• Caleb Atemi

Terror at Gioto: The dog snarled at me, its sharp teeth barely tearing into my face

Gioto was the name we gave to the hill. I never came to know its origin. It was here that the Nakuru Municipal Council dumped all its waste. It was here that all hospital and industrial effluents were discharged. It was here that my friends and I found solace as a playing ground, a hunting place and a spot for treasure hunting. Gioto sits within the Lake Nakuru National Park. It is a protected area but one easily accessed as adventurous children.

With our dogs, we would venture in to Gioto early in the morning every Saturday to hunt for small rabbits and antelopes. Many a time we would return home in the dark with our prize. Soon bonfires would light up the estate as we roasted our dinner. We knew that by the time we crawled to our homes, there would be no food remaining. Large families required that all children be present at every meal since hunger pangs ensured that sufurias were cleaned up. My mother also had a rule, whoever was absent without a good reason during meal time, must not eat.

I knew that any thorough beating I would receive from my parents would be more tolerable on a full stomach. I would therefore chew the meat with relish. Whenever our hunting failed, Kimani, one of the older boys, would steal from his father’s herd of Tunyuru, a domesticated guinea pig to replace our missed dinner.

There were days we would venture into Gioto to play what I later came to realize were extremely dangerous games. Armed with a huge tractor tyre we would climb to the top of the hill. One by one we would squeeze ourselves into the tyre which would be pushed down hill by the bigger boys. The wheel would literally fly through the bushes into the valley. Due to God’s mercies, it would always land on the edge of the deep sewer dams that dotted part of the Nakuru Municipal Council water and sewerage treatment plant.

Too dazed and shaken, the ‘riders’ would have to be pulled out of the potential wheel of death. For years we played this deadly game. In our childish fervour, it never occurred to us that in case it plunged into the sewer, by the time help came, the riders would have drowned in the filthy and smelly mix. What a horrible death this would have been.

On other occasions we came into close contact with herds of buffalos. We would quietly sneak backwards. My numerous brushes with death made me believe that God carefully watches and protects the little innocent ones.

After playing and toying with danger we would retire into the mountains of waste to search for coins and other precious items. Our small fingers digging into heaps of garbage and human waste, we would on a lucky day walk away with some great treasure find to be spent on sweets and cakes.

Other days were considered serious industrial occasions when armed with gunias (sisal sacks) we fetched old metals to be sold to some Indians in town. Adults called this metallic find Mali Mali which would be crashed into a heap. A kilogramme would fetch us 10 shillings; money whose great value we could barely comprehend. However, it required several visits and endless hours at Gioto to fetch a kilogramme.

The day of Horror

My last day at Gioto remains one of my most shocking and chilling. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday. We gathered near the bridge that separated Kivumbini and Kaloleni A estates. Kaloleni A was a cleaner and more prestigious estate. More prestigious because the houses there were larger and roomier. With two rooms fitted with an outside tap and a toilet, we could only admire the occupants. They never needed curtains to separate the children’s sleeping area from adults. Children from Kaloleni were considered privileged and rich. Their parents, we noted, even had a different walking style from ours. They had an air of haughtiness that gave us a mixture of jealousy and childish anger. At times fights broke out between the youths of these two estates because we accused our neighbours of being too showy.

Our older and stronger friend Ongicho who at times acted as our protector and defender kept us waiting. I had actually never witnessed Ongicho fight. However, his sheer size alone, tall, muscular and dark, was a great deterrent to attacking mobs of boys each time we were in his company. We therefore had to patiently wait for him on our side of the bridge.

We were becoming restless when at last we saw him running towards us. At first we were excited then astonished. For Ongicho had broken one cardinal rule. He was dressed in his shinny and new Sunday best clothes. As a rule we normally dressed in our oldest and filthiest attire each time we went to Gioto.

Experience had taught us never to dress smart. A tribe of dishevelled, dirty men occupied parts of Gioto. Many of them were tall, muscular fellas with teeth and beards that had never known water or soap since Adam. They must have had a serious allergy to cleanliness. They were known to attack small boys with whips and unleash their dogs on us, unprovoked. We therefore never wanted to give them reasons to attack us. Since the visits were secret we could not call on our bigger brothers to protect us.

We protested at Ongicho’s breach of the dress code but his determination to show off his new acquisition could not be quelled. After all what harm was there in this son of the charcoal dealer showing off his father’s hard work. Mzee Ojwang, for that is what his father was called, had been selling charcoal for as long as we could remember. He was the most reliable and efficient charcoal dealer in town. His deliveries whether in sacks or debes were swift and timely.

His bicycles which he used in his trade had the following inscription on it: OPUK JAKINDA, dholuo for A HARD WORKING TORTOISE. We all admired Mzee Ojwang.

Having lost our arguments with Ongicho, we crossed over into Kaloleni A and walked through our secret bushy paths into the forested slopes of Gioto hill. After the running and panting we finally arrived at our mountain heap ready for our treasure hunt. Lo! The dreaded men were there with their fierce dogs. Their dogs were bigger and stronger than our malnourished ones. They ordered us to move closer lest they unleash their hungry hounds upon us. They had close to them a decomposing, mud covered carcass of a chicken. What followed was to haunt me for the rest of my life.

We were beaten. Kicked, punched and whipped then forced to light a fire using papers, dry grass and tyre tubes. We were then made to boil water, and cook the decomposing chicken. They had their soot covered sufurias ready for the demonic ceremony. With their knives and whips held firmly in their hands, the men made the six terrified boys eat the half cooked, decomposing meat as they watched and laughed. At one point I made a move, the largest of the dogs suddenly leaped at me. The dog snarled at me, its sharp teeth barely tearing into my face. I coiled back, terrified and continued to eat the rotten chicken. We ate in silence. This remains my longest meal ever. The disgusting taste is beyond any poetic description.

We assumed that our terror had ended with the eating. We were dead wrong. It was just beginning. The gang leader pointed at Ongicho whose size stood him out as our leader and asked him to stand up. He ordered the poor boy to strip naked. When Ongicho hesitated, then men descended on him, tearing off his new clothes. My muscles tensed. I screamed in terror when the gang leader pulled Ongicho towards him. He hit him on the head as the other men held him by the shoulders. They went on to sodomise him. My screams were met with a flurry of punches and kicks. I went dead silent when the gang threatened to perform the same rites on the rest of us. All the eight men did it to Ongicho. They then walked away in a swagger of an army that had just conquered enemy territory leaving a hapless, bleeding boy in our midst.

It must have been several hours before any of us gathered courage and strength to move near our bleeding friend. We wrapped him in our shirts. Crying and wailing, we trudged along the grassy path down the sewerage treatment plant. We placed Ongicho under a tap and washed him. Terrified and fearful of the punishment that would be meted upon us, we vowed never to divulge the incident to anyone. After Ongicho had regained his strength, we walked him home. He promised to concoct a story of being beaten and undressed by boys from Bondeni, one of our fiercest rival gangs. Such stories were common and his parent bought it. I only told of the Gioto terror many years into my adulthood. I never saw Ongicho for months and I never again set foot to Gioto; the hill of pain.

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