Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Kenyan Roads

The Kenyan Roads – My experience on 20th of December 2007

It was a typical evening and all of us had assembled at Elgon view residence after running a few errands in Eldoret town. I had particularly run late that evening while trying to fix the aging Peugeot 505. As a result I could not deliver the used oil to the Tanning farm as the helpers there had requested.
Picture 1- Elgon View Residence, Eldoret – KXX in view

I am told that by applying used oil on the wooden fencing posts, the oil prevents the posts from being eaten by termites or absorb moisture from rain, thus given them some longevity.
When I realized that dinner was going to take much longer and the sun was still up, I asked my young brother, Lattimer and Niece, Linda if they could join me to the farm. This is roughly about 10 kilometers away, to drop off the used oil. The two agreed to join me and off we went.
The younger ones wanted to join, but I insisted that since they had not showered, that they do so in readiness for early retirement for the night. Melanchthon and Baraka bought in and gladly ran to the gate to let the car out of the property.
Off went North-west bound on dusty and bumpy old Nairobi road. As soon as we were west bound on the Nairobi Road, while driving slowly, just past the Moi university campus while the road took a curve of some sort, on our right hand stood a 16 wheeler semi - trailer whose occupants were busy trying to change a flat tire. I saw one gentle man close to the road, but it did not cross my mind that there was a safety concern.
Picture 2 - the 18 wheeler Semi Trailer

No sooner did we arrive at the farm, than it started getting dark. We met the Chesubei’s with whom we had a conversation. Given that the general elections were underway in a few days and their nephew, Kawon and a neighbor as well was vying for a contentious parliamentary seat in Mt. Elgon.
We then made our delivery and excused ourselves to leave because the car we were was anyways unreliable. There had been several occasions that it would cease starting, that we embarked to our primitive mechanical skills of survival. This was a reflection of the trial and error artisans, who claim to do the opposite. Often times that not they made the cars they worked on worse than they arrived in the name of repair.
On our back, west bound on Nairobi road towards Eldoret, while driving at around 45 kilometers an hour, and following another car at a short distance, all of sudden I was awaken to a rude shock. The car that I was closely following suddenly swerved to the right. Not knowing what was happening, given that I was travelling at a slow speed I presumed that I had a good handle of the situation.
What I did not realize is that the car in front of me had barely avoided a tire belonging to the semi which had been laid on the road as a life saver. Because the semi truck had been parked on the left hand side onto the road, as a safety net for the turn boy who was trying to fix change the tire.
What this crew did not realize is the fact that the tar is black, the tire is black too and the roads are not lit. The only way one could see the object that was laying on the road was by touching, or hitting it. That is exactly what happened to me.
Picture 3 - the wheel/tire that was on the road

While the car in front of mine was struggling to regain control and come back to the left side, on the opposite direction there were lights of an oncoming car that was fast approaching.
By the time I realized that the object was right in front of my left wheel, I had hit the object and lost control. The car veered towards the right, while the oncoming car was right on.
Picture 4 - the oncoming car that my trunk collided with

While trying to regain the control of the car, the survival instincts kicked in on being struck by the lights of the oncoming car. I knew that all was gone, out of desperation as I tried to turn the car back towards that left lane. It was then that the trunk of the car I was driving was hit so hard by the oncoming car that the car, that we took a 90 degree turn, heading directly towards the side of the Semi.
Picture 5 - The trunk that hit the oncoming car

All this happened in a fraction of a second. As I held the steering tight, the Peugeot with all that momentum it had accumulated from the spin, rammed into a wheel of the semi. Thank God we rammed into the wheel.
Luckily, for the crew (turn-boy) that was fixing the flat tire, they retreated under the semi; otherwise this surely would have not only have been my death bed, but a death bed for my brother, my niece and the turn boy. I do not remember the actual reaction on the turn boy, all I realized is that he escaped with his life into the young night.
As soon at the left hand side of the car had hit the wheel of the semi, than my car bounced back to the middle of the road.
Picture 6 - the deferential and wheel that I hit

