I met IDP almost by chance. I was in town with colleagues trying to complete an assignment when I spotted a man with a faraway look on his face perched on a mkokoteni, a luggage trolley. Nothing unique really, but I was drawn to him. Turns out he had quite a story. What started as an inquiry about his job led to almost an hour of him pouring out his heart to a total stranger.
“Every time I recount what happened, I feel like crying. I don’t always do, but I guess today is like some sort of anniversary. It just feels so fresh.
He fishes out a blue handkerchief and wipes his tears. I wonder if he, an African man, is at all embarrassed by the tears.
When I fled Molo town with my wife and 15 children in tow, I did not imagine that that would be the end of life as I knew it. All I could think about then was getting my precious family out of that killing den. I did.”
“You have fifteen children, all by one woman?”
"Yes. You know back then, I had all I needed to take care of this big family; lots of food and stable shoe business. I sold the piece of land I owned in my ancestral home and moved to Molo with my young family to try build a good life. We had done well for ourselves, until it was all taken away. I was caught by surprise and I have never recovered. I remember young men I had seen grow up, storming into my house wielding pangas and machetes telling me to go back home. What home?
I thought I could talk them into seeing sense; the politicians they were fighting for were not worth it, they had forgotten about us as soon as we cast our ballots. I will spare you the gross details, but there are enough healed wounds all over my body to tell you they did not listen.
Nairobi has been kind to me. It could be worse, really. Out here I am called IDP (Internally Displaced Person), but I have a name you know. My name is Author Mwangi, and I am 63 years old."
At this, his colleague, WaKibera, interjects.
"We do not call him IDP out of spite. His story touched us. You know why I am called WaKibera? Because I live in the slums of Kibera. I have a name too, it is John Katana. I am 56."
Author laughs out loud.
"Fifty-six? I could have sworn you were my age or older. Doesn't he look older?"
I smile. He does look older. I notice his swollen lips and fat fingers. Just then, a younger man approaches Author and roughs him up a little. They exchange a few words as he reaches into his beige trousers and hands the man a coin. I ask him what that was all about.
"Ah," he says dismissively. "It is nothing. I had rented his trolley for a trip this morning, and he thought I was getting paid for this interview."
He resumes that stance that first drew me to him.
"There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of how different my life would be if the mess that was the 2007/2008 post election violence would not have happened. I imagine my boys in university or working stable jobs, not running after cars on the highway trying to sell carrots and tomatoes. Maybe my girls would not have married so early. My wife would still be tilling our piece of land. She loves farming. Who knows? I would not be here trying to compete with these energetic young lads over who can ferry the most luggage."
A passenger bus pulls up and two young men are already at the door.
"See what I mean?"
“What of the perpetrators of the act that brought you all this misery? Have you forgiven them?”
“Is there any other way to live? You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day and all the time. You have to keep remembering the bad things. It is too much work."
"I hear people making New Year resolutions. I just wish to continue providing for my family. To do that, I need to be alive. It is an election year again. The signs are already alarming, but I am trying to ignore them, if only for my peace of mind. There is careless talk all over, from politicians and citizens alike. It is like we have forgotten about the people we burned alive, the ones we displaced from their homes and the lives we disrupted. I worry especially for two of my sons. They went back to Molo. The stench of death is as close as the aroma of life. Is it too much to ask us to choose life beyond August 2017?”
Man is subject to innumerable pains and sorrows by the very condition of humanity, and yet, as if nature had not sown evils enough in life, we are continually adding grief to grief and aggravating the common calamity by our cruel treatment of one another.
JOSEPH ADDISON, The Spectator