The Mandera heroes

Monday morning, the 22nd of December 2015, a most beautiful thing happened. A group of Muslims riding in a bus in Kenya risked their lives against a terror group for their fellow Christians travelers. But please bear with me for a short introduction, a flashback, if you may.

About a year ago, November 2014, Al-Shabaab, the notorious terrorists based in Somalia, stopped a bus going to Nairobi from Mandera, a small town in North Eastern Kenya. They separated Muslim and Christian passengers and shot the Christians. 28 people lost their lives. Al-Shabaab is not at all foreign to the media thanks to the attack on a Nairobi shopping mall in 2013, and more recently, on the Garissa University. When unable to penetrate the larger cities, residents of the towns bordering Somalia become its ego-booster, as were the case of the bus attack. This group has carried out some of the most gruesome murders in Kenya’s history since the British Gulag. The bus attack incident not only caught the Kenyan media, but it also saw international media flooding to the capital, Nairobi, to narrate the story to viewers in the safety of their living rooms. Ambassadors and journalists confirmed that indeed Kenya was unsafe, a prime target for terrorists. Over and over, news channels repeated stories of previous terrorist incidents (a very different reaction than to the attacks in Paris). Worst of all, they created wide-spread fear of a country that was herself a victim of terror. And so, terrorists got the last word.

Despite the setbacks, Kenyans picked themselves up and moved on. The terrorists failed to divide them in the name of religion. Muslims, Hindus, traditionalist and Christians lived and worked together, side by side, as they always have.

But a year later, Kenya was to be hit again, hence this story. Early morning on Monday December 22nd, in an incident similar to that of November 2014, Al-Shabaab again stopped a bus to Mandera, and ordered Muslims to step aside, so they could kill the rest with no further consideration. But the Muslims refused. “You either kill us together or you leave us alone,” they said. Some gave the Christians their clothing, the hijab and the kanzu, the Christian women in jeans now resembled Muslim men, and would not be asked to recite from the Quran. The Muslims stood fast, willing to give their lives for the life of others. They were not from the Secret Service or SEALs, not even the Kenyan army. What they did was an act of pure kindness and courage. An act of selflessness – and expected neither medals nor recognition. They stood with their fellow Kenyans, even in the face of death.

As a Kenyan living in Denmark, BBC is a major source of international news, and this is where I first learned of this story. I could hardly wait to get home that evening to watch the coverage in the Danish TV (DR). News at 18:30, Nothing. I waited patiently for the 21:30 news but still not a mention. I found it hard to believe that such a story could go unreported. I wondered that if this had happened in a small town in Holland or Belgium, would it have gone unnoticed? Or if a group of Christians, or Buddhists, or even atheists, stood up against a terrorist group, would that have reached the news?

We all know that good news doesn’t sell, but if nothing else, is this not a great human interest story? We are happy to know how many teenagers cannot live without the social media, but where are the proportions? How did you miss a story such as this, a story that is – literally speaking – a matter of life and death. How did you miss it DR?

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35151967

Africa at the Louisiana Museum of Art, Denmark

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The ABC’s of Africa at the Louisiana Museum of Art, Denmark, 21st September 2015.

‘To be at the Louisiana today… what was it like?’ I ask myself over and over. It’s difficult to find words to summarise my experience at The Africa Exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Art, hard to describe such a mix of emotions. From meeting the spirit of all the people displayed so vividly on screens, in paintings, photographs, videos, from seeing the beautiful photos of the Senegalese Omar Victor Diop, from the noisy videos of Congolese speaking in French, Nigerians in their trademark accent, the short films of the colourful Kenyan matatus booming with music. It is from seeing new generations of Africans owning the space they occupy – without apologies. It’s recognizing African artists’ names on walls. And being confronted with all this on the European continent, where, sometimes, Africa feels all too far and foreign.

At the first stop of the exhibition, large maps of Africa hang on the walls; There is one, all yellow, no country boundaries, except for three small countries in West Africa in red. In big letters it says ‘No Ebola’ on the yellow part, and ‘Ebola’ on the red. Another one shows the size of Africa in relation to the rest of the world – or is it the other way around? A small North America covers Western Africa, China and Japan cover the southern African part while India and most of Europe fill the northern and eastern part. And the immensity of this vast landmass begins to dawn on me. This enormous continent of which so little is known.

