No person is ever truly alone. Those who live no more, whom we loved, echo still within our thoughts, our words, our hearts.
It’s a Saturday morning and quite unlike the usual sunny disposition of the day, cold and cloud cover seem to attest to the prevailing atmosphere of today’s piece. A dormitory engulfed in the torrents of unforgiving fire, the loss of life and injuries sustained to both body and mind. In this dismal state of mind and body, when tragedy looms in like a wave on each side, it is hard to find the sliver of hope that pulls us out of despair, to rise up again from sudden and overwhelming dolefulness and back into our sense of normalcy. To say that i understood would be untrue, almost cruel to the reality of those who do. To not sympathize with their loss however, a reality that has in itself played it’s part again and again in all our lives, differently yes, but painful nonetheless, would be in-human. Therefore in the strides of healing, this writer will not revisit the details of what happened and who did it. I believe enough has been said on the same, and picking at open wounds only delays the healing. To offer myself and those like myself who stand on the outskirts of this tragedy a perspective is right now what i consider of more precedence. If we remain human and act to our instinct, it provides hope for our future generations and embalms the pain caused to the present one.
To aid me in this endeavor to peek into the eye of the storm, i decided to prod at today’s interest piece source, a Quantity surveyor in the making but a seasoned professional Baker by heart and art, who as an alumni of Moi Girls High School Nairobi class of 2012, had the opportunity to share in the vigil dedicated to the tragedy that occurred on the unfortunate morning of September the first.
I sneak into the kitchen, notebook at hand and careful not to disturb our virtuoso as she delicately pipes the final rosette on the purple and white devil’s food cake. A flavor that she notes has over time become quite popular with her clients. She proceeds to put her final touches on the cake as she gently lifts it by the round scalloped cake board and slips it into the fridge to chill and set. She wears her usual cheery smile and motions me to proceed as she goes ahead to clear up the top for her next cake.
The kitchen though cold like the outside is rather brighter as the room is aired with the delicate sweet scents of the whipping cream, icing sugar and a hint of strawberry. As she whips away at the cream with her electric mixer, she goes on to recount her journey to her former school. Delivery i believe is always hectic, but i get to live in her world for a moment as she recounts the experience of carrying two 2 kg cakes in a route 58 matatu, having to endure a chatty seatmate and bumpy rides and eventually an accident. Nothing serious, don’t worry, just the usual bumping into each other as those who are regulars on the route can understand; ‘The travails of travelling on Jogoo road’. She stops to lick a bit of cream off her hand, loading more into her piping bag. It’s light pink in color from a dash of a liquid food color she securely puts away, recounting her past accidents with knocking food color into her mixtures and having to fix them.
After several heart stopping instant breaks and flopping around in her seat from trying to stay stable amid the top speeds and sharp corners, she was finally in town and able to escape the chatty seatmate, singing relief internally as she scurried off.
By now she’d definitely become an expert at maneuvering the crowds in the Nairobi C.B.D while carrying more than one cake at hand, which believe me is quite the talent, but when she makes eye contact with a former classmate, ‘ex Quabberian’ at the bus stop, relief overwhelms her. With precious merchandise, it is always great to have familiar hands and company to help you out. The usual jam on Ngong’ road is wiled away with mild banter and catching up, and by 4 o’clock in the afternoon, they were walking into the school gates.
It was generally peaceful with a few clusters of people talking here and there as they headed towards the ‘Rec hall’, where the vigil was taking place. Chatter begins to fill the air as both old and young are brought together from as far back as the 60s to the 70s, sharing in song and speeches, all amidst the overtone of calamity that had brought them all together. I notice her disposition change as she goes ahead to rotate her cake on the stand, smoothing the uneven sides as she recounted the state of the principal and teaching staff. Tired eyes and somber auras. You could tell that they were all overwhelmed by the whole situation and though they tried, were betrayed every now and then by the looming loss. Laughter however and smiles would still erupt every now and then from the school grounds as they all went about catching up and subconsciously groping for the sliver of hope in the midst of it all.
