Look in the Mirror

It is said your whole life flashes before your eyes in a near death situation. November 26th 2014 is probably the closest I have come to tasting my mortality. And it stank of cheap alcohol. I had just driven home from work that night, and when I opened my car to get out, I was confronted by a shadow with a loud whisper. And a gun. In that moment, it was not the life I have lived that flashed before my eyes, but the life I wanted to live. I saw it all. The kids. The adventures. The book (s). The crows eyes. The bittersweet. The joyful. The falling. The getting up. The mundane. Each not-yet-memory tumbling out with a pang of disappointment at hopes that may never be realised.

I have always thought it extraordinary how your life can change in seconds and at that moment I thought, this is it. This is the moment my life changes forever. After all, any Nairobian knows, the experience of violent robbery is more a matter of when, than a matter of if.

I thought maybe he had come in behind me. Or got into my car at the parking lot at work and been with me the whole way home. He was so young. The horror of what was happening was accompanied with an extraordinary clarity of thought. He wanted money. I had money. I would give him money. He would leave. As he whispered to me to keep quiet, I gave him everything I had. Then he told me to get out and dragged me to the other side of the car, where he told me to get into the passenger seat. At that moment, I thought he was going to rape me. It felt like my luck had finally run out. How ironic, I thought. Just half an hour ago, I had posted this. Just. Half. An. Hour. Ago.

‘I think about it when I am driving home at night, my eyes darting to the rear view mirror always aware, always looking, wondering if it ever happens, how will I numb my mind to protect my soul.’

I screamed. But it was mute. The horror of knowing something terrible is going to happen to you, and there are people around who could help, if only there was a way to let them know. But you can’t. You are silent. And you think about your family sat at the dinner table steps away, completely unaware that their daughter’s soul is about to be shred into pieces. 

I don’t know what changed his mind. He ordered me to walk into the house, and as I walked towards the door, I wondered how I would alert my family to the fact that I was not alone. In a moment of sheer stupidity, I opened the door, shut it on the man with the gun and reached for the keys in the door to lock him out. My hand was met with emptiness. There were no keys. As I turned around, I almost vomited in fear. Five men with various weapons stood in the living room. My granny was sat in her wheelchair at the dining table, looking straight ahead, completely silent. The rest of my family were tied up on the dining room floor. They had been there for two hours already.

I don’t think I would have been so calm if I had known what had gone on in those two hours. How they had dragged my 87 year old grandfather up the stairs, beat him up, tied his hands and feet and forced him to lie down on the floor. How they had gone to fetch the iron, plugged it in, waited for it to get hot and then burnt my mum’s arm. Plugged it back in. Waited for it to get hotter and burnt her other arm. But I didn’t know. So I was calm. They had ransacked the house. Taken whatever they wanted. And when it was time to leave, they untied me and told me that I was going to drive them to where I was going. I knew if I got into that car, I would never be the same again. As I walked to the door, I prayed harder than I have ever prayed before.

It is funny the things you think and say in times of extreme stress. I asked them if I could get my driving license. The answer was no. I asked them if I could at least wear my shoes. This seemed to puzzle them. Perhaps I bought time, or maybe they thought I was more trouble than was worth, and so they ordered me to show them how the cut out switch of my car worked, before they tied my hands and feet again and pushed me to the ground.

When they left, I asked my mum….had they….? She said no. And you know what. You know what is so fucked up. I felt grateful to them. I felt almost indebted to these 6 armed men who stormed into our home for not raping us.

This is where we are.

In the days that followed, there was an incredible outpouring of love, support, warmth, prayers. As if people wrapped us in a warm embrace to prove that humanity is inherently good. To defy the ugliness. It came in a plethora of messages online from friends and strangers alike. In huge sufurias of food brought over by friends and family to nurture our bodies as their words soothed our hearts. In beautiful pink carnations that lit up the room. In company during mealtimes so we wouldn’t have to eat alone. In little envelopes of money so we could at least buy milk and bread. In spare phones. In coffee and croissants, because yes, if ever there was a time for chocolate pastry, that was the time. And each person that came had their own story, their own horrific experiences. And through it all, we truly felt blessed that it wasn’t worse. Because it is. For so many people. My mum is healing. She is an incredibly strong woman.  And in the truly Kenyan way of forcing laughter to avoid tears, my dad has already nicknamed her ‘The Iron Lady’

