Monday, May 19, 2008

Bad memories in Kenya

When Titus was a boy in western Kenya he grew to love Bruce Lee. To emulate his hero he took classes in tae kwon do and even now as a father wakes two hours before dawn to jog along the dark, uneven road near his house, pausing to kick the air or reel off push-ups as a few pre-dawn vehicles pass.

And then last December eleven masked men came to his house outside Kisumu and cleared out his living room. He was lying on the couch, half expecting them and pretending to sleep. One man carried two guns, another a bow and arrow, and another a machete. They were there because the owner of the compound Titus lives in is Kisii and they thought the rival tribe had helped steal the presidential election from their Luo leader.

Titus thought one man carrying two guns seemed odd and decided they weren’t real guns. So he waited for them to leave, crept behind the last of them and hit him over the head.

His possessions weren’t as important as his life but they were part of his life, part of what he had worked to earn, and letting someone take them would be like letting them take part of himself.

He managed to stop two bandits as the others ran; he recovered his TV but not his DVD player. He “beat the men thoroughly” until the cops came and brought the robbers to the hospital, where Titus believes at least one died.

“After what I’ve seen, it doesn’t bother me to kill,” Titus said.

What happened during the “post election violence” is still fresh in his mind more than four months after the city stopped burning. He remembers the old woman he saw robbed by a young gang. He recounts the story of the man who sat with his children for eight hours as his wife was repeatedly raped. In his presence.

“In his presence,” Titus repeats.

Titus is a quiet, trustworthy man who runs a rental car agency owned by a Dutch man. During the post election violence some of Titus’ friends said he should sell the rental fleet and take the money; the owner was in Holland and wouldn’t know the difference anyway.

But instead Titus made sure the agency’s fifteen employees were safe and fed. And he rescued two vans from the basement of the shop when word went around that the whole complex would be burnt to the ground because it was owned by a Kukuyo, the tribe of the president.

He drove one of the vans through a rowdy mob, bribing them with cases of booze he had found in his ruined shop. His computer and bankcards were gone from his looted office. His wallet was stolen by the mob as he pleaded with them to let him pass.

Titus calmly and eloquently says things like “the human animal is the most dangerous animal there is, you can never trust a human animal,” or “most people are not good,” or “there is a 50% chance this will happen again and if it does it will be much worse.”

A generation of people is growing up in Kenya now that has witnessed things no one should witness, Titus thinks.

“The children in the camps who have lost their parents… You can feed them, you can teach them, you can give them a place to stay, but you can’t change what is in their hearts. If you saw your father killed and your sister raped, what would you do?”

“They can smile and laugh with you and eat but they are not normal people now. There is something different inside them and some day it will explode.”

It sounds like you are a different person now too, I said to Titus.

“I think you are right.”


Meimur said...

Wow, how sad.

Lydia, the Potter's Creation said...

Thanks for sharing the truth. I still struggle with what one human can do to another in the name of being from a different tribe. My heart breaks for country after country which falls to this kind of violence. Will it ever end?

Nancy said...

Man, oh man. How great he trusted you to the extent he was able to share such personal heartfelt thoughts and feelings, and apparently felt very safe doing so. I wonder if it was a relief to tell his story,as if sharing it with you, somehow relieved a bit of his burden? Just maybe, through your sharing it with all of us, can somehow relieve him a bit more.I can only hope. I wish him a restful sleep, and maybe someday sweet dreams. Good for you b.