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Friday, December 21, 2012

to the dead parts

Last Saturday morning there was a trail of blood beginning at one of the ditches near the museum, this trail of blood ran through town until Kencom where it stopped again to restart on the long, cold road I had to walk home. I know this because it was my blood.

I didn’t know how bad it was because you never really know. Shock being the first anaesthesia that you get when you hurt really bad. Saturday morning I finally got a look at my face, half of it was covered in blood. It’s rare to see so much of your own blood, it usually only happens when its being donated to save another life, at those moments it darkens as it collects into the heart sac (for lack of a better word) with each of your heartbeats a surge goes in but in the sun and maybe because of proximity its dark red. What I saw on my face was bright red. It looked alive. It was the colour of blood right after you cut yourself while cooking, the colour that drives you to put your finger in your mouth. The colour that screams life more than anything else, filled with oxygen and platelets and red blood cells, it was the colour of life and I could see it fill half of my face, drip down onto my clothes, onto my shoes, onto the floor. Drip down and disappear.

Why is it when someone undergoes trauma we make them relieve it so much? Does talking about it actually help? Does talking a lot about it help a lot? There is a part of us that’s curious but there’s a better part of us, one that’s concerned and this is the one that wins out. You show concern by giving a fuck, by trying to find out what happened and where and how many and what time and details, details, details. The thing about it though  is the person who’s gone through the trauma lives with the details. They pervade every single moment. Before they get to sleep, while they listen to music, as soon as they wake up, when they get treated for it. Details, details, details. I can’t drink anymore. It’s not a decision I have made I just can’t. I was drunk when it happened and there was smell of alcohol on me, it stayed with me all through it and now I can’t stand how alcohol smells. If I had just had sex with the most beautiful woman in the world and she had left her smell all over me as tends to happen (incidentally is this how all those cheating husbands are caught?) I wouldn’t have been able to hug her for weeks because as soon as I smelled her I would remember. The details would come flashing back and I would be back there. So I know you are concerned but don’t ask, don’t make me talk about it more than I will right now.

The thing that happened (sort of)

Early Saturday morning, the kind of early where it’s still late Friday night and I wake up. My clothes are soaked through. My head aches. My wrist aches, my knees are sore, my neck in pain and I feel violated. Am not sure what happened but I know it was bad. There is an unholy mix of amnesiac that comes from both drinking and receiving head blows. My sweater is wet, my t-shirt is wet, my bag is wet even my boxer is wet. I get my bearings and I know where I am and a fresh pang of fear shoots through me. I hate being in this place, bad things happen here, bad things happen here all the time. But am freezing and though am not sure exactly what it’s obvious bad things have happened to me. I reach in my pocket and I find some money. No phone of course and the first tremor runs through me. It’s cold, and worse its smelly. I know where I woke up, and I know it was in a sewer but that doesn’t matter. Right then I have to get home somehow and I have to walk into town. But then I don’t want to because bad things happen on this road but a bad thing happened to me already and lightning doesn’t strike twice so I begin to walk to town. No incident on the way there. I get in a matatu and hand the guy my money, he gives me change. In retrospect am sure my fellow passengers held their noses and looked at me in shock, looked at the blood and the wet and tried to move away, but I don’t remember any queries as to my allrightyness when I very clearly wasn’t. I got off the matatu and made the long trek home. Got home and found the door locked and couldn’t get anyone to wake up. So I curled up in a ball in my filth and my blood and closed my eyes (head wounds as you can imagine don’t lead to the most logical of decisions.)

When next I woke the sun was shining. But it was cold. Colder than I had ever been and it smelled. I shivered my way up the stairs luckily someone saw me and helped me on my way. I went to the bathroom and took off the smell. The smell of sewers and shit and urine that would be a part of me for a long, long time. I stripped it off and dropped it. I got into my biggest woollen socks and my driest available clothes and my closest warmest duvet and shook like a junkie. I shook and shook like a dog trying to get water off its skin. I shook and shook until my family came to get me and put me in a car and drove me off to my aunt’s clinic because I needed to be treated. My temperature? 34.2 degrees.

