What lack of peace taught me

August 1, 2017 -- Living City

What lack of peace taught me
A harrowing escape for a family as post-election violence erupted in Kenya

By Mary Kariuki

Sometimes we come to realize the meaning of peace when that peace is snatched from us. This brings me to my experience during the 2007–2008 post-election violence in Kenya, where my family experienced the greatest need of unity and peace.

It was December 2007, and everybody was eager to participate in the election. I was very excited, as it was my first time to vote, and little did I know what was in store for us as a people. The election process went well, and everyone was happy to have voted, but tension started creeping in slowly as the votes were being counted.

It was a confusing situation at the time, as there was conflict among the electoral commission. You couldn’t tell which side was winning as the results were streaming in.

The announcement that the president of Kenya had been chosen came on December 30, and he was immediately sworn in. This marked the beginning of the darkest page of the history of our country. Noises and shouting were heard all over: some were celebrating while others were complaining and threatening to kill.

The threat of violence was even felt by my family. We were living in Nandi County, in the very town where I was born and brought up. My parents come from two different tribes, and in the region, these two communities were actually in terrible conflict. My father’s community, the Agikuyu, was being chased from the area by my mother’s community, the Kalenjin.

As the days progressed, the houses that belonged to the Agikuyu were being burnt, and their shops were broken into and looted. The affected people, including my family, took refuge at a police station, since that was the only safe place in that moment. It was indeed a moment of grief as the victims watched the investments they had made all their lives being brought to ashes. Some couldn’t help but to cry and cry and cry.

While still taking refuge at the police station, where my parents and my younger brother were, my father received a call from a neighbor that our house was being burned, and there was no need for him to go and rescue our belongings as he had planned.

My father looked in the direction of our house and could see the dark smoke going up, confirmation that it was happening. My elder brother and I had managed to leave the town before the outbreak of violence.

While this was happening, the rest of Kenya watched the news on television as if it were a movie, but the reality on the ground was traumatizing. Days passed, and more victims flocked into the police station looking miserable and helpless, hoping for some solution. Finally the military arrived to rescue the victims.

To the victims, my family included, this was the moment they had waited for, to be rescued from their “enemies,” who were the brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends they had lived with and shared their lives with.

With the arrival of the military, the rescue mission started. It took three days. Everyone was asked to board the military trucks, leaving their possessions behind, so as to fit as many people as possible. Those who had personal cars carried some people and were given the phone numbers of the military men for constant communication throughout the journey. They were all to leave in a convoy. All the vehicles were on the road, with military trucks in between them and helicopters above them guiding them to safety.

A normally one-hour journey took five, and when we arrived at our preliminary destination, Eldoret town, we met other groups of people fleeing from different towns. Some people found shelter nearby, and others like my parents and brother stayed at the Eldoret police station overnight to wait for the next day to proceed on the journey.

In the morning, they found a truck traveling to a closer town and from there were able to reach our ancestral home in Limuru. It was a journey to be remembered, a journey that seemed to have no day or night as everything seemed to be dark.

It took my parents some time to adjust to normalcy, as they were feeling frightened and worried about the events that had taken place. This is how we left the Rift Valley and found ourselves with no material possessions and nowhere to call home, only with life and the hope to start again and move on.

I have learned two important lessons from this experience: first, to be detached from material possessions. I came to realize that the things we possess are not of importance compared to life itself. These things can be lost and gained. Second, I learned the importance of having peace and appreciating every moment we live in a peaceful way.