When I see the youth fight each other because of politicians, it bothers me.
Have you ever woken up with a hollow feeling? You feel as if unknowingly at night you survived an earthquake. You have woken up to the aftermath. The death and destruction around you is sickening. That hollow feeling in your stomach is leaden.
It was a little over a week since the University of Nairobi was closed over riots at the institution. It was on the 12th of April to be exact. I woke up apprehensive. Something seemed to be bugging me. I had no idea what it was. I hated every moment of it. I was on the lookout not to come across a black cat that morning. Paranoia.
I decided to distract myself. Whatsapp seemed like the perfect choice. There is nothing as annoying like a slow internet connection (I hear a nagging wife is worse. They could be malicious rumors? Right!). A few curse words later under my breath some messages were received.
Two days earlier the school had sent out a public notice of a list of suspended students over the unrest. I had quickly scrolled through that list of unfamiliar names uninterested.
One message immediately caught my attention. Another list had been sent out. I tapped on the link. My only interest at the time was just to see the number of those affected. Impatiently I waited for the link to load on my browser.
Slowly I scrolled down. The list was longer than the previous one. That moment when the sound of glass shattering as it hits the floor having slipped from your hands, is most damning. You wish to take the few seconds before it happened back. To at least do it differently.
I got to the end of the list. No.140…and literally my eyes almost popped out. I still cannot recall exactly what I noticed first whether it was my name or my admission number. The horror. My heart raced. How did my name turn up on that list? Was it a typing error? Is this a prank?
Oh Lord, let it not be true. I rummaged through my mind trying to piece up the events leading up to then…
* * *
Saturday, April 2, 2016.
It was a dull morning. A little chilly but bearable. There was tension everywhere. It was the morning after following the hotly contested SONU elections. We had slept to gunshots fired late in the night to quell a disgruntled lot.
We were ready for the worst. I am no pessimist but African leaders are known for not going down without a fight. They just don’t take defeat like a real man should. They tend to cry and whimper and expect everyone one of us to stand by them and stroke their wounded egos.
It was no surprise when at around ten o’clock I got a call from a friend. There was a confrontation in front of their hostel between two aspirants who were running for the post of chairman to the union. On a normal day I would have let it slide but not that day. There was a blackout and I had nothing better to do. Plus, I felt like experiencing a spectacle for once. I rushed out.
A large crowd had gathered by then. The two camps stood on opposite ends. There was this space that separated them. A no go zone you could call it. I chatted up some few people on what was transpiring. Apparently, one of the aspirants was not pleased to have lost to his bitter rival. There were even claims of election rigging. (Bam! I told you. Sore losers these ones).
I didn’t stick around for long. There was stone throwing involved and I was in no mood for disfigurement. My stomach was also rumbling from hunger. (A man has to eat).
As midday approached it almost seemed like the protesters were burning out. The next thing I see is smoke. They had gone out and barricaded State House road and lit a fire. Now, if you have been in these parts of the woods for long when things escalate to that level, you know the GSU guys are not far-off.
I grabbed my towel and headed to have a shower. As the cold water ran down my body,I was there thinking to myself, no way I was going to be arrested and have my mug shot taken me looking shaggy (you have to be ready for those moments that only come once. First impressions you know).
Refreshed and with the electricity back I settled to catch up on a series. I had been watching Scandal the third season of the TV series that week. There is something about the character Olivia Pope plays. A woman who has got her shit together. A woman with ambition (Heck! She only settled for the most powerful man in the world). A woman who can take charge and dominate (If you pictured whips and cuffs, kindly get your mind out of the gutter.*wink*).
The first gunshot. Everything seemed to have come to a standstill around me. Looking outside through my window I see the boys in uniform. They had finally arrived. Students were all over the place scampering to safety. In all that madness there were a few madmen. Some students seriously had the time to stop and hurl stones back at the officers. Talk of arriving to a sword fight with a stick. In no time I had changed into suitable clothes and shoes (Preparation is key).
By that time the sounds of gunshots had become like a melody. When the stinging smell of teargas first hits you, it catches you completely off guard. Your eyes start to tear. You shut them. Then you take a breath and suddenly your throat is also on fire. The agony. You try to think of a way to end it. You hold your breath. You start taking this labored painful breaths. Taking refuge in the halls is no longer an option. The scapegoats who are usually caught and paraded as the perpetrators of the unrest are the ones who remain in the most unlikely of places, like the halls of residence and the library. I rush out.
Outside it is no better. The smell of teargas is all over the place. I run in the opposite direction to the shots. I find myself in the midst of a large group of boys all doing their best to wash their faces to reduce the effect of the teargas. There were those who brought water in buckets and bottles, and everyone was game to splash some water on their face. Talk of unity at the most unlikely of situations. I wash my face and wet my handkerchief and wrap it over my nose. I was ready for what was to come next.
Truly, a mob is a foolish bunch. You would think they would back down after all those bullets and teargas cannisters were hurled at them. Far from it. They seemed to have suddenly gotten this new energy. It was like the bull that gets angrier every time it misses the matador. They were rearing for more. Only the paranoid survive. You do not need to tell me that twice. I looked for the safest exit in case things got even worse. This was just the appetizer in a full course meal.
Running battles ensued. The students throwing stones and hurling back the teargas to the officers as soon as they landed on the ground (Cunning you have to agree. Giving the officers a taste of their own medicine). After sometime things cooled off a little bit. Everyone seemed to have retreated. The battlefront was deserted.
Then all hell broke loose. The officers seemed to have received their reinforcements. They were back guns literally blazing. It was every man for himself. No place seemed safe anymore. I had seen bullet casings that had been collected from that first wave if we may call it. There was no way in hell I was remaining behind to catch a bullet. The jokes in this side of the sahara of people being in the way of flying bullets I was not about to be a statistic. The ruthlessness of the officers also cannot be understated. They will catch you and the beating you will receive walking away with a few broken bones you are considered more than lucky.
Before I know it I am running as fast as my legs can manage. I find myself at the back of a motorcycle. I walk in the rain and board the first matatu I find at the bus stop. I get home worn out. It was drizzling outside but I was sweating and hot all over. Every muscle in my body is tired and aching. It had been a while since they were stretched to their limits. At that moment all I could think of was how fortunate I was to have escaped.
* * *
I blinked a dozen times. Staring at that screen I could only think my eyes were playing with me. It was like hearing a cruel joke and you don’t know how to react. I didn’t know whether I should break down and cry (Would the macho in me agree?).
It slowly started to sink in. I would be out of school for a while. A thousand academic days? How long is that? Confusion. Was this a punishment? Why was my name on that list? Was it for me not getting caught? Was it because I valued my life and security? Could it be that it was because I stood for ideals different from the status quo?
Students had taken to the streets. For what purpose? For who? To what end? To fight for the so called democracy. To fight on behalf of politicians. The scum of the society (You should spit on the ground if you agree with me). All we get to see are their flashy lifestyles. The fuel guzzlers they cruise around in. The dapper looks they done handling the latest gadgets. The foreign trips they get to go on. The airtime they receive on major television stations to air their grievances.
What will happen to me? Has my quest for education just come to a close? Is this the end for me? Who will listen to my weak cry? A cry for help? A cry for justice? There are some reading this thinking I got what I deserved. You hid behind the excuse that your car was stoned and your business closed due to the unrest. Please, give some of us a break. You car has insurance so quit yapping. Do you for a second think my now ruined life came with an insurance policy from the Almighty. You made some losses? Well, it’s not like you will employ me now, what with all you business people only hiring people with years of experience equal to my age (Seriously, what is it with that?).
This is my present. Don’t weep for me.