When blood dries in hair like mine it forms little cotton balls of dark red, nearly black alloys. If I scratch hard enough the cotton balls fall off but they hurt. The blood clots and congeals and mixes up  my already hard hair into minidreadlocks that make me look like I walked out of a comic book battle. When you have a head wound they have to shave your hair off. This hurt. It seems a small thing to hurt considering what I went through but it did. The painkillers hadn’t set in; the shock had begun to wear off and it hurt.  Then it was done and I asked to see the results. Someone snapped a photo with their phone and showed it to me.

Two ravines as deep as any wound I had ever seen crisscrossed each other on my head, they yawned deep and red and raw. And some of it came back, just a bit, just a peak. And even now am not sure if its real or imagined because I can see someone with a panga bearing down on me and lodging it deep in my head. I can see him doing it again as am beaten from all sides. And my neck hurts, it has all week and all I hope is that the panga didn’t cut in so deep that he had to push with his foot to get it out. I can see the panga but I shouldn’t. I can’t even see the wounds without the benefit of a snap shot. But I can see the panga. It’s not new. This is not the first time it has pulsed blood. This is not the first time it has bit into skin and maybe this is what saved me. A fresh one wielded with that much hate and malice would have left me cold. But they must have imagined they left me cold mustn’t they? I mean why take the trouble of rolling someone onto a sewer? That’s how you leave someone for dead here isn’t it. You leave a body bloated with urine and shit and water to be found the next day by someone crossing the road and the Chiromo Mortuary is right there so maybe they were conscientious too.

It wasn’t until right then when I saw how deep the wounds were, when it hit me that they had hit me with pangas that I realised that someone had tried to kill me. My aunt wielded her needle and thread deftly. She (after painkillers) took the flaps of skin that were struck apart and passed a needle through them. Head skin is hard. I could see her struggle to make a puncture; I could see her grimace with effort as she tried with a point to make a hole in my skin. And succeed and make a hole in the other flap. And I could imagine how hard he must have swung that machete not once but twice to do what he did. To someone he didn’t know for what amounted to a bounty of less than 3,000 shillings.

I always believed that there are no bad people only people who do bad things. But that was before anyone had ever tried to kill me. Now I couldn’t… it was hard to reconcile these two beliefs like poking a hole in head skin to make 2 flaps one. They didn’t hate me, they couldn’t have. And am still sure that they love their mothers and take care of their siblings and that if one of them was as hurt as I was the rest would surround him with messages of love. But still at that point they hated something. There’s a myth that Kenya is getting better. It’s not really a religion because it’s not believed by the vast majority of Kenyans. There is a growing middle class but then this just allows that middle class to encapsulate themselves in follies and hopes of a bright future. You almost never have to come in touch with a really desperate Kenyan when you are there. You almost don’t see them. You don’t see the parts of Nairobi that are so poor they produce people willing to wait out all night for their chance to rob a car or a passer-by. You don’t see the frustration that builds when such a small percentage of the city is getting on and walling up while the rest remains where it’s been, where it’s always been, forgotten, in the shadows. And when they hit me it wasn’t me they were hitting so much as everything else. A system that doesn’t give voice to their concerns and subsequently forgets them rendering them invisible and unseen. An undercurrent in the city that is never heard until it rocks the foundations. Frustration and pent up anger blowing a fuse as its all taken out on the symbol of what they have come to hate. It’s not me that they hated, its all of us. Us who forget and don’t give a thought until something like this happens. I lay in that sewer and shit entered my head. And piss rolled around in my blood. I felt hated and victimised and the truth is that the people who did this to me feel that way all the time. Everything shits on them. The city, the people, us who avert our eyes and think everything is ok just because we are.