The exports map catches my eye. Gold, diamonds, oil, uranium, tea and coffee fills the map, and then a bit more gold, diamonds and crude oil. I am stricken by the visual effects of this information that I have taken for granted. Like many other museum goers I stare at the maps as if it were the first time I saw one. I realize that this exhibition is as educational as it is entertaining – the ABCs of Africa. I ponder the relationships between all this wealth and war and the way Africa is often represented. The narrative of conflict, poverty and disease sells better, it evokes emotions. News makes us go ‘…and here I am complaining about my car, or my last holiday, while children in Africa are dying of hunger oh…’News may even help us discover our own humanity, however one-sided they are.

But today, we have other avenues. Avenues of the architecture, culture and identity of the continent. Nairobi is one of the featured cities, and so I run directly to this section. And oh, how it still resembles itself, Nairobi. The thousands of people walking fast and focused along the streets on a screen, images of tall buildings and hundreds of stalls in the streets, a video of matatus – the ‘graffitized’, celebrity-painted, hip hop-booming vehicles that don’t just transport passengers from A to B, but also represent a culture, a way of life for Kenyans. Your identity can be judged by the matatu you chose to commute with.

I see myself walking those streets, ‘hiking’ those matatus. I hear the booming music inside, see the heads of the passengers nodding in time. The conductor bangs the matatu, signaling the driver to stop. It stops wherever, picks customers along the road – as long as there are pedestrians waving it down the matatu stops. And all the traffic behind grinds to a halt with it. More passengers! More money! The conductor swings himself out of the matatu, hits the ground and runs to keep up with it. He calls young ladies ‘baby’, ‘supuu’, some smile others sneer, some swing their heads this way, and their hips that way, their jeans a perfect fit on their well-curved hips. It’s his job to flirt with all good-looking young ladies. Inside the matatu, passengers update Facebook and twitter accounts, taking advantage of free wifi, they maneuver their virtual world as they do the physical one. The conductor bangs on the matatu again – and the wheels go round and round as do the images in my mind.

My hands stretch towards the screen, and tears fill my eyes. A lump settles in my throat. My Africa, my Nairobi in Louisiana. On the screen the same clip is still playing, passengers jump in and out of the matatu as soon as it stops. I look closely, hoping to see my brother, my mother, or perhaps a friend. I recognize none of the faces, but still I look as passengers scramble to get in. I see a part of me in them, I have been there. I, too, have walked, danced and lived that rhythm, the rhythm of the Kenyan matatu. That rhythm connects all of us, we fit in, we bend, we stand, we fall and we rise. Despite our challenges, the matatu unites us as we nod to the beat.

Besides me, a young girl stares at me, but says nothing. How I wish she’d know how happy I feel, so overwhelmed, so proud to be Kenyan today. I’d wish for her to know how grateful I am to these artists, these curators, who have given my Nairobi a fair representation, made it real. My kind of real.

I move to the next exhibit, a picture of a guy wearing wire-woven glasses. I recognise the artist’s name – Kabiru, who makes eyewear art from Nairobi’s trash – has his work admired thousands of miles away. On another screen, a guy is talking about the famous Kibera, the capital of slum tourism. Of how millions of dollars have been poured into one of the world’s largest slums for years, yet little has changed. But is it true? He tells that a lot is changing. Improved housing, better sewage system, even ecological kitchens are coming up. Slum tourists, you’d better hurry, because soon the Kibera you cherish will only be in history books.

Nairobi surrounds me, images of people going about their business, images of tall, beautiful, shiny, dusty and even shanty buildings, images of street art, of loud colourful matatus surround me. I am in Nairobi. I can smell her, and hear her sounds.

I wipe my eyes, look around, wonder who else have these feelings, who else has been transported, who else is a witness. I cannot be sure, but they seem to go around Nairobi unaffected, like they did Dakar, Lagos and Maputo. Maybe as I would, had it been Stockholm, Rome or New York. I want to move on, but I fear that if I leave that space, the feeling I have will be gone as well.

