Try to put yourself inside that tent. It’s not home but it’s all that you have left. You’re preparing to step out into the night—pitch-black except for the moon and stars–and leave the little you have for something that is completely unknown.
Nighttime always seems more dangerous. It’s when the creatures that live in closets, under our beds, and in our imagination come alive. For Muchoki these fears aren’t the produce of his imagination. He has lived through rioting and death. He can still smell the fire. He knows that the violence has not ended. And, even if he is free of the dangers of people he knows there are other dangers out–lions and leopards and hyenas and poisonous snakes.
The Mara is a large National Reserve in Kenya, full of wildlife. I’ve walked across the Mara –during the day–with a Maasai warrior at my side. I saw a ‘flick’ of black and then saw the lion that belonged to that tail no more than twenty meters away, staring at us. I gasped, froze, pointed and proclaimed, “There’s a lion!” My guide replied, “I know there is a lion . . . and you know I have my spear.”
Another time I felt something slide across my foot–I was wearing sandals. It was a snake.
My guide–who was Kamba–said to me; “That would not have been so good if he bit you.”
“How, not so good?” I asked.
“That snake, it is semi-poisonous,” he replied.
“I know poisonous and I know non-poisonous so what is semi-poisonous?”
“That snake only has a little poison and you are a big man! If he bit you, you would not have died . . . probably.”
There were ten of us in our party. We moved only during daylight hours. We still took with us two Special Forces police officers–one equipped with a submachine. Muchoki is alone except for his sister. He has no weapon except a little knife. He would have felt defeated before he began. His instincts would have caused him to want to simply crawl under the bed and hide, to lie down and die himself. How could he ever find the strength to open that tent flap and start this trip?
And then I realized what would push him to go on. That strength could only come from one place–his sister. She is what remains. She is a little piece of his parents. She is all that he has left. He needs to provide for her and this need forces him to move forward. Not for his own sake but for hers. He knows he needs to care for her, but in a strange way she’s responsible for him being able to find the strength to care for both of them.
He pushed back the flap. The journey begins with the first step.
On that first day we spent the morning in the IDP camp. We’d heard their stories, helped the little that we could. He was now time for us to take our first steps. Our driver and vehicle were gone and we headed out to the highway–the same highway that Muchoki was going to walk–and headed toward Nairobi.
This picture of my real-life Muchoki and Jata beginning their walk with their meager possessions. I like Jata’s expression–almost happy and confident, feeling safe with her brother as they set out on their adventure. Muchoki is trying to put on a brave front but you can see the fear underneath if you look closely