Monday, October 7, 2019

When terrorists attacked our home in Nairobi

Human Kindness
True stories that reveal the depths of the human experience

$19.99 / £12.99 Edited by: Renee Hollis
Format: Hardback, 240 Pages
ISBN: 9781925820058 Publisher: Emotional Inheritance Series: Timeless Wisdom Buy from an Online Retailer Buy In US/Canada

Kindness comes in many forms and affects all of us. As Mark Twain said, ‘Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.’ And while a kind gesture can often simply make someone feel better about their day, sometimes — as the twenty-five true stories collected here show — it can save a life. Sourced from around the world, these are stories of the everyday and the extraordinary. From the woman who stopped a suicidal man from jumping just by taking the time to listen to him, to the couple who fostered a baby they found abandoned in a rubbish bin when no one else could help; from the students who came to the rescue of an elderly man fallen on black ice, to the response of a terrorist leader when confronted by a young child’s cries for her favourite doll — these are stories of unexpected kindness that had a lasting impact on the recipient. Interspersed between the stories are quotes about kindness by people as diverse as Audrey Hepburn, Lao Tzu, Ellen DeGeneres and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The result is a book that explores all that is best about human nature. The ‘Timeless Wisdom’ series of books showcases a diverse range of true stories collected from
around the world, all contributed by mature writers as part of an international competition. Interspersed between the stories are memorable quotes touching on each book’s theme. The resulting books are inspiring, surprising and profoundly enriching.
The author
Renée Hollis is an author, photographer and organizer of collaborative projects for creative artists.

Below is a contribution to the book by my St Teresa's classmates, Sultan Somjee, quite a brilliant man in many spheres of thinking life especially in the areas of anthropology, human museums, and story telling. As an author he is a master craftsman.

When the terrorists attacked our home

Sultan Somjee September, 2018

I was seven-year old when the terrorists attacked our home. We lived in an isolated house in Eastleigh on the outskirts of Nairobi. It was a stone house surrounded by a twelve-foot high bamboo fence that my grandfather had built to keep away hyenas from the forested Mathare River valley about ten kilometres away. Behind the house was a thirty feet high thorn fence of the St Teresa’s Catholic mission and then, then, there were no other buildings or trees around.
Around mid-1951, we began hearing about an insurgency brewing in Kenya. The elders talked about it on their evening walks. In the same breath, they talked about India’s recently ended a hundred yearlong freedom movement and the violence it entailed. Sometimes, I accompanied my grandfather on his walks with his peers because his vision was failing and he had difficulties seeing in the evening. A year later, in 1952, the governor declared the state of emergency. It was then that we learnt that the gang that had attacked our house was called the Mau Mau, a freedom movement against British colonialism in Kenya. I feared as much as I hated the Mau Mau. To me they were the terrorists, who had looted our home and terrified us.
It was around two am in the dead of night when I heard the door break like there was an explosion. The crash that seemed to come out of pitch darkness shocked me out of my sleep. It was so intense that even today more than half a century later, I cringe every time when I hear a door slammed. A rock jumped twice on the floor and landed near my bed. Splinters of wood weighed down on my mosquito net like a haul of shells and shrimps in the fisherman’s net. We lived in one room. We were a family of five, my parents, my elder brother and my four-year-old sister. The revolutionaries entered immediately. It all happened at once: the bang, the rock, wood splinters flying about the room, and then the phantom faces, their bewildered eyes and sweaty faces set in black wiry dreadlocks. I felt their looks pressing me down. Like ants, they spread around the room with clubs and machetes. One stood over my mother with a club and another over my father with