But I do move on, to the works of Wangechi Mutu, a celebrated artist and the reason I came today. A long black rubber snake lies in slumber, consumed with materialism (stuffed in paper from glossy magazines). It has the face of a woman, as does the painting of the supernatural being on the wall. Her work, as she describes it, is the combination of African traditions, consumerism in the new world, and the strength, power and mystery of female beings. I look behind and tell my friend: “Here she is, the lady I told you about, Wangechi Mutu.” She asks where she is from, and I realize I took it for granted that she would recognize the name as Kenyan.

I proceed to Dakar, Senegal, the ‘Fashion Centre’ of Africa. Large, colourful prints, beautiful clothes, models, who look like they were carved to fit just those clothes, models with glowing ebony complexions, big afros, others with shiny, bald heads, big and small, the diversity of Africa. Even in this sophistication, there is no denying the hardships of poverty and war, but the vibrancy of life comes through as well, offering a balanced reality, from Nairobi to Maputo, Jo’burg and Kinshasa. I feel as if I am ON the continent, moving from city to city, with no hindrance by time or distance.

Incidentally, Kinshasa is where my own ignorance is put on display. Inside a small, yellow room a video of the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra is showing. I remember being impressed the first time I heard about it. ‘An African symphony orchestra, in Kinshasa of all places. Maybe Accra, Lagos, or Capetown’, I’d thought. Notwithstanding, most of us, who have lived sub-saharan Africa, have at one time or another encountered the Lingala music, the soothing, melodious voices of Lingala singers and the flexibility of their dancers. While the Congolese gave diamonds and gold to the rest of the world, they gave their beautiful rhythms to the African continent. But yet, even with that knowledge safe in my mind, it’s the story of war, rape, and disease that comes to mind when I think of the DRC. That is the narrative I have bought into. I expected to watch this movie feeling pity. Instead, I am filled with admiration for the cello players who build their own instruments from local materials, as do the guitarists and the violinists, because new ones are out of reach, and for the vocalists who learn the German text for Beethoven’s music and sing it with no background knowledge of the German language. They have perfected their music from love, they work hard in their day jobs and live in tough conditions, but still find time to rehearse.

Their determination and resilience is moving, as are the happy faces around them. It’s not as if I expected everyone to be gloomy, but that I particularly notice the ‘happy faces’ bothers me. Could it be the single-minded narrative that has obscured my vision? War is close to the hearts of the Congolese, but it’s not the only story to be told. As demonstrated by one of the musicians whose deceased father was a major in the army. Her eyes cloud over as she talks about him, but she smiles as she talks of her hopes for her son, maybe he could become a musician like herself.

The film ends with a concert at a market place, with hundreds attending, cheering to the sounds of Beethoven in Congo, of music, rhythm, Africa, my Africa, the enormous, poor, war-hunger-greed-stricken, rough, cruel, tough, smooth, beautiful, rhythmic, flamboyant, innovative, resilient, graciously rich and wonderfully diverse Africa. Louisiana has taken me to Africa.

I have been here since midday walking around several African cities. There’s much more, more sections upstairs and downstairs, more architecture, more culture and more identity. It’s now five o’clock, I need to catch my train on time, since there are no matatus to stop at my command (think of the chaos!).I rush through the remaining exhibitions, but finally realize I’m doing injustice to myself. I need to find another day, a lot more than five hours, to indulge in it all.

But before leaving Louisiana, I pass by Ng’endo Mukii’s Yellow Fever, a short video combining animations, human bodies, music, history, African landscape, dance and hair, all beautifully intertwined. In her short film, Ng’endo shows the effect of historic exclusion of Africans, when defining and endorsing what is beautiful. She questions the role of the media in this, and exposes the absurdity of using it to define ourselves. From choosing plastic hair over our own to the extent of harmful skin bleaching chemicals on our bodies. As Ng’endo eloquently puts it: ‘We seek our ideals outside our own reality’. And a little girl in the short film that sums it all up. When asked how she feels when she looks at herself in the mirror, she says: “It makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable.”

