||“She was getting into a hurry as if we were missing the bus,” says Lena, 14, about her mother. The two were stepping up their speed to approach an anti-corruption activist in the streets of Kilkoris, Kenya, a village halfway between Nairobi and Lake Victoria. The man was taking big steps uphill, presumably doing chores, as the two were waiting in front of the local archaeological museum to get into his proximity. “As obviously as the sun is rising the person did not intend to meet us,” she recounts, “but mum pulled my hand very strongly, and when we got close enough to get heard she pronounced ‘Oh sorry I did not notice you’ in the same vitriolic tone she always had on her lips after dad beat her.”
That encounter, Lena remembers, was at age of 7 and her first training lesson for becoming a suicide bomber. But at the time she was not told. “Mother had said to me, she wanted to help that man to get a job as a social organiser in an Al Shabab community, and present him with a golden career opportunity he was too narrow-minded to pick up on his own. But the matter of the fact is, he behaved just like father when I was pooping under his nose, except that he did not beat me. He did not even beat mother. He just nodded to me, gave me a quick glimpse, and went on for his chores. I was flabbergasted, because at the time I did not know yet what a political dissident is, and had expected everything but that.”
Over the next years, this experience was repeated in countless instances. But at the first time, Lena, who asked not to report her real name, remained with total confusion. “I asked mother what she had failed to notice, and why she did not just say hello and I like to talk to you. Then she beat me and told me that I had failed to notice how his every expression was asking for our help, in her eyes. After I stopped crying, I asked her what kind of help we would offer him. Then she beat me again. Next time she had carry me several handbags full of groceries. I asked her whether we wanted to invite the person for a meal to talk, and she punched the flour bags around my waist that we remained in a dustcloud.”
Claude, 16, another former Al Shabab child shill, took me to a steep wadi outside Kilkoris. “This is a thunderstorm creek, it is dry almost all the time except when a thunderstorm hits. You may sleep well in here, but only if you can read the future out of the sky. One rumbling in the air and you better get out before the inland tsunami hits. But for all the other nights it is one of the last places where one might have to fear a hold-up by gunmen. Besides that, all traces you might accidentally leave in the river bed are automatically being cleansed away. From outside the wadi, one cannot even see a fire being lighted here.” I asked him what he wanted to show me.
“This is a place where daddy regularly took me with a trash bag. Sometimes our household ones, but in other instances it were prepared bags he brought from the job, each item separately packed as if it was fresh meat. Then he instructed me not to put it all into the river bed but to disperse it over the area. He had very specific instructions, for example this empty packaging carries a pictogram of a lion, put it into the corner where you would hide and wait for food if you were a great carnivore. This package depicts an exotic spider, put it into a hole with only a corner reaching out, and so forth. Sometimes he corrected my results, and moved an item a bit or gave it an entirely new place. Whoever comes here, he said, should see that this place is as busy as main road in Nairobi. At the time I was too little to ask him why. Sometimes there were full packages of small-portioned pre-packed food in the trash, but I was forbidden to open them at the threat of beating.” In between he was forced to watch militant propaganda broadcasts praising likewise activities as rescue efforts.
“Then there were electronic gadgets in the bags, some of them holding considerable weight. I asked my father, why do we leave this here? If it is broken we should better give it to the next recycling beggar, and if it is functioning why do we leave it where a thunderstorm might wash it away before someone takes it, instead of bringing a gift to someone in need? As a response he beat me and forbid me to mention that we were handling devices. I never met anyone else here, but sometimes when we came back we found all our trash, including our heavy devices, collected in a new bag neatly hanging on a dead branch stump with the handwritten words FOR AL SHABAB TAKEAWAY on it, and had a lot of work activating and dispersing everything once again.”
Today, Lena and Claude are war orphans living in an organic farming community in Tansania. But once a year, they come back to Kenya for the war cemetery where their parents are lying. Their trips are being sponsored by the King Juan Foundation of St. Vincent, a secular charity from a Carribbean small island focussing on what it is calling “the forgotten princesses and princes.” Our group, six adults and 26 children, travelled from Mwanza along Lake Victoria to Kilkoris and other areas of Kenya without prior public announcement as to successfully avoid potentially dangerous encounters with terrorists. After collective sleeping sessions in a big green tent during the trip, all participating journalists were allowed to make face-to-face appointments and take unguarded walks with the orphans. For Garvey County Radio Andy Sonkoro reporting.
Sunday, July 17th 2016