A friend of mine says I have communist sensibilities and I gave that paragraph over to them. Because that is what Graig would have wanted back then. It feels almost like a eulogy to who I used to be. Am pissed, of course am pissed. I want things done to these men and I want bad things done to them. I want the full force of the law brought down on them because this was MY LIFE and no matter what we say when we try to be charitable my life matters more. I don’t want to die and very nearly did. And it was thanks to some people who got 3,000 shillings out of the deal. Is that how much they value my life? So why should I value theirs anymore. Why shouldn’t I root for trial without jury, why shouldn’t I hope that they get caught and they get shot and they get thrown in sewers? I never did anything remotely deserving of this.

….and yet no one even suggests I go to the police. This is how much faith we have in the legal system in our country. This happens and no one thinks it’s worth reporting. What will they do anyway? Arrest them? Find them? Bring them to justice? Who actually believes any of this? No one who saw me obviously, no one in my family definitely. We accept the bad as it happens here way too much and no one thinks anything will change or that a beating nearly to death is a reportable crime. And you know what I don’t either. This is my report, my loss of faith in so many things. A lot of me died that day. It may grow back but right now it’s gone maybe best forgotten. My faith that things are getting better, some of my faith in humanity (though them leaving me enough fare to get home helps with this.)

And worst of all my happiness. If I leave myself for too long with thoughts of what happened, if I try to remember past what I already do I break into sobs as I think that they tried to kill me. I feel like they infected me with something, some of their hate, some of their anger. A sad truth about near death experiences is a small, a tiny, tiny part of you wishes you had died so that you didn’t have to go through it. And a bigger part can see what would have happened if you had. The bloated corpse and the frantic calls and the morgue visits and its all sad, its exhaustingly sad, what happened what could have happened. All this week I slept. I looked forward to sleeping; I took my drugs so that I could sleep because… fuck this world that’s why. Fuck a place where this could happen, fuck it all. Let me close my eyes and sleep it off and when I wake let me take drugs again so I can sleep. Being awake means I think about it and I don’t want to. And I took really strong painkillers the other day and I felt happy for the first time since it happened. I had forgotten this feeling, happiness. Now all I’ve had is emptiness and anger and distractions and in the midst of all that fuck this world and most especially fuck this country, fuck Nairobi and all you mean because right now I hate you and I would live anywhere else for any other reason.

But then I’ll remember what it feels to be happy and it will be ok. So that’s how am doing. That’s everything of how am doing and how am feeling. The only other answer to that I will give is am healing, because even if that isn’t true I desperately need to believe it.


  1. You said when you sit alone with your thoughts, when you try to remember, you cry. That's why people get you to relive it, because you get the trauma outside. It doesn't seem like it, but it does more damage when it's festering inside you than it does out in the open air. I'm not happy you went through that, but I'm glad you got out alive.

    About Kenya getting better, I'm not sure what to say. Bad stuff still happens, and it obviously happened to you. But I guess the people who say it's better, it's because less bad stuff happens to them. I've survived all kinds of crimes, from rape to robbery at gunpoint, but I feel safer now than I did ten years ago. My brother's house was robbed last week. They cleaned out everything from his TV to his shoes. Yet he feels safe enough to live in the same house regardless.

    A few weeks back, I wondered. There was a time when rape statistics in Kenya were really high. There were hundreds of cases of women being raped during carjackings, and even in their own homes. We hear fewer cases of that now. It still happens, but not as often. I guess that makes us feel things are better, but like your case, it could just be that people don't bother to make reports anymore. I'm just glad you're safe, alive, and healing. Take care, and stay safe. Hugs.

  2. thanks for that. i get that sharing, getting it out helps to relieve some of the toxicity, writing this helped immeasurably, the day after i was done with this post i didn't feel as bad as i had the day before. i stopped sleeping just to forget, i started feeling happy without drugs and began believing again that it may be getting better and in fact can get much better.

    i am sorry you went through all that in your life.