revisit a community, our connections rekindle again, no matter our language barriers.

Visiting Lamu again this time, brought a mixture of anger and confusion.

Anger because Lamu had been one of the most peaceful areas that World Concern operated in. Now the innocence gone, and with it lives of some of our partners.

Confusion because I couldn’t understand how the scale of grisly attacks was rising each day, and yet no one seemed able to contain it by week three when we visited. Frankly, I felt like a jilted lover. By who? I couldn’t tell.

Mpeketoni_shopping_centre
A section of Mpeketoni shopping centre

Our first day in Mpeketoni was bad; our second day in Hindi was terrible. I remember my colleague saying,

“You should see a psychiatrist.”
“No, YOU should see a psychiatrist!”

We half-joked, knowing well that we badly needed closure.

motorbike_Hindi_Lamu
Source of income gone

Listening to grim real life stories was sobering, especially seeing powerful emotions roll off adults so effortlessly. Men the age of my father told me that they were afraid. I saw families eat just plain rice as the only day meal, because they had no alternative. In fact many would go for days without a meal (and still are).

A teenager, barely 16 years old shared photos of such gruesome murders to an extent that my colleague stayed awake for nights, yet this boy was living with them in his phone; in his mind.

Although I got to capture stories with some level of success on the first day, the second became extremely difficult.

I had trouble concentrating on any more testimonies of human agony. The photos I took that day were either too exposed or too dark, too out of focus or too poorly composed. After each session I would ask myself, “what is happening with me today?”

Burnt_house_in_Hindi_Lamu
Karisa, where his house stood. Hindi.

Knowing that our resources were limited, and that the people in so much agony were ordinary people like me, was disturbing.

Bneficiaries

We ended our first phase of emergency response hearing the voices of hundreds of grateful vulnerable women and children whom we assisted. But we also left tens of residents trying to raise just bus-ticket monies to flee a place that reminded them daily of unimaginable horrors that had befallen them, yet they couldn’t. Also, many were hungry, and their mental health delicately unsteady.

Today, as I document each story, their voices of anguish and hope urge me on. I write silently hoping that my words sit uncomfortably in the heart of my reader to make them want to do something!

A Case of Instinct

“Am not feeling well today, something is ailing me.”

“What is wrong?”

“I don’t know, am just not happy.”

Although my neighbor offered me supper later on, I declined. At around 8pm when she (my neighbor) was having her meal, an impatient thought came: ‘Where would I hide if someone came to attack us?’ And I was suddenly overcome by fear.

I took a torch and went around the house. When I checked my goat pen, I thought, here is just a perfect spot to hide.

Monkeys congregate

Earlier that day, droves of monkeys had run towards our direction. They were chattering in groups. Loudly. ’What if they are trying to tell us something?’ I remember one of them was especially brave, as he ran right past us, then the rest followed.

But now it all makes sense because not one of them returned to the direction of the forest.

‘Why did I not I run away even after such clear signs?’

‘Don’t let these men shoot me’

As soon as I returned to the house, about 50 rough looking militia emerged. They ordered us to lie down and disassembled our phones.

“Dear God, please do not let these men shoot me.” 

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Miriam Mwenje’s life and those at the compound were spared, but she prays that by the grace of God, she can forget it all. At the time of the interview, she was making rounds in town, exhausted, a large brown leather bag on her shoulder. This has become her routine, before heading to Hindi Prison for the night. She tethers a handful goats here.

Due to lack of privacy at the compound, simple things like finding a place to change her clothes have been difficult.

World Concern has assisted to shield her from cold nights by providing a mat and blanket for her, together with other vulnerable women. 400 of them.

The biggest challenge for residents at the small Hindi village at the moment is in finding sources of income as there are little or no opportunities for labor. We are assisting, and the march is far from over.

3 Lessons on Fatherhood

June 15th,

Probably the most inconvenient night to be born. Instead of fireworks, live ammunition rocked her first few hours on earth. Besides, she was born right inside her young parents’ house, because going to hospital that night would have amounted to suicide.  

Doing their best now, they can hopefully reassure little Christine Mapenzi that it’s not such a bad place after all.

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Little Christine with her mum at Hindi Prison hall

As I interviewed her dad, Charo Safari, it struck me that, although just in his late twenties, he is walking a tight rope  – leading his young family right after the gruesome Mpeketoni Attack . Yet with a calm, confident voice, he detailed his daily routine, never realizing how deep his words sunk. . .

1. A man/ father is punctual

Charo rides his wife and 3 children on a bicycle to Hindi Prison every day. Despite the fact that he spends his day keeping his farm secure from wild animals, he ensures that his family arrives at Hindi Prison by 4:30pm, making them among the first every day.

Their motivation is to book an old cage-like piece of furniture, IMG_2585which serves as a perfect cot for Christine. It not only provides a more comfortable padding at night by keeping her from sleeping on cold cement floor, but it also enables her parents to hang a mosquito net on it. With high ceilings at the prison hall, mosquito nets are difficult to prop up leaving many infants unprotected at night. Charo knows this.

2A father sacrifices

On the day of the interview, Charo had sold a valuable item: his phone, in order to support his family of five because his income streams had run out. “This money (Ksh 1000/ $12) will keep us going for the next two weeks,” he said.

Among his daily expenses include a loaf and packet of milk for Catherine’s dinner and his two sons, aged 3 and 7 years old. “Today I didn’t manage to purchase any milk for her,” he said, fishing out the loaf and margarine from a black polythene bag. Further, he also opts out of supper, preferring to use their coffers sparingly.

