Before I begin, I'd just like to say that I am safe and okay at the moment, but a lot has just happened and if I don't write this all down right now, I think my body will realize what happened and I will shut down and forget everything. So here goes.
To start off the story, I came down with malaria a few days ago. Not a big deal here, it's as common as the flu, and I caught it early on, so one more day of medication and I'm cured. So I couldn't go to the clinic because I was sick so John, my director decided to take Kasey and I along on a little road trip to Eldoret to drop off Magda at her new project, a refugee camp.
The day started off normally; we woke up, ate breakfast, wasted time lounging around because we know how John is (we were supposed to head out at 9 am), and got ready, eventually leaving around eleven only to run errands around Nairobi before we finally left for Eldoret around 1:20 p.m.
The road trip was one of the best road trips, but also the craziest, prettiest, and most dangerous car rides of my entire life. It was the prettiest because the countryside was so diverse. We saw baboons in a jungle terrain, zebras in the grassland, cactus in the desert, the reddest soil in all of Kenya, dust storms so powerful we could taste the dust in the air even with all the windows shut. John was driving like a normal Kenyan- CRAZY, which includes driving on the opposite side of the road to pass someone, driving on the shoulder, flying over speedbumps so fast that our heads hit the ceiling multiple times, playing chicken with other drivers, normal Kenyan driving skills. At one point, the prime minister of Kenya passed us on the road, and John took it as an opportunity to join the procession and cut travel time. We ended up in a high speed car chase with the Prime Minister himself while cutting off cars and running them off of the road. I think my stomach hit my heart several times. We lost the procession eventually, and continued on our road trip. It was all fun and games until the one matatu changed everything.
A matatu came out of nowhere and pulled up onto our right side in order to pass us but in the process came so close to our car that it lightly scratched our car. John pulled over to check the damage which was invisible and the matatu sped off. We caught up to it eventually and passed it, but the driver managed to pull in front of us again, and then pulled over to the side of the road. He got out of the mat and started yelling at us in Swahili, of which I understood nothing. John yelled something back and then we drove off. I honestly thought nothing of it, except typical road rage, but the mat followed us for a while after that before we lost them.
About an hour later we arrived in Eldoret, met some volunteers and were headed to check into our hotel, when on the road in town, we came to a slow pace and Kasey shouted out, "That man has a gun!" I turned around and saw a man in plain clothes, pointing a gun at our gar. John immediately stopped the car and we all slid down in our seats as a shot went off at our car. Three men came into the car, and pulled John out bu his shirt. At first he resisted, and we all shouted to just let them take the car.
I assumed we were being carjacked, it had happened to John last week and these men did not look like policemen, it's a common occurence here in Kenya. They ordered us to get out of the car, and they pushed us into the dirt and then into the back of a truck, we later understood was a police truck. After about thirty seconds, a huge mob of people swarmed the truck, and two huge men with guns shouted at us in Swahili. I looked past the men into the crowd and noticed that people were not only staring at us but they were shouting, pointing or laughing. Later I asked Lucy, (a Waltz intern who accompanied us on the trip) what they were shouting, and she told me they were asking the men for permission to take us so they could punish us themselves, by stoning us or whatever. Then one of the men yelled in English, "Give me one of them" and before I knew it, I was yanked out of the truck and thrown into our ransacked car with three men. One of the men jumped in the driver seat, honking, speeding and driving frantically. Another man pointed a gun at me the entire ride while the other held a gun and shouted in Swahili. It's embarrassing but back in the truck, the first thing I thought of was "Oh my god, my camera! They're going to steal my camera, and I won't have any good memories, just this horrible memory burned into my mind forever" and then I thought, "Oh my god. I'm going to die. and I don't have any identification or even my name anywhere, no one will be able to identify my body" But in the car, I was completely calm, and accepting like, " Okay I think I'm being kidnapped. Okay." I've learned a lot about myself on this trip, and from this whole experience especially, in that in times of chaos and danger- I'm completely calm, I show no emotion I do not shake, I'm just there. I know it's a coping mechanism but whether its a good one, I'm not sure.
So the car drove for about ten minutes or so and pulled into the Eldoret police station where I was taken out and questioned by several men. Moments later the police truck pulled up and we were all taken into a sitting room, where we questioned repeatedly, did we have guns, why are we here, where did we come from, were we hijacked by john. Then we were all searched, bodies and luggage until we were believed to be telling the truth. We made a statement and drove to the hotel.
Apparently a passenger in the matatu decided to call the police and tell them that we all had guns and were threatening the matatu. This wasn't taken lightly by the police and they had acted on that information without a second thought. Hours later at the hotel, the men who had taken me into the car, showed up at the hotel with orders to apologize to us. A misunderstanding, they said. Pole, pole (sorry in Swahili).
At this point, I think we're all in disbelief about what happened. I can't imagine how others cope with experiences like this on a daily basis, or at a young age. Magda said it best when she said, it feels like we're living someone else's life therefore we have no emotion because its not really us. We all have questions and only a few have been answered.
Like, what if we weren't white? or what if John hadn't stopped the car. The answer was we would have been shot on the spot because that is what usually happens here. Does that answer satisfy me? No, it only raises more questions about the injustice that these people endure. But what about the people that so we came to help, who so quickly turned on us? We can only hope that they acted in that way, because of misinformation. A man I recently met, told me that hope is essential even if it is nothing more than a pipe dream. And I strongly believe that. Will this experience ruin my purpose of being here? No. I refuse to let anything step in the way of how I feel about my experience and reason I am here. All i can do is hope people will understand that.
It's constant chaos in Africa and something must be done about the injustice, the poverty and the suffering that I am witnessing firsthand. But how, and more importantly, when? Once again, we must leave these questions to hope.
That's all I can write for now, I will update again as soon as I can. All I have left to say is that I'm lucky and glad to be safe.
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