Her bulging eyes, teary face, and wrinkling forehead are revealing the severity of troubles sinking Purity Moraa into a bottomless pit of despair.
And it is not getting any better, at least for now.
Moraa, a 33-year-old teacher, is reaching a breaking point. Her infant is sick, first-born has not eaten for days — and he is not sure about the next meal.
This family will likely starve today, many weeks ahead – and probably months and counting.
What on a normal time would have been happy moments full of spirits, has rapidly degenerated into a life of horror, gradually but viciously damaging their hopes and dreams.
“These are like our last days on earth,” Moraa tells me.
Why? I ask.
“I don’t know if I will ever see my husband. Maybe these children will never see their father.”
Trapped in Somalia over Covid-19
Ignus Kialu, her husband, has been stranded in Ras Kamboni, Somalia for nearly three months after President Uhuru Kenyatta closed borders over coronavirus pandemic.
Kialu and six others flew to Kismayo, Somalia in January 2020, for a contract that involved dismantling wrecked warships, after job prospects in Kenya grew hopelessly slim. Kenya’s immigration department cleared the group.
The contract, which was to last a year – and maybe offer Moraa’s family a lifeline – expired abruptly on March 31, 2020, six days after Uhuru had closed the border and shut the airspace.
The seven sailed hoping to enter Kenya unhindered via Ras Kamboni border as they possess valid passports – and are Kenyans by birth.
But Kenya and Somalia authorities blocked them, seized their travelling documents, and claimed only the President could allow them in. Uhuru did not, activating endless interventions by MUHURI – including a lawsuit – to have the group allowed access.
Ras Kamboni where the seven are is considered a hostile ground for it once served as a training field for extremist with connection to a terror outfit, Al-Qaeda. It is located some 15 kilometres from the Kenya border in Kiunga, Lamu and 492.3 kilometres from Moraa’s rental room in Mariakani, Kilifi.
Moraa had to downgrade from one-bedroom house to a single room after she recently got evicted owing to accrued rental arrears. The room is so small that barely accommodates or offer privacy to Moraa, her children and mother.
Moraa’s employer in Nairobi sent her on unpaid leave when coronavirus hit, and school closed. She has not earned since February 2020, solely depending on her husband, who is now broke, jobless, and marooned.
Moraa invited me to document her struggles unfiltered. I caught up with her at 5 am as she prepares to face off another day of uncertainties.
Before stepping out to wash laundry, Moraa bows her head in prayer, but the shrills of hunger from her seven-month-old groaning toddler distracts her. He has not breastfed since her mother’s milk dried up because of stress.
Moraa asks God to look after her children and husband — the father of her two sons, the eldest aged 10, who has been equally going without meals.
Kialu exhausted his savings by sending them home. Moraa used them to feed the children. Now the coffers are empty – and it is going to get worse.
Recently, Kialu told Moraa locals at Ras Kamboni are hurling projectiles at them, claiming they have coronavirus, a disease that has claimed over 423,000 lives, and infected at least 7.6 million globally. The situation remains fluid.
Ignus and his colleagues – two cousins and four friends – are sleeping at the ruins of a building that appears to have been bombed.
The Ras Kamboni Seven also includes Patrick Shingula, Martin Mwaghazi, and Michael Mjala. Others are Gabriel Kennedy, Elia Mwalili, and Abas Mutuku.
As she starts her day, Moraa is debating whether to feed or get her baby drugs. But she only has Sh20, not even enough to get him day-long milk.
Moraa’s eldest son looks pensively hoping that at least – for the first time in as many weeks – he will take breakfast.
He is unlucky, like always, when Moraa only gets a quarter litre of milk, too little to sustain the baby half-a-day. A litter goes at Sh80, an amount Moraa does not even recall the last time she had.
Moraa has pending debts; no one is willing to sell her food on credit.
“My hope is fading quickly. We live minute by minute, praying that God will push us to the next hour,” Moraa says as she warms the milk using a charcoal stove. She has just used the last briquettes and does not know when or where she will get others.