I, too, feel a little uncomfortable with the truths I have been confronted with today. But I still leave Louisiana overwhelmed by joy and appreciation of this reminder of the wonder and mystery that is Africa, and of Africans taking the centre stage in providing a new narrative. Thank you, Louisiana, for acknowledging my identity, for informing and transforming me, for taking me to Africa.

 

Rebirth

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It’s Monday afternoon, the sunshine is bright outside. But Chéri’s room is dark and reeks of vodka.

She walks around, alone, kicking the empties on the floor. Her fists are clenched, her hair’s undone, and her eyes red and tired.

“Only last week I looked eighteen, no one believed I was thirty-eight! I had two wonderful colleagues – Olga and Betty- and I had an identity. Look at me now!” she says, looking at the mirror.

“An identity! Ha, that’s a laugh. Guess you had a boyfriend too!”  a Voice says.

“Oh him, the cause of all my misery. He burned my wigs and my extensions over a fight last Thursday, a fight that he caused,” answers Chéri pacing the small room.

You caused it, you introduced them, at that party. You saw them flirting, and what did you do?” asks the Voice.

“Well, I made myself pretty, that’s what I did, more makeup, my red lipstick became redder, my curly hair became straighter, longer. I almost looked like Olga, who almost looked like Betty, who almost looked like Cameron Diaz. My friends liked the new me and so did you. Why blame me now?”

“I am not blaming you, just reminding you of the order of events,” the Voice says.

“I know what happened! I came to Europe to make money. I had to fit in, be like everyone else, and joined the race to look like you-know-who. With my lightened skin and blonde hair I made it as far as Friday. And you were quiet for the three years. You smiled when I smiled.” Chéri says as she sits on the bed. Her heart beats faster, her voice is louder.

“Then on Friday morning, they came to work looking like cover models of SHE Magazine. I hate cleaning hotels! Betty looked at me, her eyeballs almost falling out,’What happened?’ she said, while Olga sneered: ‘OMG, you look like an African!’ I was so humiliated! My body shivered, while my best friends just gaped at me, at my naked face and kinky hair.”

Chéri grabs her hair and pulls it violently. The Voice tries to interrupt, but Chéri yells.

“Then they said my hips were too big! My hands shook so violently I poured coffee all over and then threw the cup at Olga – well, she got me fired for that. It’s all over now!”

“It’s not over. You look fine, we both do. We’re the real us. Look at that afro, those brown eyes, that beautiful chocolate skin. Look at those supple, natural lips. It’s not about Olga, or your imaginary boyfriend. You have been living a lie! Starting with your name, Njeri. Which Mugikuyu woman calls herself Chéri?” asks the Voice softly.

“Arrgh, I hate your guts!” Chéri screams.

Finally a sharp noise, the sound of broken glass. Njeri just sits there, staring at her bleeding fist.

“So here we are, Njeri. Both broken and bleeding, but human. We had to be broken first to be whole.”

A Week in Ljungby

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Shiru did not notice the tears running down her little boy’s sweet face or her husband’s envious look when she waved them goodbye. Instead, she fumbled with the key that was on her hand, wondering if it was the right one for such an old worn out cottage. As soon as they drove off she threw her hands in the air, absorbed the fresh smells of the Swedish pine forest and the singing birds.

The main door led to a small kitchen, where she packed her foodstuff in the frigde, walked down to the next room and threw her rug sack over the Sofabed. She opened the windows, served a glass of red wine and unpacked her computer and typed away. This would be her life for the next one week as she finalized on her book, without a child to cook for or a house to clean. She would not have to bath if she didn’t care to.

An Open Letter to the Deputy President of Kenya

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Dear Deputy President – William S. Ruto,

You are appointed to protect the freedoms of all Kenyans, as per our constitution. But on the 3rd of May 2015, you stood at the pulpit in front of hundreds and spoke of how you will stand with the religious leaders and defend ‘our faith and beliefs’. Now when you said ‘our faith and beliefs’, who did you include in that ‘our’? On whose behalf were you speaking? I know this is a no-brainer, you say. ‘Of course it’s us Christians,’ and I answer ‘Oh you mean us Christians who are given the power to judge and condemn the ones who are not like us just because we are the majority?’ By now I know you can sense a bit of sarcasm in this open letter but don’t go yet.