With the shattered windshield falling in the middle of the road, it dawned to me that we had been involved in a terrible road accident, and, and I was still conscious and alive.
The Peugeot 505, KXX 210, was totaled and luckily all of us in the car came out alive. Not only alive, Praise God! But without any major injuries, Alas!
Picture 7 - The shuttered Peugeot 505 - KXX210

Lattimer who had hid under the dash board and whose side had the greatest impact had sustained injures to his upper teeth, bleeding but fine. Linda on her part, who was seated on the back seat, was thrown all the way to the dash board on the passenger’s side of the car was laying over Lattimer.
Picture 8 - The impact of the rear axle on the passenger’s side

After a second or so of looking around and calling on both Linda and Lattimer, we hurriedly jumped out of the mangled car, to safety. Because the car was in the middle of this busy highway, it was unsafe to continue hibernating in there any way.
Picture 9 - KXX 210 was cherished car to my late - father in law

The first thing I did in my surreal state was to contact my cousin brother Joseph Kwalia, who has since passed on during the post election violence. Joseph ran a taxi business in Eldoret town and I hoped that he will respond timely just in case one of us who needed immediate medical attention. After which I contacted a few other friends, my brother in law, Wilson Kiprono and my long time friend David Asige.
After a twenty or thirty minute wait, the first to arrive was Wilson who when I called him had to make a U-turn form a matatu he had boarded towards Ziwa. Jumped into another matatu and headed to Pioneer before getting a car from his sister in Law. After arrival it took another hour for the police to arrive, even after I had informed them immediately.
The Kenyan police strategy is not to save lives, but to document a case which then became an opportunity for them to solicit bribe from the party that is at fault or at times from both parties. All along, I had known this to be the case, yet it had never racked my nerves like it did on this fate full night.
As I started visualizing all the scenarios of what could have been had ours been fateful, God forbid! Whose life would have been saved in such an environment? The value of urgency, and promptness was Nil. A well planned response system ABSENT. Appropriate response and medical attention, in this part of the globe is HEARSAY to say the least.
A lot went on in my small head during the hour before the police stopped by. It is a scientific fact that if for one hour you were left bleeding profusely, that would be enough to send you to you deathbed.
As a first responder at work, I had done all that was necessary to protect lives of fellow employees who were in need. Yet amongst my own countrymen, I thought, when I needed help the most, no one was there, not even the government we so fervently support with foreign exchange monies when we wire the dollar to the motherland.
The question that I am yet to answer is who are you fellow countrymen? Or rather, which country should you be proud of, one that cares for you even when you are an alien, or one that offers lips service even when you are in need of your national and also a tax payers right?
These among other post election events made me re-think about my nationality and not squander the opportunity that the United States of America continues to provide to me and my children. Torn between the roots and the present realities, this became a defining moment of separating dreams from actual facts and possibilities.
The dream was and has always been to give Neema and Baraka a share of my roots. Hoped to do so by living in Kenya for some time so that they could be fluent in Swahili and get to know their relatives and the indigenous culture. The lesson here was yes their heritage was important, but the value of human life was even more important. More so, matters of security and attaining the standard of living that these young Minnesotans are used to, was going to be quite elusive in an environment that I found myself that night.
As we arrived at our residence, looking at the children with whom we did not only share a room but slept on the same mattress and different sleeping bags together; my mind ran to think how the children soundly slept, not knowing what had transpired, that in fact they would waked the following morning only to be told that the Kenyan roads had robbed them of their dad. How sad.
Picture 10 - Mr. Baraka in his Winnie the pooh sleeping bag

This made me angry especially when I thought about the laxity and carelessness that has entrenched that enforcement of traffic rules and regulations on Kenyan roads.
The list of persons whose lives were lost from this pandemic is endless. Cross sections of all Kenyans have been impacted negatively, by this horrible state of affairs. This sad past includes my distant uncle Eng. Kapsondoi who died from a road accident at a prime age shortly after completing his PHD in the USA in the mid 80’s.
After our anxiety had come down did inquire and got to know the fate of the car that had hit initially. On impact to the trunk or boot of the car that I was driving, the other car became air bound. The car flew over a depression on the road side a distance over 70 meters. It then landed on the bushes on the south side of the road, hitting the fence which turned its front to face the road.
The driver of this car as I later learnt was headed to the same locale I had come just from. He was a don at the local university and in fact a neighbor at the farm. The most elevating experience of the night was that Kiplagat as well came out his car without any injury. How the car had missed an electric post, flown over a valley, landed and turned to face where it had come from, was a wonder to us all.
Picture 11- the other car being inspected

