Jeremiah is an experienced teacher of English and literature. Besides, he is a renowned writer of short stories.
The Night of Terror
Where do people go once they breathe their last? Do they go to heaven or hell? Death is something you shouldn't wish anyone. To date, terrible thoughts still linger in my mind on recalling the ordeal Ken narrated to me in the hands of a militant group, Al - Shabaab. Blood oozing, bodies of people lying lifeless, to mention a few incidences.
After the long day of hard work in school, Ken went home. On reaching, he prepared a scrumptious supper, and without further ado, he gobbled it down. This was because he was in a hurry to go to bed. The previous week, the government had imposed dawn - to - dusk curfew to all citizens living in that county due to insecurity. Just a few weeks ago, Garissa University had been placed under siege by the same group. One hundred and forty-eight (148) students were killed and many others had sustained serious injuries. This happened on second April 2015.
Ken said a short prayer and was soon sound asleep. He was rudely woken up by noises and gunshots that rent the air. There were movements outside his house of people running while panting, probably to save their dear lives.
He was befuddled. For about three minutes or so, his mind was in turmoil. He feared death. He had witnessed his friend, Moha, die terribly after being shot by unknown assailants.
Ken must have passed out for when he came to, he saw several men standing beside him. Terrified, he opened his mouth to say something but he ran short of words. From their look, he was as sure as death he was in great danger. He would soon die. But would it be a sweet death? Certainly not.
Al - Shabaab is known to torture a person before they kill. They do this especially when they are looking for a piece of certain information. If you don't cooperate, they cut off your fingers. If you prove to be a hardcore, they go to an extent of cutting your stomach vertically, while you are still alive. Then they order you to look at your crucial organs. Once you have seen them, you die. That's how Harakat Al - Shabaab Al - Mujahideen, commonly known as Al - Shabaab handle their captives.
Ken was asked to recite any verse that he knew from the Holy Qur'an. Unable to say anything, he saw one of the men point the pistol to his forehead. This time, he was much more prepared for his demise. He just closed his eyes and waited for the worst to happen.
While in that state, someone slapped him. On opening his eyes, he was flabbergasted to see one of his staff mates. Omar stood there glaring at him. "You told me that you are a Muslim and you know Qur'an," Omar started."What's up? So you are a liar! You are a kaffir! (non-Muslims) he concluded.
Ken and Omar had been good friends while at school. Both were teachers and taught in the same school. Ken knew Omar was a native of Garissa. Most of the natives of that town are Cushites. The dominant religion is Islamic. What Ken didn't know about Omar is that he was an Al - Shabaab messenger. The group is also known to kill non-Muslims.
"Don't kill him, take him with us. He will help us a lot." Those were the last words Ken heard from Omar before he was made to put on a black kanzu and forced to board a car parked outside his house.
Outside, it was very dark. In spite of the darkness that covered the whole town, Ken was able to see hundreds of corpses. It was at that point that he realized that the men with him were armed to the teeth. The driver drove carelessly making no notice of steep slopes and the bumps on the road. Apart from the light from the car that ferried them, Garissa town was dark. He wondered how the blackout had coincided with the evil activities on that particular day. The cries of wounded people could be heard.
What surprised Ken is when they reached the roadblock laid at the outskirts of Garissa town, the traffic police allowed them to pass even without caring what the car was carrying at the wee hours of the night. He wanted to shout but his grandmother's words of wisdom came to his mind, "When you are kidnapped, don't resist. Cooperate. Then use your wisdom to escape at the right time."
This was not the right time. Now, they were past Garissa heading to an unknown destination.
A Map of Kenya
Ken must have slept for a few hours for when he woke up, the dawn was approaching. The car was in the middle of a forest. They had diverted from the tarmacked road and they were now on a rough road. Birds chirped merrily unaware of what Ken was going through. A few metres ahead, he saw a gazelle that lay still as if it were dead. His captors must have seen it too. The car halted. The driver dragged it away from the road. It was then that he realized that it was not dead. Four men, Omar included moved outside the car and joined the driver. Now they were speaking a language that he could not understand.
Abruptly, the driver threw the gazelle to Omar. He discovered that one of its hind legs was badly wounded.
The driver boarded the car and so did the other men except for Omar. He took his pistol and was ready to shoot at the feeble animal. Suddenly, the animal disappeared mysteriously. They were all left laughing at Omar. He was annoyed. He peered at Ken to see if he was doing the same thing but he was happy that he was in a melancholic mood. Ken was lucky. If he were laughing, Omar would ...
By then, they were approaching a small town. Ken didn't know the name of that town. But he heard one of them mention Dadaab. He had heard of that place. It is a semi-arid town in Garissa County, Kenya. There is a refugee camp found there. The driver parked the car next to a hotel. He could not read the name of the hotel for it had been written in Arabic. They all alighted from the car and he was instructed to follow the armed men. They entered the hotel and sat.