As a member of the Moi Girls Alumni Bakers that had volunteered to offer pastries for the vigil, she and a couple of others went about setting up beautifully crafted cakes that would eventually be served to everyone as the day progressed. They would also share with the form four students who had come back in preparation of their K.C.S.E examinations as a subtle way of bringing back some sweetness into their lives. I notice a spark of life in her, brief but potent as she recounts sharing the cakes with the girls and the rest of the group who came to stand in solidarity with them. Cake wouldn’t solve anything and i think they all knew that, in fact it would barely do much in the way of working out what had happened there, but as a team, coming together to share cake among other things like a shoulder to cry on and their mere presence, was really commendable. It may have not been much, but it sure went a long way in that it was something done beyond the sympathy, and that’s what matters.
Later on in the evening after the speeches, songs and encouragement, the group was allowed to proceeded to view ‘Kabaa’ (Kabarnet Dorm) that was the dormitory where the incident had happened; candles, torches and flowers in hand as tribute to the lives lost. The area was cordoned off by roof sheets, leaving a small opening where people could walk through.
It was dark, the bent beds and scorched walls telling a story that no one would like to be recounted or relived. As was evident in some parts of the dormitory where the fire had raged the most, everything was scorched to oblivion, the bedding and belongings still intact in the areas where they managed to control and put out the fire, shattered glass below and pitch black ceilings brewing above them. “Other people were taking photos but i just couldn’t, it just didn’t feel like the best thing to do,” She noted as she continued to wash and set some strawberries on the cake. Calculating each placement like a regular Picasso brushing through a masterpiece.
“I remember thinking to myself how some of these girls had lost everything they had from the fire, and how they might now have to squeeze together in the dorms, that is if they’re not already full,” She noted as she recounted her days in ‘Kabaa’, ‘Biggie’ and ‘Kenya’ dormitories as they were known in Moi Girls’ Nairobi lingo, and how the population had definitely risen from back then as the school continued to perform better. The resources i noted seemed at this point to have been overtaken by the current capacity.
As a gesture in the faith of acts beyond empathy though, well wishers had responded positively to helping out the girls and Safaricom Limited in particular donated 170 deckers and 340 mattresses to replace those that had been destroyed in the fire. With thousands in worth of material destroyed however, and every girl needing to replenish their lost goods, it would in the end depend on not only the school but outsiders and well wishers as well as the alumni to support as best they can to get the girls back in school reading and comfortable.
I notice her go quiet as she concentrates on piping and repairing the grazed sides, disposing of any bad strawberries as she placed only the good ones on top. The cake has now began to take its shape with its baby blue and pink stripes, garnished with fresh strawberries sitting delicately at the top. She stretches her back and lets me admire the cake as she also slips it into the fridge to set. She’s obviously tired, leaving the vigil at some minutes past seven to journey back home, nostalgic and moved by the events of the day. Girls crying because they didn’t want to be left alone and parents consoling their daughters with the notable worry yet overwhelming love that all would be well, after some time did reassure most of them, but not all.
She smiles as she clears away her top. Satisfied with her long yet fruitfully beautiful work. ‘I don’t know the girls personally. I was there 5 years ago and those that i did know are long gone, so basically i’m on the outside looking in, there’s definitely that gap…that rift. I also know there’s blame going round and the girls are scared and worried, but yet here i am. I’ve woken up and i’m going on with my life. Meanwhile back at school and some of those homes someone is having sleepless nights and pain and someone’s life has come to a standstill. The cakes were to try and cheer people up the best way we could. We know it hasn’t changed much but it was from a good place.’ She shrugs as she empties some of the whipping cream into a tin and licks some off her finger. She enjoyed her cream aside from the fact that there were people who always felt that the cream was either too much and it needed to be toned down, or too little and it needed to be cranked up.
I thank her for her time, and she gives me a smile as she continues setting things away, humming away to the music playing in her earphones. It was a lot to take away. I however still couldn’t help but wonder if, just if, i had probably gotten a first hand account at the incident, i would maybe have understood it better. Then i was reminded yet again that this would still bring up something quite untrue.
To understand is for those that have undergone it. The pain and the grief can only ever make sense to them. To learn from and help in even the smallest of ways however is for all the rest of us. We will never know what the girls in Moi Girls feel, or the families of those who lost their loved ones or are nursing them back to health. Where we can add a dash of sweetness, offer a shoulder, provide something that is lacking or just be there, let us do so. Why? Because that is what makes us human. To sympathize with each other, and even more what makes us African, and Kenyan. To stand together and with each other as one because we understand how bad it feels to be alone at such a time.
We are one…we are ready…we are bound to be one…