Because Mr. Deputy President, you maybe religious and you may even mean well, but you have, I guess, missed an important part, there are people who confess the Christian faith and are homosexuals. There are other homosexuals who may have dropped the faith part – and who would blame them? – but still come from good God fearing Christian families. Yet there are those that do not see a contradiction with their sexual orientation and their faith, especially not with this civilized religion. A religion that says love others as you love yourselves (-but not if they are gay!- you add.) A religion that says, protect the underprivileged, the weak and the poor – (but not if they are homosexual! -you repeat.) You and the religious leaders vow to condemn a group of Kenyans just because you do not understand what and how it is to be them. You and the leaders decide that people who happen to love differently, have no place in this beautiful country.

I will not be counted among those that carry your version of the Christian faith, the condemning version. In saying ‘our faith’, ‘our belief’ You do not speak for me, should not include me, and you should not include the millions of Kenyans you spite upon, who are homosexuals, have family members or friends that are homosexuals or who like me just believe in the famous ‘live and let live’ mantra. Unlike you I will stand with Kenyans, homosexual Kenyans or otherwise to defend their right to humanity and not just their religious beliefs.

Your statement is not unique, not in your choice of words, neither on the medium of transmitting it. It’s become only too casual to make homophobic comments, statements on blogs, newspapers, TV or just comments on Facebook pages. And even though some of us do not condone it, we assume the likes of Binyavanga Wainaina will write commentary about it, they are the ones who have a voice on this topic. I too am guilty of camplacency. I scream to anyone who is willing to listen on women issues, about black people, about children and even about religion when terrorists attack our country, but when it comes to raising my voice against homophobia I sit on my hands. I now realize it is as much my duty to act, to be proactive, to defend the rights of my fellow mwananchi against powerful religious institutions and powerful government leaders as anyone else’. I choose to be my brother’s and sister’s keeper, even with more urgency now when the ones to protect them are the very ones calling for their prosecution. Someone once said that when you hurt my fellow human, you take a piece of my own humanity with it. That is why we choose to put our heads in the sand, we choose to hide from the suffering of others because it eventually becomes our own.

Without getting too religious, I am grateful for our constitution that defends the rights of every Kenyan irrespective of race, creed, gender and dare I say their sexual preferences. In your comments Mr. DP, you added that homosexuality was against Christianity and human nature. You might have a better grasp on what Christianity entails than I do, but I can assure you that homosexuality is as much a human nature as heterosexuality is. These two ways of being are practised by humans. Live and let live.

Thank you for reading my opinion on the matter.

Sincerely,

Gathoni

Airport Fever

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Airport Fever

I adjusted my fleece jacket and relaxed my shoulders again. I wasn’t sure what I hated more; if it was the hard chairs at the JKIA airport, or the waiting and the imminent flying. I tried mother’s phone if only to hear my son’s voice for the last time before boarding. Two years old he would be in a week without his mother to help him blow out the candles. I tried the phone again and there was still no answer.

“Excuse me.” said a male voice, it was from a man who tripped on my bag that lay carelessly on the floor. He had been pacing up and down, murmuring something to himself as if in prayer.

“Mmh” I said back and continued pressing the keys on my phone, a quick ‘love you’ message would have to do.

“After you.” The male voice came again, I looked up, and was surprised at the contradiction of his deep husky voice and his small body. He gestured with his hands offering me a space infront of him with a smile. I was struck by his perfect smile, his black curly hair, his familiar perfume, an expensive kind, I thought. I waved my hands to him, as to let him go. I then realized that he had no hand luggage, he swung a red passport and his IPhone at the boarding counter. The attendant looked at him, at his passport and then looked at him again and finally one last look at his passport. I looked at him and his bare hands, I wondered why he travelled so light, and to where he was travelling. The attendant forced a smile and wished him a safe flight. I watched him walk through the scanning, his face frowned at the beep when the red sign showed up, and he removed his belt and went through it again. As he wore his belt back on I saw the perfect line of his teeth and his brown eyes brightened up again.

