Picture This …

A village.

A small African village. It is dawn. The sun clambers up over a distant eastern horizon, stealing the darkness from the sky so that cotton-wool clouds blush at its audacity. Shadows dance out from beneath the shade to enjoy the early caress of warm rays. A cockerel crows, hoarsely now; he’s been announcing daybreak prematurely, incessantly, for hours. Smoke begins to drift, ribbons of dove-grey, into a brightening sky. Somewhere a child cries the plaintive, impatient cry children make at breakfast time.

A woman ventures out of her hut. She stoops as she steps through her door and into the morning. She rubs her eyes against the brightness, stretches and smiles, enjoying this fleeting moment of peace before her chores, and her children, begin to clamour for her attention. She pulls her vivid kanga more tightly about her against dawn’s brief and surprising chill.

There is kuni to be cut for a fire; water to be collected; a maize field to weed; a market to attend; a basket to weave; a friend’s hair to braid, whilst she sits, back poker-straight, in the cool cast by a spreading fig. There is washing to be done on the banks of a river where she will gather with the other women, where they will gossip and giggle and sing and stretch brightly coloured laundry to dry on rocks so that the river’s bank is awash with rainbow puddles. But first there are children to feed: uji from a cup, or bread dunked into sweet milky chai.

Her day meanders peacefully, its pace set by the march of the sun as it slips across the arc of a huge sky. Laughter and dogs and the shrill ringing of bicycle bells subside briefly at noon when the heat breathes somnolence into our small village. All we can hear is the interminable hot hiss of unseen cicadas. Even the goats, Africa‘s effective refuge disposal teams, are quietly still, the blue Marlboro bags upon which they were banqueting forgotten for now.

But as squat shadows lengthen and the worst of the sun’s heat evaporates as it collapses syrupy in the west, our village stirs in readiness for night fall: fires are stoked, kerosene lamps lit, men gather to share cigarettes and contemplate their good fortune: the rains were kind to them this year. Women collect children and crisp sun-dried laundry up. The blanket of darkness is punctured by the orange glow of the lamps and cozy glow of camp-fires. The air perfumed with the scent of cooking.

There is peace here. Quiet peace and predictability. Tomorrow will be the same: the business of living – building fires, tending crops, milking cattle, raising children – will resume with its reassuring, uncomplicated pattern.

Now picture this: a gang, high on dope and stolen hope, machete wielding, flame throwing, hatred hurling, steals into our village. Rampage. And screams. Confusion and terror.  A mother cannot find her small son, her face stricken with panic and loss; a father is cut down as he tries to bundle his family to safety. Dogs are kicked, they howl in pain and run, tails between legs, to seek cover. Cows pull at their tethers, wild eyed.  

It’s over quickly.  And then there is suffocating silence. And smoke. And ash. An abandoned shoe lies, on its own – one blue child’s shoe – in the dust. A bucket hastily dropped, so that its precious contents have leaked and bloodied the earth. A dog whimpers softly. A child’s sobs subside slowly. The hush is deafening, it fills the air which so recently beat with the unbearable din of war and fear. African villages are never this quiet: there is always laughter and bells and radios and song and cockerels and dogs and market vendors shouting their wares.

Even the cicadas have been startled to deathly silence.


Picture this. And don’t, please don’t, allow, Kenya’s peace be reduced to implausible archived history, an unbelievable illusion.    


15 Responses to “Picture This …”

  1. nuttycow Says:

    Beautifully written.

  2. Potty Mummy Says:

    What can we do RM? Seriously, that’s a real question. I want to help, but how?

  3. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thanks nuttycow.

    PM: I don’t know. I really don’t know. This was just a silent plea: to the powers that be? the heavens? lots of petitions have been circulated and signed. I suppose we just have to hope hard?

  4. R. Sherman Says:

    No words, except I hope others will listen.

  5. mzungu chick Says:

    Thanks Mem. I also do hope someone out there is listening, whether it be the politicians or the heavens. Whichever works is good for me! Hope is really all we have left at this stage.

  6. Roberta Says:

    For the first time in years, I have read something that has reduced me to tears. I am praying and hoping. Hard.

  7. K Says:

    What a breathtaking description of a peaceful African day turning into chilling horror. Your writing made me weep at the end. Thank you for giving us this – somehow your village seems more real than those scenes I saw on TV in UK last night. Why are we shown bloodied dying people being beaten to death? They don’t give this sort of coverage of “unrest” in other countries, so why do so for Kenya? It is absolutely horrible.

  8. Roberta Says:

    P.S. If you don’t get this published in some major market, you are missing the boat!

  9. Expatmum Says:

    It’s maddening that this is happening and none of the so-called super powers are lifting a finger. We have to SHOUT about it to as many people as possible to get the message out. Well done RM.

  10. jen Says:

    i am so grateful you and so many others are writing about this. we need to shake the world awake. we need to do more.

  11. lifeonaboat Says:

    Mem, so beautifully written.
    Hope, hope and more hope.

  12. Kelli Says:

    I just wish I knew what to do! And I wish we’d stop talking about the candidate from Kenya and instead focus ON Kenya! We need to help. We must. Democracies and peace in Africa are too precious a commodity to let another set fall away.

  13. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you all. Hope is all there is I think: though the media doens’t seem to think so: today’s headlines include … Could Kenya Become Another Rwanda (BBC) and Ethnic Unrest creeps from the Rift to the Capital (Reuters). I hope not. God I hope not. On both counts.

  14. maggie may Says:

    Your post made me cry. So beautifully written, I agree that this should be made into a book. Have just stumbled on your blog & you have just gained a reader. What more can I say?

  15. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you maggie may; I wish I hadn’t felt compelled to write this one though. I wish the violence would end: instead it just seems to be intensifying. The children are victims of both horrifying treatment and terrifying images.

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