That it was an inside job is indisputable.  Perhaps I should be angry. But I’m not. I am sad. Our askari had been with us for seven years. My mum took dinner to him every night. He ate what we ate. That he would do something like this means that either he was threatened, and was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t. Because, let’s face the reality, men like him are disappeared everyday without even a bleep on the radar. Or he felt so trapped in this life, that the only way he knew how to get a better life for himself was to steal. Which let’s face it, is also a reality. It reminds me of a tweet I saw today by @kenyanpundit

‘The poor are up at night wondering how they will survive; the rich are up all night wondering how they will protect themselves from the poor’

But the brutality. We have unhumaned each other.

This is where we are.

I was going to write this piece as a letter to our President, because that same day, he had made a grand speech about security. A speech that dripped with such contempt for Kenyans, that he may as well have spat on us and walked away, middle finger in the air. (Also the fact that I am terrified as I write this is testament to the fact that we seem to have gone to sleep and woken up in the 90s).  But I am pretty sure he wouldn’t care about my story. After all, 28 families lost their loved ones in Mandera and the President posted a selfie. But that’s old news. We have moved on. Or at least he has. Celebrating his ICC triumph, and yet there is this. And my horror grows as I realise more and more, we live in a country of no consequence.

That’s why 6 unmasked men could come into my home, stay for a leisurely 3 hours and drive away, completely comfortable in the knowledge that they were protected in some way. I suspect my President would tell me I am lucky to have my life. And it is true, I feel unbelievably blessed that I am alive. That we weren’t hurt more. That I have my family. He would probably sneer at me, tell me to stop complaining.

This is where we are.

In a place where you should feel lucky that you will never forget the smell of flesh burning as an iron sears into your skin. Because you still have your life. Which is more than can be said for the 36 mothers/fathers/daughters/sons/sisters/brothers/friends/Kenyans who lost their lives later that week in Mandera. How low we have set the bar.

As Wandiya Njoya says in this powerful piece:

‘Ever since Kenyans found a way to rationalize that suspects of crimes against humanity were acceptable presidential candidates, I have been saying that something bigger has happened to us other than having a cool president: we have declared that Kenyan life isn’t valuable.

This is where we are.

Look in the mirror Kenya.

Photo Credit

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32 thoughts on “Look in the Mirror

  1. Another fabulous, brave piece… So sorry to hear of this traumatic experience… So glad you are all okay… Sending much love… X

  2. i had goosebumps … Reminder of what happened to my family at the age of 16 …. And yes the crazy daft feeling of gratitude for not being raped … Followed by a nonsense sensation of always looking around no matter how old u get that particular time of day will always make u cold … I hope ur family heals quickly prayers and blessings ….

  3. A heart-breaking story about the state of security in this country. I wonder: how safe do Kenyans think they can be when they elected a mass murderer for president? And now he goes scot-free! Ha! I don’t know how this country can be made better. We hurt for five years, but when it’s time to decide who to lead us into safety and prosperity, we forget all the hurt, and claim that we have forgiven all the criminals. Instead, turn violently on one another. We elect the same thugs, thieves, and mass murderers who had driven us into desperation and relentless pain. Only to be hurt some more in the next five years.
    As you poignantly put it: “we live in a country of no consequence . . . and our lives don’t matter.”
    I’m so sorry, Aleya, for the agony that you underwent. Stay well.

  4. I just cried!! I have to no words to say. I can’t imagine what it may feel like for you and your family. I’m really sorry that you all had to go through this trauma. I thank God for your lives and pray that He will carry you through the days to come with His abundant grace, embrace and heal both the physical and emotional wounds inflicted on you all. Sending you love and hugs.

  5. You leave me between a rock and a hard place, to like your post, which is so beautifully written seems blasphemous because of the henous act committed against you and your family. From one sufferer to another, i can only assure that time truly heals, you will not forget, but you will forget the fear, it will become a memory, not one that makes your heart race in anticipation of something bad coming your way. Im so sorry this happened to your people, I am one of those who truly pray for Karma. Malipo ni hapa hapa…

  6. Funny how in my own little corner of the world as this was happening to you, all the means to serve myself a hot cup of justice, I was going through a similar situation. Except, it’s not the poor that’s doing this, as I have found out, ’tis the bored children of the wealthy. Wishing you and yours healing and happiness as we trudge on.
    iPyro.

