Prison break eat your heart out

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Africa » Kenya
July 4th 2010
Published: July 24th 2010EDIT THIS ENTRY

Police forces: organizations established to maintain law and order

If at the beginning of this program, someone had asked me what I was most concerned about in term of things going wrong, I probably would have said participants getting sick and having to go to hospital. The thought of one of them getting thrown into a Kenyan police cell would have never even crossed my mind. Oh how naive I was…

Also if before last night, someone had asked me what the most random thing I had ever done was, I would have had to put some thought into it. Now, sleeping on the floor of a Kenyan police station next to a family of refugees from Sudan would have to rank pretty high on the list.

So if you are now wondering what on earth I am I talking about..I will attempt to explain. The infamous “night in question” all began with our group going on a ‘night walk’ with some of the street kids in Kisumu. We came into the city yesterday morning to spend the weekend here and get more involved with two local organisations TEMAK and HOVIC (see previous blogs). The night walk was a very powerful experience in which we visited a food shelter where the streets boys come to eat and spent some time witnessing what like is really like for them. When this finished up, it was fair to say that my team and I were all feeling a bit depressed and decided to head out for a drink and a dance to attempt to focus on the good and cheer ourselves up a bit. Just after midnight, one of girls Katie was feeling a bit crook so I took her back to the hotel and we hit the sack, whilst the rest of the group continued on for some further dancing. I was knocking out the z’d big time when my phone rang and it was Tracey, one of my participants. All I really remember from the following conversation were the words “CPR, everyone fine, punched a sign, Nick and Ally at police station, be home in 5 mins”. I hung up, dazed and confused and tried to make sense of the information I thought I had just heard. A few minute later Tracey, Ceara, and Leah burst into my room and relayed the events of the last hour.

The crew were leaving a local club when Ceara went to the toilet on her way out. She came across a girl on the floor of the bathroom with her hysterical friend trying to help her saying she had a heart condition. Ceara helped the friend carry the girl outside of the club and quickly called our resident nurse Leah for help. Leah examined the girl and when she didn’t find a pulse, started CPR with Nicks help until they got the girl breathing again. Once she was stable, Leah and Nick got her into a taxi and paid the driver to take her to hospital with her friend. Meanwhile a group of rather drunk and disorderly Kenyan men had gathered around to see what all the fuss was about. For some reason I don’t think I will ever really understand, this group started yelling at the “muzungus” (foreigners) telling them that the girl didn’t need their help and they had done more harm than good. They got up into the face of Leah and told her that if the girl died…it was her fault. Sensing it was getting a bit intense, my crew rounded each other up and got out of there quick smart. While they were walking away they copped a bit more abuse and ranting from the burley men. Nick, our token guy on the program who happens to be a tad protective over his “girls”, was understandably upset by the whole situation and as he was walking away, jumped up and punched a sign hanging above his head on the street. BAD MOVE!! 5 minutes later the group was approached by security guards and Nick was told he needed to come to the police station to make a statement…this is about the time I got the phone call.

So now to dealing with Kenya police….an experience I would recommend NEVER to try. In Australia, the police force is a generally a symbol that makes people feel safe and that you believe you can trust, here this is not the case. To the majority of Kenyans, the police represent corruption, greed, exploitation and inequality. I now have a first hand understanding of why.

After hearing what had happened I got down to the police station to see Nick and sent Ally home to sleep. He was fine and when I arrived was actually quietly napping on the police mans desk…clearly not bothered by the whole drama. The officer told us that Nick was not under an arrest, or hadn’t been charged with anything, he just needed to pay for the damages to the sign and we would be done. However the only problem was that it was currently 3am and the bank manager would not be up until 7am and apparently he was the only person capable of assessing the damages and calculating just how much we needed to pay. So we were told to “just wait”, a saying that the Kenyans loves and I am beginning to really despise. But with no real other option, Nick and I settled in on the floor of the police station (otherwise known as a cement enclosure next to a bunch of cells) next to a family of refugees from the Congo for an attempt at some shut eye. Not much sleep was achieved but we managed to pass the next 4 hours with delirious jokes about the randomness of the situation we found ourselves in. Little did we know, the saga had only just began….

At 6:30am a new officer came on duty and the first thing he did, was stand Nick up and escort him into the cells, leaving me sanding mouth wide open wondering what the hell was going on. After some demanding I was finally told that Nick was now being charged with ‘malicious damage’ and therefore belonged in the cells. Clearly this officer had half a brain on him and had seen dollar symbols written all over the two muzungus hanging out in his police station.

So I spent the next 4 hours trying to work out a way to get Nick back out again. Luckily with a few calls to my in-country coordinator (who happened to be in out of the country) I was joined by an army of people helping me out including Michael, our coordinator from the village who appeared like an angel out of nowhere at 7am in the morning, Joab, a rather LARGE somewhat scary looking Kenyan man who runs TEMAK and can swing his weight around, and a few others from HOVIC. So me and my Kenyan “possie” went back and forth from the police station to the bank, arguing with random people here and there. At one point after being told “it’s a Sunday” about 100 times, I thought I could have punched a sign or two myself. I didn’t care what FRICKEN day it was, I just needed to get Nick out of the cells (as apparently you don’t ever want to spend a night in one…I can use my imagination to understand why). Funnily enough it seems that Kenyans don’t like doing much on Sundays and therefore we were hitting brick wall after brick wall. Eventually after being told bullshit story after bullshit story, Joab managed to use his size, and 7000 of my Kenyan shillings to convince the officers to let Nick out…. SUCCESS!!

The next bit played out like a scene from a move…no shit. Nicks reunion with our possie was certainly a moment to remember. I stood nervously as they opened the cell door and when I saw the flash of fluorescent pink of his shirt (did I mention he happened to be wearing a bright pink shirt this night?) my heart jumped with relief! I ran up and hugged him and there was cheering, high fives and hand shakes all around…giving the local police even more reason to think we were nuts. We were told that as long as we went to the bank the following day to pay for the damages, all charges against Nick would be dropped and his name cleared…HURRAY. Why this couldn’t have been the case 4 hours earlier is beyond me.

So when I got Nick back to our hotel there was another emotional reunion with the group and hugs all around. Hardly anyone had had any sleep and were running on adrenalin so spent the next few hours hyped up discussing what had happened. Tonight we decided to shout ourselves a meal at the best restaurant in Kisumu to debrief the whole event. Overall, despite the drama, I am proud of my team for their first reaction in helping someone in need and potentially saving a strangers life. Also I am really proud of them to be smart enough to walk away when things got heated. If Nicks fist had gone into the face of some Kenyan man instead of the sign (which is not so unusual for a 21 year old guy), then things could have turned out considerably worse. The whole sage also showed me just how well bonded our group is already and how much we all care about each other. As the night/morning played out I got a text message from one of the girls at least every 30 mins or so seeing if Nick or I needed anything, or if they could do anything to help. Their support was overwhelming. Also…being the team that we are with the sense of humour we have, once the serious learning’s were over we were able to laugh about the incident fairly quickly after and I have no doubt the night will be infamous in our program history. Itas already been known as “salmon Saturday” (due to the salmon shirt)! I have heard that these kinds of incidents on programs can split groups and cause ongoing drama…but for THROB it has only brought us closer together.

However important lesson learnt: when in Kenya….don’t go punching any signs!


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