Recently, BBC in their programme- Assignment aired a harrowing story of rape, murder and violence in Kenya's vast plantations of Kericho.
The reporter, Anna Cavell interviewed a number of people working at one of the multinational tea plantations and compiled the story posing the question as to whether more could have been done to protect the workers during the Post-Election Violence of 2007/2008.
The story, Bitter Brew, rekindled the memories of my own painful experience and my journey of letting go of the bitterness caused by those who attacked my family and took our belongings.
Today, I share with you my story, perhaps it can trigger forgiveness in you dear reader:
"As you drive into the James Finlay Company in Kericho, you will see a big poster 'Ndege Chai' with a twin of crane silhouettes. Behind the sign is a green plantation of tea that meets the sky beyond the horizon.
The scenery is spectacular, nostalgic, marvellous, beautiful, breath-taking and all the other nice adjectives you can think about.
Drive a little more, past the barrier at Kapsongoi and into Kitumbe, you will find a serene estate. A well-maintained tea factory sits near the estate, its two chimneys emitting grey smoke into the blue sky.
LIVED IN HARMONY
I lived in that estate together with the father of my children. He worked at the tea factory at the time. We lived in harmony with my neighbour, we even shared large sufurias when one of us had visitors and swapped movies once in a while.
Although our neighbour together with his wife belonged to a different ethnic community, we lived as a family. Our children played together and we would babysit each other’s children if one of us needed to run an errand.
The general elections of 2007 found us still living at the tea estate. The father of my children cast his vote but I did not since I had not taken the voter’s card.
After a few days, the presidential polls were announced. Little did I Know that this was the beginning of my nightmare.
On that fateful evening, tension was high in our area. Rumour had it that Kalenjins and Luos were planning to attack Kisiis, Kambas and Kikuyus for stealing the votes from 'Arap Mibei’.
The warnings escalated slowly into personal letters written to individuals. My neighbour, a Kisii received one of those letters. His best friend, a Kamba, received a letter too.
He was scared but I reassured him saying that no harm would come away since I was a Kalenjin (they were believed to be the ones writing these chilling letters).
My confidence was short-lived after a neighbour’s wife was raped. She was a Kikuyu married to a Kalenjin. I was scared!
Still, I chose to remain at the tea estate since the neighbouring areas had turned into bloodbaths. After all, here at the estate I was surrounded by my good neighbours, I was safe right?
Things got thicker. Shops ran out of stock but the owners were too afraid to go to town for more goods. Mama Mbogas couldn’t dare go to the market to replenish their stock either.
At one point, we were forced to eat boiled rice and black tea because there was no food.
Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, one of the associates of the area MP got murdered by an AP officer who happened to be Kisii. He was a Kalenjin.
All hell broke loose as Kalenjins hunted Kisiis. They beat them up in their own houses.
To defend themselves, the Kisiis converged in two adjacent houses at night to plan a counter-attack.
That night, they came, hungry for revenge. We peeped through the window and we saw over 40 unfamiliar men swinging machetes as they broke into the house.
They beat the men inside, came out and one of them poured petrol round the house. Meanwhile the other attackers barracked the door of the house. The one with the petrol can struck a match which sent the house ablaze with the victims inside.
A few people managed to escape by they were met with another group of machete-wielding attackers who hacked them. The stench of fear and desperation engulfed the area like a thick evil cloud.
Suddenly we heard gunshots and the attackers from the other houses scattered and escaped. AP officers fetched water from the taps outside and quelled the fire. A few women and children were miraculously rescued.
The next day, we were escorted to Kericho Police Station where we were transported by bus to our respective rural homes. I preferred going to my parents' home with my 4-year-old son.
Come May 2008, the violence was over and we went back to where our property was. Where our jobs were. Where we had our livelihoods.
When we opened the door to the house there was nothing apart from cobwebs, papers scattered around the house and a few inner wears on the floor. NOTHING else.
As we started life all over again, we saw our clothes being worn by our neighbours, our duvets being aired by our neighbours, but for the sake of peace, we kept quiet.
That very close neighbour I told you about, had most of our stuff. It was painful. Very painful. Eventually, we moved to another estate.
A few years later, in 2013, I met my neighbour while in a bus to Kampala. He appeared to be quite unwell.
He went ahead to tell me about his life since we last saw each other. He had developed a complication in his kidneys that incurred a bill of Ksh800,000 at the Kenyatta National Hospital.
He was forced to sell all his property. His wife left him.
I empathized with him and reassured him that things would get better. Before parting, I gave him my card so that we could stay in touch.
The other day he gave me a call and informed me that he was recuperating after receiving treatment in Rwanda. He also invited me to a Harambee and although I was unable to attend, I sent my contribution.
He has apologised profusely, at one point he even offered to give me money. He deeply regrets his past actions, especially since we were such good neighbours and close friends.
I prefer to show him compassion by checking up on him, to assure him that I have nothing against him.
When you forgive, bitterness is replaced with a sense of peace. You get to move forward.
As per the Bible, I have seventy times seven minus one other times to forgive this particular neighbour.
Chero's Take is a weekly opinion column by Stella Cherono, who tackles social issues boldly. To comment on this article, Email [email protected]