Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The night our house flooded

Christine, Mum and I (1996)
In the year 1998, Kenya experienced heavy rains, perhaps the worst to date which led to the famous floods which caused the loss of homes, property and lives. We were one of the families affected.

The sun was shining bright in the sky as the birds flew by and the wind was crisp. Dust filled the playground as the primary three boys kicked the soccer ball as usual after school. That day mom picked me up early which was unusual, in a new Nissan Sunny that smoothly drove up the driveway.

We lived off Hurlingham road in Nairobi at the bottom in a court of marionettes which were a short distance from the main road. Many of our guests got lost because the courts were name­less, I do not know why, probably they couldn’t figure out an appropriate name. The court had seven marionettes double stored, each looking alike, four on the lower side and three on the opposite. We lived in house number four, the very last one in the lower corner. We were the only African in the neighborhood, the rest were of Indian descent.
Immediately on reaching home, I hurried upstairs to change into my sports kit and before mother could get me to have evening tea; I was out playing with my friend Samir who lived in house number six. We usually played soccer or cricket. Each time we were outside, we had to be as quite as possible which was less likely especially around house number two where an old mean looking Indian lady often came out to yell at us in a funny ascent whenever she heard a sound around her premises. She spent most of her time at home; I guess it is an Asian practice for women to stay home while the men go to work. “What are you doing here? Go home before I tell your parents” she often yelled.

We hadn’t played for long before the clear sky turned gloomy with the possibility of rain. At first we ignored the weather and continued to play. Less than fifteen minutes later, a light drizzle started. We took cover in the shade hoping it would clear soon but it just got worse, fast. We both retreated to our homes on realizing it was probably going to pore until the following morning.
As I walked back to my room from the shower, I suddenly heard the sound of water whooshing downstairs. Wrapped in a towel, I slowly made my way down to take a peek at the strange sound I had heard. But I could not believe what I was seeing, my mom and sister were fetch water from the house and pouring it into the  back yard. The water was flowing in through the front door in full force. I rushed up to my room to wear something appropriate and back down to the kitchen for a bucket to join the struggle.  But soon I realize it wasn’t making any difference because the water level in the house was rising faster than we could dispose of in the back yard.

Mom started emptying the cupboards in the living room into the kitchen counters as I carried what I could upstairs. It was coming to about seven o’clock and Dad had not come from the office yet. The maid was off already so it was just I, mum and Christine my sister who was older by three years.

Soon mum asked Christine to sit because she was starting to get in the way. I know she wanted to help but her mental sickness (I was not told the exact disease) made it difficult for her to comprehend instructions. It had almost been a year since she had been diagnosed. She was losing her memory steadily with the dawn of each day. It was painful to watch her forget a lot of the things worth remembering. Her illness caused physical deteriorating too. The doctors had said she would heal when she turned 17 however she sadly passed on five years later at the age of 20. None of us went to the funeral because we received the news of her passing on Christmas Eve 2003 that she had passed on four months prior. Christmas 2003 was bittersweet. I was happy I was having Christmas in Uganda for the first time and yet it was sad that I had lost my sister.

The water was rushing in at a faster rate than I could keep up with and I didn't have time to sit with Christine, so I put on a movie for her upstairs and I rushed back down to retrieve valuable items like family albums, electronics and books. Mom was struggled to walk through the water to hand be things. It had now gone above her ankle. I moved as fast as my little legs could carry me while hold­ing onto as many things as I possibly could carry at a go. I might have fallen down a couple of times on the wet stair case but at the time I didn’t feel any pain. All I saw and felt was what needed to be done.
In the backyard, behind the bushy fence, a gentle stream that flowed into greater Nairobi was becoming violent as it filled up. The water from the stream was starting to make its way onto the lawn as the water from rushing in from the front door filled the house. We were trapped. It was now the ultimate race against time.
As I stood in the back yard, trying to figure out what to do next, Eve our neighbor who was in the ten grade came knocking at the front door. As usual, she was home alone as her dad who was a business­man was away on a long trip. The water level had significantly risen; it had reached my knees.
Without hesitation, I tried opening the door but the levers were stuck. My Mom rushed to help and on the count of three we yanked it wide open. We were both thrown back by a big wave of water that gushed in, which had previously been blocked by the front door. It was like opening Pandora’s box. The water level rose to about 3.7 feet. For a second, I almost regretted my decision for opening for Eve however when I saw how freighted she and her dog were, I felt sad. She was handling the nightmare all on her own. At least I had Mum and Christine with me. They were not the toughest how­ever they did provide emotional comfort which was more than Eve had.

Soon the sofa sets floated away towards the back door, I was panicking as mom tried calling dad but the land-line was down and she didn't have a mobile phone by then.
It was getting dangerous to stay in the house. To our luck, our neighbors in the opposite house came to invite us to take refuge at theirs. There was no use staying my mother emphasized. Most of our property downstairs had already made its way to the back yard and into the neighbor’s whose wall had collapsed.
 As we walked out of the house against the tide towards the neighbor’s house, holding hands, I remembered I had forgotten Christine. I rushed back in to get her. She was standing in the middle of the living room, scared, alone and shivering. When I called out her name she became confused and instead started walking towards the door leading to the back yard. Out there it was like a wild sea. Sofas floating and dirty water filled with silt from the river. She was getting closer to the door and my slippers were stopping me from moving as swiftly as I wanted or needed to. I closed my eyes, held my breath and took one for the team, diving into the dirty brown water to swim towards her. A few strokes and I found myself at the door but she was nowhere to be seen. I tried reaching for the porch light but before I could turn it on, I was hit hard by a book shelf, throwing me back into the water.

More than downing, I was scared I was going to lose Christine. I swam into the back yard where thunder and lightning now ruled the skies.

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