Meanwhile, advancement in communication technology has bridged the distance between Moraa and her husband, the sons, and their father.
However, technology only serves to raise anxiety, most evident when this family shares affection. It deepens weepy moments when they reveal their endless struggles.
On this day, Kialu talks with Moraa on a video call in my presence, after the couple agreed to it.
Kialu is mostly out of range of any phone network. He sacrifices by trekking several kilometres and climbing hills daily to get connected, albeit poorly. Then he will have to wait for his wife to make the call because he has no airtime.
In the video call, Kialu appears fatigued, weak, and depressed. His body betrays its once stoic stature, voice raspy and feeble.
“Please pray for us, my love. We are not safe here,” Kialu tells his wife.
But the network is still unstable. Calls keep dropping.
“The calls normally disconnect at this rate when it is raining on the other side,” Moraa says.
When it rains, the Ras Kamboni Seven must stand on their feet until it stops, which may be after eight hours, according to Moraa.
It is now lunchtime, but Moraa has no food to put on the table. She calls her son, who has been playing outside.
“I usually do this, so he does not eat at neighbours’ homes,” she says.
The boy is visibly frail, sucks his thumb as hunger pangs sting. One of his friends is having chicken and rice for lunch, his favourite meal. Moraa is devasted because she is unable to provide for him just like she used to.
Moraa shares the baby’s milk with him.
Government contemptuous treatment
As the day wears on, Moraa’s problems swirl. Her landlady gets agitated about her filming, keeps reminding Moraa she is occupying the single room at her mercy – and can evict her if she so wishes.
“She does not want videos taken at her plot. She says you will bring coronavirus here because you are coming from Mombasa,” Moraa tells me.
Moraa spends the afternoon reading spiritual books to keep her mind away from her troubles and find some relief.
She sometimes survives on stipends from friends, like on this day, when one drops by and gives her Sh100.
“Whenever I get money, I always share it with my husband. For this one, I will send Sh50 to him,” she says.
As the day winds down, Moraa budgets for Sh50, hoping it will push them several days. She prepares ugali and kales for supper, the cheapest meal she can afford.
Like her ritual, Moraa prays before sleeping, her children remaining hopeful that tomorrow will be better than today, their father will finally come home, and life will be like before — where struggles were a distant imagination.
Throughout the interview, Moraa kept wondering why the government was treating them disproportionately.
Uhuru’s administration sidelined the Ras Kamboni Seven but facilitated Kenyans stranded in China, India, and Europe to get back, despite the airspace getting shut. More continue to fly back.
‘Uhuru treats us like non-citizens’
MUHURI on May 29, 2020, sued Interior CS Fred Matiang’i, Health CS Mutahi Kagwe, and Inspector-General of police Hillary Mutyambai to allow the seven in.
Mombasa High Court Judge Erick Ogola on June 4, 2020, pushed the hearing to June 24, 2020, after Attorney General failed to respond to the petition.
It is another long wait for Kialu and his team. The suit is his immediate chance of returning home to his wife and children.
But the return is delayed, partly because the judiciary is not working optimally after Chief Justice David Maraga scaled-down operations in April 2020 in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.
“You mean we are going to remain here for that long?” Kialu asked immediately after the court’s direction.
By the time of filing this story on June 14, 2020, President Uhuru had made a much-awaited national address over restrictions to curb coronavirus.
Moraa listened to it with both anger and confusion as the President extended the directives, including border closure, for 30 days. Uhuru made no mention of her husband’s case, or any other Kenyans facing a similar fate.
“Why is Uhuru treating my husband and his collogues like non-citizens, as if their lives don’t matter?” Moraa asked me on the phone after listening to the President’s 34-minute-long address, through a neighbour’s radio. I could not answer.
MUHURI has since given financial aid to the seven in Somalia and their families, including Moraa, to keep them going, as we battle a court case that we expect will allow them in.