a machete. A smell like that of caged jungle animals at the zoo filled the room. Later, it was reported on the radio that a contingent of the Mau Mas lived in the caves of the Mathare Valley and that the residents of Eastleigh were asked to immediately report any suspicious character to the police. The guerrillas who roamed from late evenings to dawn were in two groups: forest guerrillas who mostly attacked white plantation owners, and urban guerrillas who attacked residences in the towns. We were, most probably, attacked by the urban guerrillas.
At that moment of the horror of the attack on our house, all I saw was the  terrorists’ bloody eyes scuttling about the room, impatient and jumpy like a flock of trapped birds. When one of them looked at me, I felt stabbed. I saw my father dragged across the room and tied to a chair. They gagged my parents with dirty socks left for washing in a bucket. My brother and I sat back to back on one bed, terrified. Our backs were wet, absorbing each other’s sweat. I continued looking down, pressing my chin to my chest and calling on God to help, while all the time, I felt bloodshot eyes tearing into me.
They started emptying clothes and whatever there was from the cupboards. From under the heap of clothes that they had made on the floor, my sister’s doll cried musically, which fascinated one of them. He stood there momentarily and then picked up the pink plastic English doll and began turning it over, listening to the melodic note from its perforated back. Hearing the sound of her doll crying, my little sister woke up suddenly, bright eyed in wonder, smiling and talking excitedly as four-year olds do, chattering to herself, and walking round her cot holding the bars of the metal frame. Then she stopped and watched, her eyes widened, inquisitively, puzzled at what was happening.
“My dhingly doll!” she wailed in Swahili. “I want my dhingly doll.” She began crying and looking around for Mother.
The General, as I heard them calling their leader, turned around and looked at my sister. His bloodshot eyes stilled on her. I froze. He was over six feet tall. He stood there like a giant by the cot. He had his palms on his hips, arms akimbo. Then his red eyes softened like a father’s eyes put to the child appealing for a favour.
“Don’t take the little girl’s ka-rendi, and anything else that belongs to this child,” he instructed his men. When finally the Mau Mau left after what seemed like a night of

plunder and terror, they had taken everything in the house that they could carry. My clothes, shoes and even my Mechano set was gone. But there was a pile of dresses, toys and shoes left behind on the floor. The revolutionaries had left behind everything that belonged to my little sister.
Years went by. The horrific propaganda against the Mau Mau lessened, and the story of the attack on our home faded into a distant nightmare. Kenya became independent in 1963. We celebrated liberation from colonial rule and end of racism only to pave a way for nationalism and brutal dictatorships that followed. I completed my high school, joined the university, went overseas to do post- graduate studies and returned in the early seventies to join the University of Nairobi as a research fellow in material culture. I was interested in Africa’s indigenous cultures and its history from ‘the people’s point of view’. I had started leaning towards socialism and joined the rural theatre that was an outfit of the underground against the despot Jomo Kenyatta.
I worked with the communities of peasants, farm and factory workers in an area that was known as the hub of the Mau Mau. I came across former Mau Mau fighters and almost everyone had a relative in the anti-colonial organization. Ironically, the first play, Ngaahika Ndeenda (I will marry when I want), that we put up was about the Mau Mau. The experience had an impact on me for I began to think differently about the Mau Mau. They were no longer the wild terrorists who had looted and traumatized me and my family but revolutionaries fighting for liberation from colonialism. In fact, they became heroes in my young man’s mind. I read everything I could lay my hands on about the Mau Mau. I even drew them from photographs. The frightful images of their eyes in my mind changed to those of heroic warriors with idealism shining on their faces that spoke of sacrifice for freedom and human dignity.
Today, as I turned 75, my mind sometimes immerses in reflections from the past that come and go like waves of an ocean washing so vast a shore of my lifetime. There are self-thoughts on the good deeds and bad deeds I have done. Some fill me with pride about my achievements, and some with sadness about my deceits and failures. Some are full of fear and even hate that sometimes I speak out loudly to myself in abuses hurled at someone or something. Self-talk, I have come to accept, comes with aging in some people. Sometimes, a dream from my

childhood returns in a scream. The sound of the door crashing down on me has stayed with me. The image of the bloodshot eyes of the Mau Mau revisits me. Sigmund Freud would call them childhood memories in my sub-conscious and construct a theory around it to write an essay on my personality. However, when awake and with a conscious mind, when I talk about the night when the Mau Mau attacked our house in Eastleigh in Nairobi, when I was seven years old, I speak about the compassion of the leader they called the General. How he looked at my four year old sister and kindness filled his bloodshot eyes even as he held the deadly machete in one hand.
I speak about this incident as a reflection on humanity that I have come to know we all have in us. That even the fiercest looking people from other countries, other cultures, and other religions that we see or hear about on the media as enemies carry compassion in their hearts. One day, I wish to write a story for children called ‘When the terrorists attacked our home’.

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  This invaluable collection of photos was sent to me by David Mungai. He says it is “for the acknowledgement of Kenyan History, the celebra...