  7. I was reading this hoping that somewhere you say all that was a dream. But no. I hope you all get counseling. Thank you for the courage to pen your family experience down.

  8. It so sad! And am more sad to acknowledge that we all end up saying ;that is it!! My heart turmoils with pity on us kenyans, why don’t we all unite and take actions and make things change?? How long will it last? Do we only embrace one another when such terrible things occurs! Or can we hand in hand take measurements to put a FULLSTOP?

  9. Thank you for being brave enough to share your life, words and thoughts with us. It is with “our stories”, we heal, inspire and empower one another to face whatever comes our way. You give me energy even from a thousand plus miles away! I pray that you and your family heal and a hedge of protection surrounds you always!!!! You are Amazing, always remember that.

  10. Thank you for being brave enough to share your life, words and thoughts with us. It is with ” our stories “, we heal, inspire and empower one another to face whatever comes our way. You give me energy even from a thousand plus miles away! I pray that you and your family heal and a hedge of protection surrounds you always! You are Amazing, always remember that!

  11. Aleya, you are so brave to share your story. I hope you and your family have had an opportunity to heal from this horrific experience. May you and your family be blessed & May Allah protect all of you, always. Amen.

  12. Aleya, thank you for sharing this touching story that the world must read because you are one of many many families that are inflicted with such pain. May you and your family always be protected. Kenya, will someone change it? It is beautiful country that is being ruined everyday! Our hopes and prayers for all Kenyans.

  13. Aleya so sorry for your pain. I had always wondered if I gave up so much and left Kenya ” too early” . The losses both tangible and intangible causing angst you cant imagine. Now I feel I did the right thing. I am letting the past go thanks to your piece above but sad I had to do so at your expense. Its a travesty. Take care You need to think of the future now.

  14. It is very sad what has become of our country. It’s so sad to know that this happens more often than it is reported.

    I was a victim of a violent break in last year at 2 am in the morning and my life has never been the same again. I am self concious and i get goose bumps whenever i see my front door ajar even during the middle of the day.

    Life is never the same again but God gives us new strength each day and He is a just God too. The people whom i highly suspect were involved in the break in were cornered stealing from a neighbour a month after my incident and the 5 of them were kiĺled and burnt into ashes by an angry mob.

  15. Aleya
    I echo Jonti Marks remarks. So sad to read about such barbarous and inhuman occurrences! So many such incidents go un-reported just because victims have no courage or narrating skills as you have! You will inspire others to open up and speak out about their traumatic experiences! I hope that will spark wide response and hence attention to the leaders to take action. What a shame! A country with so much modernization and power can not assure the masses of basic security!

    A basic necessity after food and shelter! How does Kenya expect to advance if the people are terrorized and not offered protection by their own? Al- Shabab is secondary threat after the local threat! Is the police force underfunded to fight such thugs, choose to ignore such occurrences or are blinded by bribery?

    This problem need s to be attacked from two fronts: Vigilance by people and quick and swift response by the security. The happy and secured people of Kenya will lead to more productivity and hence growth of the nation!
    Amilo

  16. Firstly I am sincerely sorry for you.
    Secondly you make a beautifully thought out point.
    We have dehumanised ourselves,therefore allowing it to be considered lucky to be alive after a robbery.
    Screw that,quite frankly.

  17. Such an authentic voice. Love your writings as I also feel the same about the divide between the haves and have nots. Somehow I don’t think its the President alone who could change a system,it’s us “Haves” that need to be the change. How? I am also contemplating.

    1. Thank you Sippy. I couldn’t agree more. But I do think the way the contempt the President showed that day was unacceptable. He is the custodian of guiding this country. His speech basically said ‘shauri yako’ – which is the same as the attitude of the ‘Haves’ – as long as it doesn’t affect me, it’s not my problem. But yes. How do we change things. ..

  18. Empathize on the violent robbery however my humble opinion is that a president shackled by the new constitution cannot merit the buck stops here type of criticism…no offense.

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