When we inspected the semi, there were several older ladies who were so shaken as a result of what happened. The confessed that they weren’t the owners of the truck and that the turn boy on surviving the incident had run in the bushes.
On arrival of the police and the tow trucks, they took their reports and marked the area. After which, we dusted our pants and called it another a gracious moment planted in our lives for reflection and were very thankful to the good Lord as we headed to the police station. It was around 11:30 PM when we left the police station.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Thanks the Obama’s for ushering in a new & unique era

As I sat on the sofa behind the TV box and listed to all the formal preps, rehearsal and speeches. It became evident that the guy on the TV was one of our own and now was the Head of the Union. What had been like a dream had become real? Barack Hussein Obama is now the 44th president of the most powerful nation in the whole wide world.
My son Baraka, earlier in the morning, did not want to go to school, because he knew very well what the day meant. The magnitude of this event was a realization of the devotion that Barack Obama had about his dream. Because of his unwavering focus and hard work,he had arrived at his destiny. His new address in and will remain to be the most coveted address in the entire union, if not the world.
Just like my son this event has been a spectacle of hope. Its fruition opened new perception about human possibilities over limitations created by some persons amongs us. All, foes and friends alike can attest to Barack famous line, that it is only the US that this possibility can be possible.
The line of possibility could be read as far East as Indonesia and Japan where children and adults a like gave up sleep to witness the historic clock usher in a new era. It was captivating even for people in the little known village on the shores of Lake Victoria, Kogelo, as the international media and lime light, covered them as well as they a waited for their own to usher in a era.
All I can say is that America you have surprised me beyond imagination. I know that you have even surprised the 44th president himself. He must have not slept last night, just like he did not sleep during the election night after the results we announced.
Mr. President Congratulations! We are now open to even greater possibilities. Let the next head of the Union be a female with Cuban roots. You put well, that this is the audacity of Hope. Hope that all races, gender can be equal beneficiaries of the American dream.
Thank you to the Obama’s for what you have taught all of us. The lesson of Yes we can! Tis a lesson that goes beyond religion, creed, race, nationality, and far and beyond all the other ‘isms out there.
Yes I can, leave my American dream a mid the financial quagmire.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What is the Currency of Indentity?

A few nights ago that I tried to speak my mother tongue with my son Baraka Chemmoss Kaania,only to be surprised, that one from my own loins did not understand one of the many languages that I claim to speak. When said to him, subai werii? He wondered and asked, Dada what are you saying? I tried to repeat the same line but his face, registered even a greater surprise. It was then that it dawned to me that we as a Samedi Kania family had undergone a significant transformation in terms of the context, norms and values.

This was a kind reminder that my Saboat roots have undergone systematic decline and it was just a matter of one generation down the road, that it will all be in archives that Samedi Arap Kania immigrated from Kenya and his origins, blah, blah, blah.This was also an kind affirmation that as a family, it had not been a priority to include other languagual repatoires in our curriculum.

Wait a minute! This thought brought some flash backs. When in Eldoret – Kenya, recently between the end of December 2007 and January 2008, I experienced many sad and scaryy things.With the ethnic clashes at the peak, tribal indentity became the standard of indentity and the proof of the indentity one was expected to be fluent in that respective mother tongue.

While driving from Ziwa towards Eldoret, we were stoped as at a road block, by this youngmen you then did not speak any other language other than the local dialect. If you could not hold a conversation in that meduim it was summarily concluded that you were not one of them, therefore, the rest was often sad stories told.