 3. A father protects

The reason Charo spends daytime at his farm located at a potentially dangerous zone, about two hours away (on a bicycle) is to guard it against destructive monkeys. He hopes to salvage some during harvest season and put some money back into his pockets again, soon.

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World Concern has partnered with the displaced to provide mats and blankets to assist vulnerable mothers like Catherine (Christine’s mum) at Hindi Prison. Together with their infants, they can now shield themselves from the cold, drizzly nights at the hall.

‘Two minutes saved my life’

Lawrence King'ori

After a crisis, life changes in incredible ways.

Like I found Lawrence King’ori casually seated inside a police station, something few would do in an ordinary world. But this is no ordinary world. This is Hindi town in Lamu, Kenya. For nights the 60 year old would rather book himself inside the cold gates of Hindi Prison than sleep in his house.

It’s twisted I tell you. In fact, Lawrence has not been to his house since July 5th, the fateful night. On that night a gang of about 50 men was marching towards his house when his neighbor alerted him. He ran, ran and ran.

“Two minutes saved my life,” says Lawrence.

I would say he’s been running since, as gory images haunt him every day. He wanders around the town as if to try and feel normal again.

What-remains-Lawrence-Hindi
What remains of Lawrence’s possessions – a set of clothes that he stores at a relative’s house near the town centre

Lawrence previously lived on the fringes of Hindi, where a dozen residents were razed.

He reveals how life is shaping up now. . .

How are nights like at the prison compound?
Children cry at night and there are many disruptions, but we’re slowly getting used to it. You talk to the one next to you, until you drift off.

Why won’t you sleep in your house?
I cannot. The few times I tried to go back, I got a sickening feeling and my legs refused to carry me any further. I had to turn back. My neighbors who attempted, say that they saw fresh footprints in the area.

Would you return when your attackers are freely roaming about?

Describe the emotions you are going through
After what I saw . . . The things that happened to people I knew. .  It’s a mixture of anger and fear.  But you have to suck it all in, as a man, what else can you do?

Lawrence King'ori

What is your most urgent need now?
Food. In the morning we drink some black tea as we walk out of the prison gates. On some days, that is all we have for the day.

What happens to your farm now?
Even with a lot of food, it cannot help me. I have left it for the wild animals. I cannot return.

Lawrence is among 3,000 residents spending nights at Hindi Prison who bare cold nights, and though they have farms with ready produce, they now have to depend on relief food to survive.World Concern is currently assisting the most vulnerable groups. 

We need you, reach out. Please get in touch with wconcern@wcdro.org.

Lamu: The unfolding of a crisis

What started as an ordinary crime to the unsuspecting mind . . .

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. . . quickly turned into a disaster. A situation was unfolding right in front of us, and in seconds social media went ablaze.

I was tracking it all, silently hoping that security personnel would arrive quickly enough to stop the madness. But that took a long while, on a long and agonizing night.

Mpeketoni distress call

Mpeketoni calls

Too numb to call any of my friends, I made a chain of incoherent uncoordinated prayers, already shaken to do much else. Yet journalists were yet to unwrap the horror that residents went through, and they did a few days later:

Larry Madowo  LarryMadowo  on Twitter

Larry Madowo  LarryMadowo  on Twitter2

Despite heavy deployment of security personnel, the armed bands of about 50 men have continued to prowl on more defenseless men executing them in cruel fashion. Today marks day 40 of an unending scene of real life horror. The impact is massive.

I witnessed it a week ago, when World Concern set up camp to assess and assist hundreds of displaced people. Even though some humanitarian organizations have exited the area, it is time to respond! Residents need help now. We cannot sit and wait when lives of people less fortunate than us are at risk.

For me, this is a chance to respond to the likes of Boniface who cried out on that night. It is a priceless opportunity to assist families who have lost their fathers, and all they care about.

edwin kuria  edwinkuria  on Twitter

I interviewed Catherine, a young mother who bore a beautiful baby on the fateful June 15th. She bore her right at home, because she couldn’t dare to step out. But she named her Mapenzi. Now Catherine is doing all she can to feed and keep her baby, warm; but it’s not easy.

I spoke also to elderly farmers who left their animals caged more than a fortnight ago, but they have not returned to their farms since. Now they roam around town centres like paupers, some dressed in the same clothes they were in, that night. You have limited options when all you escaped with was your life.

They live in fear. At night, about 3,000 men, women and children seek refuge inside a prison. Imagine that. . . Here, they sleep on cold cement floor each night, or out in the open. On some nights rain falls, but the halls are too full to occupy anymore. In fact, rain pours into the hall through the dilapidated roof.

Roof - Hindi Prison

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A family arrives early for another night at the previously unused hall at Hindi Prison
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Early arrivals book their families’ space for the night

What now?
In the next few posts, I will share some of these stories with you. Real life experiences of brave men, women and children who are doing all they can to survive. They are trying. But they desperately need warm clothes, tents, medicine, food-including food supplements for children and psychological support.

Currently, about 5,000 people are seeking refuge in 4 IDP camps: Mzee Kamenya (80 households), Ndeu (86HH), Mzee John Musembi center (38HH) and Hindi Prison (505HH).

World Concern is in Lamu responding to this emergency crisis, and we need your help.

Do you have skills, or life-saving supplies that can support these families in some way? Please get in touch with wconcern@wcdro.org

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The cause of the current crisis in Lamu could be a complex tussle for resources which has manifested itself in the shades of religious intolerance, politics and terrorism – leaving behind a trail of disrupted lives, livelihoods . . . and a thick cloud of tension on what lies ahead.

By Edwin Kuria