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My Man In Somalia

In the beginning, I felt invincible. I was part of a duo in our neighbourhood, that the boys at the estate called the ‘untouchables’. They could look but they could not touch. We were army wives, married to soldiers and the kind of men you did not want to cross.

Now, not so much.

I have been counting down days, since the start of the year. My man Bwasa, a KDF sergeant is going to soon be back from Somalia. He said, this would be the mother of all Valentines, when he walked me down the aisle. I had anticipated this day for years but we were unable to settle on a date because Bwasa’s combat mission dates were unpredictable.

Despite all my earlier apprehensions of getting hitched to a soldier, we had made it this far. Dad also liked him, mum said, though he would never out rightly admit it. Dad was my first protector and he was suffering from withdrawal symptoms. I was now Bwasa’s girl.

We had been together for 6 long years and it is crazy how quickly time flew. I remember the first time, I met Bwasa. It was through Achieng, my best friend and a maverick in every sense of the word. She had hooked up with this rough neck called Omosh, an army guy and their team were playing the Nairobi university side, Mean Machine. That afternoon on the pitch off Waiyaki way, Achieng and I broke the protocol and cheered Ulinzi the army side. That was a treasonable act and the campus guys roasted us good, for hanging out with the wrong crowd.

The army guys were not much to look at, a bit too sinewy and crass for my tastes except this one guy playing on wing. His kit was spotlessly clean and looked like he had just wandered onto the rugby pitch after a shower. His posture was impeccable. Tall, lean, dark complexion with statuesque shoulders that tapered off his long neck like a coat hanger. I thought he should be modelling and not wasting his good looks on this rough sport. He had an air of quiet strength about him. Achieng accused me of ogling. Because of him, I stayed through an uneventful game.  That afternoon we became the Ulinzi girls despite the fact that Ulinzi were thrashed by Machine.

After the game, we joined the army side for drinks at the barracks, at DOD, in Hurlingham. Achieng and I were a riot and I got high. All through the evening into the night, Bwasa, had my back and not a single guy dared to get fresh. I think it was the first time, besides my father that I had felt truly protected. He did not even talk much. Bwasa was a silent listener and so mature, a world of a difference from the boys in campus. He let me yak on, asking all these dumb questions about the army. “Do you guys carry a change of underwear when you go to battle?”

I saw him a week later, when he appeared in campus, in full uniform, looking so hot and manly, to plead for my number. Achieng said it was the uniform that flipped my switch but in hindsight, it was actually his good manners and then later, his old school music collection. I found out that he was a closet poet through his music.

We had our first real date after three months and he cut straight to the chase over lunch. Would I consider marriage? I remember laughing it off, only to realise that he was dead serious. I kept him on ice for a year, tried to dump him twice because I had greater ambition than settling into marriage with a soldier and living in a barracks straight out of campus. My dad would have been so disappointed.

He came to my graduation ceremony in uniform and turned our Commerce class stark green with envy when he got his mates in the military band to play a tune in my honour. It was ridiculously romantic.

One year later, he took the cows’ to my parents home and we got the customary blessings of the elders to move in together as husband and wife.  He promised a white wedding, when we could afford it, soon.

I was so stupidly in love.

I matured around him, is what everyone said. I was smart in class but naive and sheltered, living in my middle class bubble before I met Bwasa.  He taught me not to take my privilege for granted, to pay attention to simple folk and to be down to earth. He was a good father to our little girl, Hope.

Everything changed after the war began in 2011, when the minister for Internal Security, the late George Saitoti  invoked UN article 51 proclaiming a country’s right to self-defence and Kenya invaded Somalia in pursuit of the rogue Al Shabaab militia.

We were happy when he got selected. Missions abroad paid well. He assured me that there was no real fighting going on. It was not our war. There were more like peace keepers hanging out in a boring camp and insisted that cars kill more Kenyans than war.

“Don’t worry babes!”

Besides, it was going to be an overnight affair.  Al Shabaab could not match the Kenyan military’s firepower. The first time he was gone for 3 months and when he returned he had actually put on some weight. KDF exploits were all over the news. But the media hype did not last and the conflict escalated over the following years as the body count piled up. I did not complain when the first causalities started being announced. My man was safe. Bwasa was getting paid and money was no longer tight. Every time, he came back from a mission, he had a new investment plan. We put a down payment for a house and he bought me a car.

