Travelling through Kenya in the months following the political violence was, to say the least, unnerving. While the effects of the violence were felt throughout the country, there were some areas that were almost untouched by actual violent episodes.
My characters have now arrived in Machakos which is considered the heart of ‘Kambaland.’ Almost all the people are Kamba so there was very little inter-tribal conflict. The follow dialogue is not something I made up but something that was told to me, basically word for word:
“There was no violence in the heart of Kambaland.”
“Well, there were these two men who came to Machakos. They wished to instigate violence. We told them we did not believe in violence . . . so we killed them.”
“You killed them!”
“It was not me, it was others. They beat them with sticks until they were dead and then their bodies were set on fire. They had to know that there would be no violence in Machakos.”
I refer to Muchoki finding this “disturbing and reassuring all at once.’” That was exactly how I felt. I was so grateful that this area had been calm, that my friends and the children of the orphanage had been spared from the violence, but so unnerved that that incident had happened right here on the streets where I had always been so comfortable and felt so safe. How would I have reacted if I’d been there at the time? Would I have tried to intervene and what would have been the consequences for me?
The walk from Machakos to Kikima was the last day for both our characters and for us. It was the hardest day of our walk. We were tired–our sixth day on our feet–and the entire route was uphill. Over a distance of 25 kilometers we would climb close to 5,000 feet in elevation.
It was about midday when, passing by a school, I saw a little girl peaking through a broken board in the side of the building. Her face was perfectly framed. I knew right away that somehow this picture was going to work itself into my story. I smiled and waved. Jata would have spoken to her for sure.
It was interesting that Matt–who was behind–stopped and took the same picture (a better quality picture I might add) and then took video.
We had spent the previous two nights in the home of my friend Reverend Nicholas. He and his wife founded and operate Suvia Children’s Home. Suvia means “Take care of” in Kikamba.
I decided that rather than being in a school that this little girl would be an orphan as well. I named her Mueni after one of the children in our Children’s Residence.
In sleeping on the grounds of an orphanage I was putting my characters in jeopardy. They had walked all that way, passing through great danger to find themselves at the very type of place they had fled to avoid. I also, on some level, wanted them to be welcomed by the kindness of this little girl. Kindness, offering something when there is next to nothing, seems to be such a part of Kenyan life. This little girl offered kindness even more than she offered a safe place to sleep.
We were about halfway through the day–our final day. The sun was hot and our path was uphill. A car slowed down and on the narrow road ahead of us jockeyed back and forth to turn around. It was then that I recognized the car and driver. Reverend Nicholas and a dozen of his girls piled out of the car. They had brought us something to drink and then joined us in our walk! This was a final act of kindness–something that the little girl peaking through the broken boards in my story would have made.