I wondered for a moment if my son had been in Kenya at that time, without a spokes person or a defender, he might have been persecuted by his own.This thought made me question my self. What is the true determinant of ones indentity? Is Baraka, not one of my own? If so, why should it be that language overides, his genes? May be the currency of indentity of tribal affliations (in Kenya), is tribe, language and related practices. So that if you are not in the main stream, you will eithr be forced to the center or be ejects and disowned.

It was in the middle of this, that it dawned to me that my sons name sake was the President elect of the United States of America. Can the same standards apply to him? Wait a minute, Baraka Obama if anything new no or a few luo words, yet he was not only a tribal hero in Kogelo, was one a hero even in the streets of Nairobi, after his victories election. If my claim is true the Baraka Chemmoss can as well still be a Sabaot, even without speaking the local dialect, only if he becomes a high achiever in whatever field he pursues.

I therefore have a game plan for Mr. Baraka Chemmoss Kania. The first and surer way to make sure that Baraka becomes respectable in the village I came from is by, pushing him to achieve. If rises above the tide then the pre-resquisite to admission is waived, that is my plan A.

If plan A, is not viable, then plan B can as well be pursued, by starting a rigorous language acquisation program right now, and right here. For studies conform that before the age of 11 there is a possibility that, if Baraka Chemmoss is trained, he willl soon be able to salute me, Subai Baba. What I joy when I salute him back Aboo werri.

Plan C, might be the easiest, to forget all about Mt. Elgon and its people and teach him Chinese instead. Afterall, Far East is the direction of immigrating in Baraka’s future. But for know Please Konja Chuu, let me weigh my options to determine which is the best plan.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Pikap Tulwoop Kony

It is year 2009. What does that mean? To many it is a time of euphoria, celebration, benchmarking and setting new milestones. Or using different terms it is a time for individual, at times collective, reexamination of goals, directions and what we want to aspire in the next 360 or so days.

This sounds like a something worthwhile for us to pursue as well in this forum that seems to take forever to take off. For the Sabaot, there is just so much to worry about even for those of us that are counted to the lucky ones for immigrating to the first world.

This past year was dreadful. There was and still is fear, anger, wrath, regret, pain, loss, sorrow, anxiety and even compounding depression just to capture a little bit about how we still feel.

We were a community that started 2008 with such an embracement. We had continually killed one another in 2007 and by the begging of 2008 that terror was on going. As a community we had the blood of the innocent in our hands. Such a grouping was not decent or honorable, but we stuck in there to claim our bad name. The feeling reminded me of the saying, n-go saa-mus muria kubo chii.

Here we are at those same cross roads. Nothing much has changed, we still hate one another. Many are still hurting. Many more are still displaced. Just like me, scores are refugees in their own country. Like the children of Israel in Babylon it is painful to find yourself as a refugee, more so without any source of livelihood.

However there is a glimmer of hope this year. In many areas now some sense of security is assured. You can travel with some degree of certainty. You can go to sleep to find the goats are still in their kraal. To many this sounds weird. Yes! Where we call home, Mt. Elgon has always been weird. And this less weird year is the hope of the Sabaot people. We cannot wait for the day that we will be a part of the mainstream. The day when we will enjoy the freedom that other Kenyans have called theirs for the last 40+ years.

Sons and daughters of Mt. Elgon, Happy 2009!

Be reminded that “happy” has no bounds, no tribal limitation, no lingual restriction, no color bias, nor socio-economic strata. Happy year means, celebrating the diversity that Mt. Elgon has. It is by accepting one another that we will transcend the problems of today and starting preparing ourselves for the challenges of tomorrow.

There is no beautiful country, sweet waters, hospitable people, fertile soils, unique terrain, like the slopes of Mt. Elgon. We are all lucky and should count ourselves proud to be called “pikap koret” irrespective of what others think or tell us.

Let the those from Rok-ook (Lwakhakha) embrace those from Endebess, while the folks from Kaptama play a friendly volleyball match with those from Kimo-bor (Kimabole). Let the folks from Chepkital have field day in Changara.

Let Etawan and Muron and Waase be human once more, and embrace one another as we play our unique roles in making Mt. Elgon the home of all, my home and yours too. Happy New Year!

Arap Pkania Shabattai aka Samedi