|Posted by Slykiz Kizito Nk. on July 5, 2013 at 2:35 PM|
I remember Kakuma with fondness and childhood familiarity.
It was a dry place but beautiful in many ways. Apart from the moonlit nights and the romantic stars, the best part of the day was between six to nine o’clock. To get to town from my LWF compound rat hole, I could pass a long bridge that hanged over the lagar, a particularly malignant physical feature that had relentlessly expanded over the years, and had taken in it’s expanding bed; fence and houses, toppling them over and carrying them away.
It was a terrible prospect to know that one day soon furious brown waters would crush down that course uprooting trees, drowning people and destroying houses. It was like the people who build houses in Kakuma could not envisage such an eventuality. Little did we know that we shall one day soon be swept downstream like the fences, trees, houses, donkeys and…
I remember standing at the railing many times. I could watch the lagar, and people, and vehicle – 4WD NGO jeeps that carried obese looking staff, I could look at the buildings and the donkeys that did it in the open, and the children and youth playing in the sand, women and girls fetching water from shallow holes as men took their bath in broad daylight, and oh my…the glorious sunset – an infectiously lovely spectacle.
I remember Kakuma the dry place. No grass hugged the earth which was sand, silt and murram. This was a distressing reminder of barrenness that I saw everywhere I looked. But there were thorny shrubs here and there, panting on rocky places and left enduring symbols on the rugged footmarks of time. This stretched backwards from town and its buildings, and ended in the horizon with a series of big, rounded rocky hills that shimmered in the dry morning heat.
I remember the small rounded Turkana huts of grass and sticks, and these looked like a pathetic apology for shelter against the insistence of the elements. Perhaps long ago the gaunt men had learnt to quest harmony with the forces. The huts, and the earth and the thickets stopped after some distance, and the rest of the spaces were bare of habitation.
Apart from the nice people and my students, if you ask me what I miss most in Kakuma, I would tell you it’s the sunset, the Kakuma sunset. My sunset. I need to be rather good with words to describe the Kakuma sunset. The sun became something all together, a swiftly gliding circle of golden sparkling light, and it bathed the clouds and the sky with brilliant hues, which were not constant at all but kept changing as the circle of light passed this path and that ribbon, finding gasps of space from the clouds. This enchanting drama bathed the western skies with subtly entrancing flames that spoke of beauty and mystery and timelessness.
I couldn’t avoid spending time watching this ritual as moments passed and I forgot about the vultures that waited for my flesh, all too soon, I could sigh, deeply and walk on and smile – at times in anticipation to kiss my dear glass, which faithfully waited like a homely wife.
I remember the many times I took a good view of the legendary Turkana. I had seen them several times, but once in a while I looked at them reflectively. I wasn’t trying to figure them out – that was too immense an undertaking. (must admit i sometimes stretch my reflections to wicked levels, at times i see pregnant women and my mind begins to imagine how it happened and why and...oh forgive you me). For the Turkanas, I just looked at them and thought. They reminded me of long ago, when we were still young, our father used to invade our sleeping place every morning and whip us to gasping and tearful wakefulness. Then he would tell us about the importance of waking up early. A man, he said, should be up well before dawn, and plan out the day. He himself took the water he preached. Dawn usually found him standing in front of his house, all wrapped in a thick blanket and woolen skull cap, and he resembled an ancient prophet who had just completed a fiery delivery at the mountain top. None of us, his four children, ever saw the point of waking up in the darkness to stand in the chill, looking at our hens, goats and sheep.
I remember the Turkana man clad like my Dad early in the morning, but in dull-colored cotton sheets that they draped over their shoulders, and they wore tyre sandals. I remember the Turkana women in their traditional leather skirts, and colorful beads around their necks. Some wore so many of these, and they gave me an alarming impression of having elongated necks. And God forbid, there was this peculiar unpleasant smell that emanated from them, and it must have been disgusting even to themselves, for they kept spitting all over the place. The jet of saliva left their mouth and hit he ground in front of them with a purposeful force, as though it aimed to kill some small creature.
