Roy Lumbe @lumbe_roy
As the sun sets on Nyakinyua village in Solai, Nakuru county, a dark cloud looming over the opposite horizon cracks with thunder and zigzag lighting. Joseph Wahinya, a survivor of the recent Solai Dam tragedy, is startled in the middle of an interview and tears well up in his eyes.
It is three weeks since Wahinya, 36, and his wife Miriam lost all their four children to the disaster that claimed 48 lives.
Wahinya looks at the darkened cloud and then at the fading rays of the setting sun on the western ebb and says solemnly: “That night when the dam burst, a dark cloud had gathered just like this at sunset, with thunder and lightning. I can still hear my children screaming when the water swept them away.”
He narrated his heart-rending story last Friday when we stayed overnight in Nyakinyua village to witness how the trouble-striken residents, some without homes, are coping in the aftermath of the tragedy. Wahinya’s story epitomises the sheer pain of most families here.
The blow was sudden and violent, he recalls, standing next to a tree he climbed to save his life. A woollen hat that Wahinya had been wearing when he climbed the tree was left hanging on a branch when he was rescued in the morning, and he looks at it daily as a stark reminder to his shattering loss. His wife also survived miraculously by clinging onto barbed wire of a school fence until help arrived.
A boda boda rider at the nearby Energy village, Wahinya was living his life easy and comfortable prior to the tragedy. Having purchased a piece of land where his wife tended to vegetables, the family was the average example of most Solai villagers who either worked at the Patel coffee farm, ran small businesses or practised subsistence farming.
That was before the brutal force descended on the village, demolishing his humble home and wiping out lives, including his children aged eight, six and three and one-month-old.
We found Wahinya at his father’s home in Nyakinyua where he is now staying with his wife and took them back for an interview at the empty plot in Energy, where their house once stood.
The night of May 9, 2018 gives him nightmares as he recalls how he was unable to save his children from the raging waters.
“I held onto a tree and listened helplessly as they screamed, calling out daddy, daddy, mummy…..” he breaks down.
He recolects that on the fateful day, he was at work before his wife called, requesting him to buy some meat for supper which he did before heading back for a delivery to for one of his customers.
The dam burst its walls when he was a few metres to his house. He saw the deluge hit and sweep away their house, as he clung to a tree. Even his motorbike was swept away with the two kilos of meat he was carrying.
“I don’t think I can ever get over this tragedy, all my kids perished. I shouted until my voice was hoarse, calling their names. When it was all quiet, I knew somehow I would never see them again. It was dark, silent and I feared the worst,” he says.
Wahinya’s mother, Jane Wambui, says she has tried to counsel his son over the loss of his children but he is still inconsolable.
“My son is stressed but I have counselled him on how to overcome the loss. I took him in and his wife to help them start all over again,” she says.
Every evening, a group of Solai residents converge at a local restaurant for a few hours of sorrowful chitchat. They update each other on how they feel, but once the gathering ends, they each retreat to their own dimly lit houses to spend the remaining hours of the night feeling uncertain about the future.
Families who had rented out houses in the area received Sh30,000 while those whose semi-permanent houses were destroyed were given Sh50,000.
Those who owned permanent houses received Sh100,000 to help rebuild their lives as they move out of the camps.
For Wahinya, he recounts the only fond memory left for him to treasure.“Some weeks ago it was my second-born daughter’s birthday. She said to me ‘Daddy, I want a toy.’ I bought her one and she was happy.”
The doll was the only thing not swept from the scene where their house stood, the only reminder of the family he had.