Until it was over

 

This situation was very unfamiliar, I had never experienced it before. I always took it for granted. Peace. The simplicity of riding my bicycle down the road. Peace. The indifference of who you are, where you come from, your appearance, your surname. Peace. The policemen patrolling the neighbourhood, the taxi you call with ease, the grocer you know will be open till late. Peace. The insignificance of your skin colour. Peace. All that I took for granted.

And now, I was out there and feared for my loved ones. Fear to walk out of the house. Fear to call friends in case it is bad news. Fear to eat too much in case the food run out and you couldn’t leave to get more supplies. Fear to finish talk time because I could not purchase more.

Somehow, I expected it. I had stocked food and water to last me a week. But I was not prepared for what was about to happen. I called my friends the night before, they assured me that everything was fine, and they would be watching TV at home. I felt reassured and opened my last packet of cookies (they went down quite fast). The night was calm and I tried to relax, telling myself that the election period would be over soon. I had been home for a week. But with all the tension, it felt nothing like a holiday (more like a nightmare).

Then it exploded!  

Gunshots. Fire. Stones.

I was relieved when she finally answered. Panic stricken, she told me that she was at home with her children. They could not sleep because of the teargas and the loud shooting. I heard one of the children crying. She told her to be quiet, so as not to be found. She wanted to send the children to a safe place but could not leave the house. I waited anxiously for an update, hiding in my house, praying that my Wi-Fi does not fail me and wishing that I would wake up and be back in my usual life. But this was my life now. 

The wonderful idealistic image of a white dove with a light green leaf was gone. Where, pray tell, is the Peace, Love and Unity? The deep seated bitterness of the unresolved past was now in the open. No more camouflaged by the routine of daily cheerful greetings. This is war! It was out and spread all over. It was personal. Neighbour rose up against neighbour; friend against friend; wife against husband.

She told me that the situation was bad. The rest of the family was still there, where the fire and the shooting was intense. The fire came closer. The shooting too. I know the house. It is a small, mud one, and the wooden door is swinging, only closing halfway. 

I asked her what I could do.

Nothing.

Until it was over.

 

The election day

 

The streets of this normally crazy, crowded city were empty. The women at the roadside where I usually buy my five-shilling vanilla cookies every morning had disappeared. Even the matatus which are typically playing loud music as they honk at pedestrians crossing the streets, making them jump and run helter-skelter, were nowhere in sight. Basically, I was the only (naïve) person going my way, as if it was a normal working day. The policeman looked at me keenly as I passed by him. This place where you ordinarily could barely hear your own voice, and in which you needed to watch your every step, had turned into a ghost town.

Empty. Cold. Lonely. I could feel the tension behind the closed doors. The fear of people who preferred to shut their business and stay at home, than risk not knowing what would happen next.

The feeling of fear and anger overcame me. What was happening to my beloved city? What was happening to the warm-hearted people who work side-by-side every day?

Is this the price people should pay for the so-called democracy and peace? Fear, tension and anger; Women not earning their daily bread; Men suspecting each other; Children not allowed to play outdoors?

Where does this bitterness come from after maintaining peaceful cohesion for all these years? What became of the images of dads, grandmothers and uncles queuing for hours behind each other at the polling stations, and proudly showing their black-marked fingers as proof of casting their vote?

I could feel the deep frustration and fear about what would be happening next; what would be happening when they enter their houses and when they would leave?

And hidden behind this daily impression of people doing their usual business, running around each day to feed their family, the anger was still there – anger against the past, against the impartiality, against the impunity, against the injustices. It was camouflaged by the daily routine, but not gone. The hate was well hidden, waiting to come out at the ‘appropriate’ moment.

 

Peace today

 

Peace, portrayed as a flying white tender dove holding a light green leaf.

Peace, expressed in endless songs and poems heard around the world.

Peace, a sign of two fingers pointing up.

What does peace mean, each waking day?

Does it mean that we need to hide in our rooms to have peace with our relations?

Does it mean that we need to be silent to have peace in our home?

Does it mean that we need to accept control to have peace in our country?

Does it mean that we need to agree to have peace in our mind?

Is that the peace we have been praying for?

But if we are thinking of this artistic ideal – the flying dove with a green leaf – isn’t it much more promising than that? Is it not that which we want?

A life where we can simply ask our neighbours for some milk; where we can leave the comfort of our familiar surroundings to visit another family; where we can give and receive undoubtedly.

A life where we need not be in denial, or silently ‘accept and move on’ in order to paint this ach-so-beautiful-dove-leaf image.

But how can we overcome the bitterness in our heart; the fear of not getting enough; the anger we have towards others?

What if each morning we were to wake up, holding on to peace, keeping it entrenched in our mind, while walking and talking to our neighbours? What if our associations were deliberate efforts, devoid of the lens of ethnicity – and not thinking about the past, or what his great-grandfather did - but thinking about the present? What is it that counts in this precious moment of two individuals whose paths cross constantly? Cultural diversity is, after all, a blessing!

 

 

 

Maybe our children can safely play with those of our neighbours.

Maybe he can help you to repair your flat tyre.

Maybe she can be more considerate in her response to the unloving post.

Maybe you could share a meal, albeit to mitigate your loneliness.

Do you want to make it possible?