“Enjoy your flight.”  The attendant said as she handed me my passport and boarding pass, and I with my shaky hands emptied my handbag for scanning.

A friend in deed offers more than Travel Advisories and Empty Promises

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It’s about time the peace loving countries stop just giving condolences and empty words of support and start acting on these words. It is not the first time Kenya has been hit by acts of terror, and it is not the first time America, EU and the respective EU countries like UK, Denmark flooded the government with promises to help in fighting terror. But after a few weeks when the dead have been buried and the flag no longer hoisted half way, all these promises disappear till the next time terror strikes and instead the same governments advise their citizens to make sure they do not step on the Kenyan soil when they are choosing their travel destinations. The diplomatic term is ‘Travel Advisories’ which is a sure way of crippling Kenya’s economy, an economy that depends highly on tourism for foreign exchange earnings. Now I must confess that it is my own personal observation that has led me to that line of thought but there is some truth to it.

I appreciate the Kenyan government making promises of clearing Al Shabaab off the face of the earth, but we all know that it cannot manage that solo. No single country has on its own won over such terror groups, Americans tried and failed, they formed a ‘coalition of the willing’ elite group to bring down Saddam Hussein, they needed allies to fight Al Qaeda in Afganistan, and even now in the fight against ISIS. ISIS is a slightly larger organisation but there is danger that Al Shabaab could get as big if Kenya doesn’t receive any assistance from the peace loving nations of the world. By assistance I do not just mean helping in training the Kenyan forces, or sharing intelligence, (although it goes along way) but rather making a proactive coordinated effort, a coalition of the willing if you want, and wage war on Al Shabaab to silent them before get larger.

Kenya’s problem

A traditionally organized army like Kenya’s alone, will have a hard time winning over bush fighters, or in this case, desert fighters. And especially not when the Kenya Somalia border is as porous as it is. The Northern Kenya, close to the Somalia border, hosts one of the largest refugee camps in the world, it has been feared before that terrorists have managed to cross over to the camps in pretense of being refugees. There are myriads of issues that make it difficult for the Kenyan government to fight over these terrorists who are ready to die as long as they manage to take someone else’s life with them in the process.

Now one may argue that this is a Kenyan problem and the international community does not have anything to do with it. But when I think of terrorism in Kenya in the recent history, my memory takes me back to the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Nairobi. This is partly because I am referring to the branded ‘Terrorism’, the kind that has ‘religion’ and ‘hatred to the west’ stamped on it. With the 1998 bombings, Kenya happened to be conveniently close to the Al Qaeda base in Somalia and USA was too far for the terrorists to gain access, but they managed to show Americans that they were not untouchable, albeit in foreign land. Kenyans paid the prize, with 214 lives lost and more than 4000 wounded. The Americans were quick to stand with Kenya and offered help with improving their security, but at the same time, they were quick enough to warn their citizens against planning their holidays in Kenya. Many other European countries followed suit. This notwithstanding that tourism is one of the biggest foreign exchange earners. Kenya suffered both with the loss of lives and received a blow to the economy as well. This was the beginning of many a travel advisories from both USA and Europe for the decade that followed. Kenya has since been the target by terrorists in both large and small capacities. In the last couple of years, more grenades thrown in market places and major attacks have been carried out, more sympathy messages have been sent out by the friendly nations and so has the travel advisories against visiting Kenya. To the friends of Kenya, kindly form a coalition of the willing, and dismantle Al Shabaab when it’s still at its teething stages.

For what it’s worth, I hope peace will reign in Somalia soon. Thank you.

What Does Religion Got to Do with It?

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What does religion got to do with it?

Terrorists have severally tried to divide us Kenyans, to create ‘us’ and ‘them’ when it comes to religion. This was recently witnessed in the terror attack in Garissa that left 148 dead and more than seventy nine injured. They first shot the guards and after that they had a free play ground, they had the time to shoot the 148 students and watch their blood stream down the sandy soils of Garissa. They took people hostage, released the ones who could quote verses in the Quran and shot the rest in cold blood. I wonder what goes through a human’s mind when undertaking such acts. What makes one think that some lives are more worthy than others? Is it really the wish of Allah?