The waiter came and they asked to be served. Ken took tea but the rest took pilau. This took only a few minutes. The men went further as Ken followed them. They reached a certain room where they all stopped. To Ken's surprise, the men opened something that looked like a top of a septic tank. They all entered and left Ken with Omar. Then all of a sudden, Omar pushed Ken. He tried to maintain balance but he couldn't manage. He fell into the tank with a thud. Fortunately, it was not too deep, so he was not badly hurt. Was this Omar he used to know? Why was he treating him like that? He soliloquized
He was pulled away roughly and was taken somewhere. It was then he realized that he was in a big room and not a septic tank as he had thought.
He was astounded to find many people there. Their emaciated bodies were proof that they had starved for a long time.
"This is your new home," Omar said to Ken."The Consequences of deceit are dire. You were a friend but you are so secretive. Maybe you work for NIS(National Intelligence Service)
That is how his friend, Omar, bade him farewell. For the next couple of days, Ken stayed in that dungeon with other captives. Sometimes, masked men would come and torture him. They would inject him into the buttocks with a syringe.
When he asked his captors the reason for the torture he would be told that he was being hardened for a more serious exercise.
Then one day he was asked to reveal his employer, I mean the person he worked for. He said that he was a mere teacher who had recently been employed by the TSC (Teachers' Service Commission)
Not satisfied with his answer, he was slapped severally. Sadly, he lost his front teeth after he was given heavy punches. From the information they had been given by Omar, they knew he was more than a teacher. A spy.
After several weeks of torture, he was told that the following day he would be taken to Kisimayo for more interrogations.
Map of Kenya Showing Counties
The Long Journey to Kisimayo
Ken was woken up by the sounds of people groaning in pain. When he looked around, he realized that his fellow captives had been shot dead. He was terrified. He trembled with fear.
As he stood there flummoxed, someone hit him at the back. He almost fell. Then he was given a heavy tyre to carry. When they reached outside the hotel, Dadaab town was coming to life. There was a flurry of activities going on there. He put the tyre inside the boot and boarded the car. His captors talked for a while and thereafter joined him in the car. The driver started the engine and the long journey began. While on the journey, he got time to observe the men. They were tall and slim. They had beautiful hair that formed curls and a long beard. What scared him out of his wits was their eyes. They were red, describing their brutal nature.
They went past deserted houses and crossed many bridges. They reached Kenya— Somalia border and drove southwards. What kept on surprising Ken is that police kept on allowing them go further without stopping them. Did these people work with the police? He wondered.
They took three days to arrive at Kisimayo. On the way, they had had many stopovers, where they would eat and sleep. He was indeed lucky!
Map of Somalia Showing Kisimayo
Al- Shabaab Militant
A Narrow Escape
Life was unbearable in Kisimayo. Ken was taken to a group of men who cross-examined him. When he was unable to answer some questions, he was beaten up. Now that the group was fully convinced that he was working for NIS, he was subjected to a more severe punishment.
He was put into a motorboat and taken to the middle of the sea. He was grabbed by the scruff of the neck and thrown into the sea. He had not learned how to swim so he almost drowned. After struggling helplessly to get out of the sea, he was saved by one of the gunmen.
They told him that they would kill him if he did not cooperate. But how could he cooperate? He had told them the truth but they could not believe him.
He was taken back to town(Kisimayo) where his fingernails were removed. He wished the earth would open and swallow him alive but if wishes were horses beggars would ride.
It was now a month and he was still there, in a dimly lit house.
One day, while he was still there, the leader of the gang drew closer and told him that he would be killed the following day. He was shown a video of how Al- Shabaab kill their captives, especially the ones who don't give them the information they want. He just prayed and waited for his inevitable death.
He wished he had been given time to call his mother before he met his death but time could not allow.
Suddenly, there were gunshots outside the house. He knew very well that other innocent people were about to enter the house where he was and join him. But he was wrong. Several men dressed in official army uniform entered the house of misery, as he called it. They inspected Ken carefully and found that he was harmless. They ransacked the house and took everything they wanted.
They took him with them outside the house. He found several bodies of his torturers lying on the ground bleeding profusely. The men who had come to his rescue introduced themselves as AMISOM —The African Union Mission in Somalia. It is an active, regional peacekeeping mission operated by the African Union with the approval of the United Nations Security. He heaved a sigh of relief.
Ken was flown to Nairobi for medical check-up. He found that his leg was swollen and had to be treated. He remembered the gazelle he had seen on the way to Dadaab and he was surprised. But he did not want to be superstitious. That's where I met Ken.
I'm happy today that Ken is alive and kicking despite going through untold suffering.
© 2020 JEREMIAH MWANIKI KILUNDA