Empty. The market that stretched for miles now lay naked on the ground, raped and abandoned by the rioters.
Sitting in the back seat of my family’s silver Land Cruiser on the drive home, I stared bleakly out the window. Toi Market, where I had grown up shopping—bargaining and bantering with the different venders for clothes, fruits, and vegetables—was nothing but gray ash. Blackened wooden beams strewed the ground amidst bits of charred clothing and produce. So this is what a civil war looks like: the product of a lustful vengeance set loose to ravage its victim.
Growing Up in a War Zone
I was 14 when the clashes broke out in Kenya in December of 2007. The fighting erupted at the announcement that Mwai Kibaki had been re-elected as Kenya’s president. Everyone believed his party rigged the election, so it wasn’t a surprise when the opposing party retaliated with riots. But this was more than an expected election response.
Tribalism—that I, in my young naivety, didn’t know existed—had been stewing for years, and the pot was boiling over in full force. The violence was planned. Members of the Luo and Kalenjin tribes across the country began massacring their Kikuyu neighbors with whatever tools they had, be that guns or machetes.
Together with two other missionary families, my family prayed in the new year to the sound of gunshots as people killed each other on the streets directly outside my house. The next morning, tear gas stained the sky a dusty brown.1