I do not profess the Muslim faith, but I have been blessed to live in the same compound with some of the kindest people that I have known who also happen to be Muslims. I have had next-door Muslim neighbours who had nothing but love to their fellow human beings, regardless of their faith or lack of it. We had discussions of faith, culture and beliefs and though they stood firm in their beliefs, they had a lot of respect for my different way of looking at life and religion. And often during our discussions my Muslim friend would excuse herself and go to the next room and say her prayers when it was time to, after which we would continue with our discussions over tea and Mandazi. The faith those Muslim friends professed would never condone such acts of terror as we have witnessed in Garissa. I have known many Muslims in my schooling and in my growing up who are heart broken by this terror and I am sure that I’m not alone in those experiences.

In Kenya we have our problems but religion has rarely been the cause of hate or killings of innocent people. We have lived in neighbourhoods where the Muslim’s call of prayer would go twice a day; morning and evening without anyone feeling bothered. The same neighbourhoods had Christians of all denominations going about their Sunday services in loud singing, dancing and jubilations and no Muslims or Hindu, or even an African traditional believer raised an eyebrow. They would hold their Kesha (night vigils) and drum, sing and pray as loud as the Holy Spirit would possibly guide them to and no one really started a war from that. That is the beauty that is in Kenya’s multicultural, multi-religious society and Al Shabaab should not be allowed to destroy this very strength of our diversity as Kenyans. So I raise my voice to defend my peace loving Muslim brothers and sisters and urge everyone to be wary of anyone putting people in a box. Terrorists are just that, and they should not have the honour of defining our understanding of the religion of Islam. I condemn the acts of terror in Garissa and ask the terrorists to find another excuse for their actions and not bring Allah in the picture.

Kenya Bleeds yet Again

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Garissa Varsiy Terrorist Attack – 2nd April 2015

When I woke up in the morning of the 2nd of April to news of terror, news of fifteen – a figure that was to rise to 147 by sunset – Kenyans killed in Garissa at a university where most of the students were sleeping, my heart sank to a mirage of darkness. A host of emotions raged through my mind, emotions of anger, pain, helplessness and despair. Offering virtual condolences to the deceased families, praying for their loved ones’ souls to rest in peace is all I could do. With indescribable sadness, all I could was to extend kindness to the bereaved, and yet I knew my actions could neither relieve their pain, nor bring their loved ones back and even worse, they could not stop such act of terror from happening in the future.

I browsed through the Daily Nation, the BBC, Al-Jazeera even Facebook, I kept checking my WhatsApp messages just to hear that the terrorists had been captured, and peace was back. But no, the death toll had risen from the initial fifteen to seventy. The gruesome details of the attack were now flooding over the internet, of how the terrorists first killed the only two guards at the gate, and after that they had a free playground in the school that hosted about 850 students. They watched their blood stream down the sandy soils of Garissa. They had time to take hundreds of hostages, to separate the Muslims from non-Muslims. I asked myself countless times, I wondered what went through a human’s mind when undertaking such acts. What made them think that some lives were more worthy than others? Was it really in the name of religion or was it in protest of the presence of the Kenyan army in Somalia? What level of cowardice could make make an armed man attack innocent people in their sleep? What had those whose lives they took away done to make the terrorists feel so threatened? I asked myself these questions, over and over again, questions of which I knew I would not get answers to, questions that thousands others had, were and would keep asking themselves.

My only bet is that the fear of anything different by the terrorists could be the reason that resulted to so much hatred. Fear of facing their own inadequacies clouded their ability to reason, to empathise, and consequently resulted to murder. And that must be the highest level of cowardice.

The last hit on the refresh key put the death toll at 147, seventy nine badly injured and an unknown number had been taken hostage. This note is as a dedication to the Kenyans who lost their lives, to their families and friends, to all Kenyans whose hearts are broken, who may feel angry, sad, and helpless as I do. But even in my sea of emotions, I can only imagine what it is to walk in the shoes of the bereaved. I pray that one day, we shall all live in peace, and respect the value of human life and if we dare, be able to see ourselves in the souls of our fellow humankind.