I remember the rows of shops facing the main road in town, and the alleyway that led to the backyard where my friend stayed, and the rafter stalls whose occupants idly sat by the sidewalks – the maize, beans, tobacco, matchboxes, salt… and the secondhand clothes of all sorts and sizes on the other side, the multi-pocketed military styled shirts which were a common assortment.
I remember seeing the traditional Turkana live side by side with those clothed in the latest fashion, and the contrast was startling. I saw Turkana men and women in London, USA and Paris-styled fashion leave their parents in Manyattas, sitting on traditional curved stools and wearing the leather skirts and aprons.
I remember seeing men swing the lengths of cloth that draped over their shirts; you caught more than a fleeting glance at their nakedness. In fact, occasionally I could get a fulsome uninterrupted view! The women, however, were modest in every way. Nakedness has always been a female’s headache, I learnt.
That was Kakuma the town, as far as I can see it, a row of business premises on either side of the tarmac. There was this other horrible side of Kakuma that always beckoned tears to my eyes. (I don’t usually cry!). The entrance to this side was a graveyard marked with stones, something that told every visitor that it was a place associated with death and/or the dying where my brothers and Sisters lied from Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia etc….
It is on this side that I saw four daughters sitting on a stone around a dry water tap, their water containers strewn around their tiny waists. (Don’t ask me what the hell I was doing around there). They were telling tales, each of them in turns, each telling her own tale. And these tales sought out one another in the spaces, and became one. They were profoundly sad. They had lost their parents and friends and relations.
The first one said: I was living with my parents in the countryside. People were fighting against the government, and they were being oppressed and killed. My brother went to fight in this war that has been going on for a long time as I can remember. He used to come back to us. Then he went away and never came back again. I have not seen him up to this moment, all this eight years and some months. What I would like to tell him, if he is alive is this or if you can find him, please tell him to send his acknowledgement by the winds.
The second said: it is my mother. One day we went to the village market, to buy items, as we always did. There were many people there because it was a market day. They bought and sold, greeted each other and talked. Suddenly there was the sound of gunfire, and people screamed, ran, fell down, ran. Some bled and screamed and died. We had been ambushed. It is the last time I saw my mother. Mama, if you are listening, please talk to me.
The third spoke, she said: we asked our mother; where is father? Our mother replied; your father? A dog ate him up. Well, now these days everything eats people? Is it not so? Everything eats people these days?
Now the fourth also spoke and said: the men with guns came and found us going about with our everyday work. Some had gone to the farms, and others to the grazing fields; some were hunting in the forest while others were drawing water and cooking. Then the men with the guns came and fought with our men, and when our men were overpowered they took us captive. They said to me, you are going to be the wife of the leader. So then I wondered, but how can a small child like me make for anyone a wife? I am still only a child. But they took me to the leader and he held me down and entered me by force. One day when everyone was sleeping, I woke up and ran away. I ran and ran and ran. I got tired and sick. But I did not stop. What I want to ask is: is God there and if He is there, does he see what goes on down here?
Memories of Kakuma leave me with a confusion of feelings; I have both sad and happy memories. I have listened to hundreds of such narratives. Every time I listened to a narrative of this kind, a profound and terrible sadness sunk deep inside some inaccessible part of me, and I felt like a man who had lost something very precious.
I remember when I first got to the camp and the main entrance welcomed me with anonymous graves marked with stones only. Then I could see the slaughtering yard and the goats and camels meeting their deaths every morning as I was driven to school; the camels roped and kneeling and grieving. It was sad to see the lords of the dry lands meet cold painful deaths like that, and it always struck me as undignified to put a slaughtering yard just beside an entrance road to a refugee camp (forgive the graveyard). The theme of deadness. What a theme to be placed at the threshold of a camp where people sought refuge, unless the word refuge is not synonymous with safety.
Kakush Sunset reminds me of many things, I feel like a runaway man. But the reality is always leaving in that place.