Solai residents piece back shattered lives

Roy Lumbe @lumbe_roy

Three weeks after the worst dam disaster in Kenya’s history, Solai residents are slowly piecing back fragments of their shattered lives.

Business activity is struggling to pick up pace with the once lush plantations but a shadow of their former self, dotted with rocks, dirt and tree stumps. Traders are now selling their wares in the open market after Solai centre was devastated by the water.

Some shops have also re-opened as butcheries restocked. Hotels have partially resumed businesses with those open displaying stickers on their doors written “We shall not be shaken”.  The quiet town on the sloppy hills in Subukia, Nakuru county is home to thousands of residents, who remain traumatised following the Patel Dam tragedy that claimed more than 40 of their own.

According to a butcher Michael Kimani, the people in Solai have to pick up their pieces saying they do not want to be pitied by other Kenyans.

“Yes, the tragedy affected us but we cannot be held back by it, I am sure residents are tired of being the subject of pity by other Kenyans,” he said.

Miriam Ichanje, a fish trader in the area, said she has to make the 63-kilometre journey to Nakuru Town to get fresh stock. She adds that they have mourned and buried their dead and that it is time to soldier on.

“I sell fish in Solai and the tragedy was really traumatic. I lost a son but at some point, we all have to move on because we cannot just sit and waste our remaining days mourning,” she said.

However, many residents have been left with psychological trauma and are having problems sleeping, especially on rainy nights. Some of the residents are so terrified of roaring thunder they leave their houses in panic each time the drums roll.

Joseph Wahinya, a boda boda operator who lost all four kids to the waters and now stays at his father’s home in Nyakinyua village says he cannot sleep during thunderstorms. The distraught man regrets that he was unable to save his children aged eight, six, three years and one-month-old.

“I cannot stand the sound of thunder any more, I lost my kids to the waters and it haunts me daily,” he said.Just like his neighbours, Wahinya is pondering his next move as he tries to recollect his thoughts like many of the affected families, he is still waiting for the government’s compensation.

Wahinya’s mother Jane Wambui said she has tried to counsel his son over the loss of his children and will house him and the wife until they are back on their feet.

Families that had rented houses in the area received Sh30,000 while those whose semi-permanent houses were destroyed were given Sh50,000 by the government.

Those who owned permanent houses received Sh100,000 to help rebuild their lives as they move out of the camps. Martin Njuguna, who also lost his two-bedroom house, three acres of land under maize and other property, received Sh50,000.

“We are still waiting for the government to act. The money was little. My farm was entirely swept away and is now full of rocky gullies. The property that was lost was worth more than Sh300,000 besides the house,” he said.

“The President came and witnessed the situation and we hope they can compensate us for the loss even as we try to rehabilitate the farms,” he added.

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