While walking down Kimathi Street in Nairobi only hours ago, I was met with the warm beaming gaze of a gentlemen in a suit. He smiled and asked me where I’m from.
Random encounters with people in the street in Kenya are common, and interactions are usually brief and over before you have taken another three steps on the pavement. Not this time.
Joshua Khamana was the man who had spoken to me – he had just left the immigration office to notify them of his whereabouts in Kenya, having originally come from Somalia. He asked me about my family and wanted to know how I find myself here. For some reason I chose not to ignore him and stood with him to talk.
Joshua is a softly spoken man, with a wit and charm not usually associated with an individual in his situation. His walk is hobbled and imperfect, he carries a bag which contains an old A4 sized notepad with sun tarnished pages and frayed corners. He is dressed better than I am – with a full suit and jumper, be it that they are slightly worn. Joshua is a historian who has fled violence in Somalia, looking for a brighter future for his family. After 5 minutes of speaking to him, something told me I had to find out more about this man. With some free time on my hands I asked him if he would like to go for tea.
Below is Joshua’s story; frank, unaltered, unbiased and unexaggerated. While writing this I realise that I missed out on some simple details such as Joshua’s age and what his earlier life was like growing up. Looking back it was probably because I was taken back by what I was hearing.
Joshua Khamana, born in Hargeisa Somalia, a historian by profession. As of me writing this, he has been in Kenya for three weeks and under the country’s laws can only stay for five more. He is a refugee fleeing the Al-Shabab in Somalia with his family of two daughters with whom he lives with in a slum. His wife? She was raped in front of them by the Al-Shabab, after which she was shot and killed with an automatic weapon.
Joshua managed to flee with his daughters and was helped by some missionaries into Kenya who brought them over on a bus. They live under a broken tin roof in a slum dwelling, and in their possession they have three blankets – which are mainly used to cover them from rain. Under his dented pride, he tells me that he and his daughters have not taken a shower for two weeks because the little water they have must be saved for drinking. The food they eat is food they find – leftovers given to them by other people. Despite his intentions, he is unable to work because of his situation. He is trying to get to Zambia where he has an uncle who he hopes can help him back onto his feet.
In his notebook there are his writings and drawings on African history which Joshua keeps with him. He draws me a map of East Africa and shows me his intended journey going south. Beneath his tired looking suit he shows me a knife wound on his chest inflicted on him by the militants.
Its 3pm and Joshua sips his coffee as he talks. At the end of our encounter he thanks me for giving him a breakfast – which told me it was his first (and potentially only) sustenance of the day.
What do I do now? Give him some money and take him shopping for food? Of course. You would have done the same. But what else? It didn’t feel like I was doing anything. From what I could see, I haven’t made much of a long term difference for him and zero difference for the other people in the same situation.
Joshua takes my email address and hopes to message me when/if he ever he reaches Zambia, we shake hands and part ways. I watch as Joshua walks off, thinking that somewhere else in the world someone is buying a watch worth a million pounds.
Read the headline, shake your head, flick over the channel to watch the X-Factor.
Welcome to planet earth, the pale blue dot on the edge of the Milky Way.
Hope you have a great day.