6 months ago, he came home for a month and proposed and as we were watching a movie in the house. He kept his promise of a white wedding, on Valentine’s day as compensation for the all the Valentine days missed while on duty. He would be back in February he promised.

It has been tough. Psychologically, I started to prepare for tragedy like the cliché army wife, living one day at a time, keeping a brave face but worried sick inside. As the bodies started to come back from the frontline, I prayed harder and joined a prayer group for army wives that was started by my friend Achieng. I watched the news with uneasiness, amazed at how casual the journalists were, how detached the public was and how the politicians brazenly made capital off tragedies. The official narrative was often a spin and the truth was shrouded in intrigue and speculation. Ironically, we paid keener attention to the enemies accounts of events.

Today, is the 13th of February, one day before my wedding and I am reading his eulogy, remembering his face, his warmth and every special moment that I spent with my man in Somalia.

I am reading the words from his favourite rapper Guru for all those wives like me, who must carry on for the sake of our children.

“To those who passed out there, in the deserts and the jungles
With pain on their shoulders, and heavy bundles
I pray each one will, ascend to new heights and new enlightenment
And this is why I’m writin it
Yeah… this is in memory of”

Our men who died in Somalia.

Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan newspaper columnist. The blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.

21 Comments

  1. It is roller coaster of emotions….. I remember my dad served in Afmadhow for one year….n every moment news came in bout casualties, my heart felt weak….I thank God he came home safe without a single scratch, but with ‘shell shock’… nway, the war has claimed so many lives both civilians here in kenya and our beloved soldiers,… my heart goes to their families ….if only RIP meant return if possible…..soldiers never die so they say….. to my serving brothers and friends……..mkae ngumu na hapana legezea hii watu

  2. Oguda Obadha

    Talk about a spin, totally sucker punched me towards the end. Damn! A great read as always. As an expat working in the Middle East looking forward to going to my family, I can totally relate to the anxiety.

  3. Betty Oloo

    Well written… though heart wrenching…I work is Somalia but I am based in Nairobi. I am sure there are so many untold stories like this..

  4. Thanks OP for putting this up…families of the departed ones easily get forgotten as soon as the 21 gun salute goes silent. Let’s appreciate the sacrifices endured and moments of loneliness and anxiety by families…hoping to see their loved ones back home some day only for the news…..

    My prayers for the slain officer’s orphans and widows…May God help us to never forget your tears and pain.

    Much love from a son who’s dad was a man of the uniform. I know what you’re going through.

  5. Princess Wakesho

    I have cried.

  6. This knocked me out bad…..smh…..May the Lord comfort you.

  7. Thanking you for this piece.
    All of us(soldiers) gave some…..some of us gave ALL.
    Go well braves. Go well.

  8. E. NYACHWAYA

    Salute to the one’s who make sure we sleep well……….I’m curious, OP, is this a guest post? Very well written

    • Thank you. The words are mine and my attempt to walk a mile in an army wife’s shoes.

      • E. NYACHWAYA

        I shared it with my wife and now she wants to read more

  9. sad ………… to all soldiers who keep us safe, salute

  10. My love has stayed in Somalia for 2 yrs …I used to spent sleepless nights …….lets pray for government to withdraw our men…. Somalia is making many women widows

  11. Oh my, this has touched my soul. The pain , the longing of a wife…feels so real..*tears*

  12. TheBlackKennedy

    This stuff is heavy.

    Really really heavy.

    May God bless all our troops and keep their families strong.

    “Tuungane Mikono, Pamoja Kazini”

  13. When you venture out there, you expect to be back. To be back to your wife. To your kids. Most of the time you come back, and you know you are back. That one time you will not come back, you will never know.

    It is your wife and kids who really gets to know you will never come back.

  14. what a read! vividly narrated! kudos

  15. Nice piece most people never remember the wives of these great Kenyans. They are the ones left to carry the sad reminder while we brush them aside and walk as if El Ade and the other place (cannot spell the name) never was

  16. samuel dzombo

    It’s emotional. Thanks for sharing.

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