Lasting Faces – A Donge la Mombasa, Kangundo Story

Donge la Mombasa

The brake lights on the black four wheeled in front of us come on. It decelerates, indicates left and pulls over on the side of the road. I follow and stop right behind it. On the rear-view mirror, the canter with a banner right below its windscreen reading ‘Donge la Mombasa Welfare Group – Rebuilding Our Community through Unity and Sacrifice’ halts behind me followed by a 2006 silver Toyota Allion after it. This has been our formation for the last one and half hours from the moment we left Dandora Phase 4.

At some point Abdul called asking: “Why aren’t you moving faster?”

“Bro, you forget we have a truck with supplies in the convoy? We’ve got to pace and not leave it behind” I reply.

“Let me call the truck driver and ask him to speed up!”


I’m wondering why the sudden stop. So is everyone else in the car. A few minutes ago Abdul was insisting we speed up and here he is coming out of the four wheeled walking towards us with his cell phone in his hand: “Where are we going?” he asks. The frustration on his face is hard not to see.

“But you are the one who knows where we are going. You’ve been leading since Dandora, we are following you!” I respond in confusion.

“I’ve no idea where we are going. I’ve been searching for this Kangundo on Google maps. Google maps doesn’t recognize the place!”

A moment of silence ensues allowing you to hear the silent cold air breezing through the open windows. All eyes on Abdul as if it might change the fact that he doesn’t know where we are going. Like a chorused choir, everyone bursts into laughter. We all step out of the cars, one after another with uncontrollable laughter. We come into agreement that none of us know where we are going and this makes the laughter grow. Cars passing by must be wondering what is wrong or right with us. With such an amount of guffaw, it could be either way. May be it is the frustration of driving for close to two hours, individually wondering in silence why the hell we are not in Kangundo yet. It is not supposed to be this far, or so we thought.

It is clear that the laughing is out of the realization what a silly thing it is for neither of us to take time to check with each other whether any of us had any idea of where it is that we are going. Abdul may have never said he knew where Kangundo is but his call insisting we speed up was among the cues that had us thinking he was sure of our destination. Our business has been to keep close to the lead vehicle with a guy insisting we catch up.

Ahmed calls Abubakar of Kangundo Children’s Home who confirms we are on track.

“Abubakar says we keep going past Tala, down a hill on the newly made road to a junction with a sign board reading Kangundo. He says we get to the junction and he will have someone waiting for us,” Ahmed tells us.

We make our way to the sign board as directed and a young man is there waiting for us. He gets in one of the cars and leads us through the ascending road with old shops on both sides. They must have been constructed during colonial times by British settlers. Kangungo is cold and green, the kind of place white colonials loved. The shops are the entry to a small town with a Wild West feel.

Past the old street, we spot our destination, the minaret of a small mosque behind the first two rows of buildings from the road. We make a right turn into a rough road, go past a Sunday market and we are on the gate of the mosque.

The convoy stops on the mosque’s driveway. Adjacent to it is the orphanage made up of dormitories, an office, washrooms and a kitchen. Abubakar, who was directing us over the phone, heads the orphanage. He welcomes us with a smile so genuine you would think he has been blessed with more than thirty six teeth. There is calm around him that makes you feel at home even before you properly step in. We could see his calm mirroring from the twenty four boys that are under his care. Unlike the other orphans we visited earlier, the boys at Kangundo Mosque Orphanage are different, unruffled. Some are in oversized kanzus with undersized sweaters and others are in undersized kanzus with oversized sweaters. Something about these boys makes you feel like they are little monks with skin so dry you can write pages of notes on them.

Donge la Mombasa

We offload the food items as per the allocation list we have for this orphanage and interact with its boys as they move closer to the track. They are eager to help and we tell them not to worry because we will do it for them. As we organize the food stuffs on one of the corridors, I get a glance of their sleeping quarters. They look clean and their beds are neatly made.

Donge la Mombasa

We make our way back to Nairobi after spending a few minutes with the boys. I got to know Hassan and Ibrahim, both below a decade old with a common dream of being engineers. I drive through the highway oblivious of the banter in the car among Issa, Farry and Ashura. My mind is entirely with the one hundred and twenty six orphans we have seen since morning. Their faces flashing in my mind. I look at the odometer saying it has been 121 kilometers since starting the trip. We have been to an orphanage in Kariobangi South and another in Dandora before the one in Kangundo. We still have to get to two more, one in Kahawa Wendani and another in Kasarani. Dusk is falling fast and we are at least an hour away to our next destination.

I’m beat but I can’t seem to register the fatigue. It has been a cold day; the kind that gets my people in Mombasa saying ‘weather together!’ It has been eleven hours of fasting and my body is unaware of my dry mouth or the rumblings of my empty stomach. These bodily sensations have since taken a backseat hiding behind the innocent faces that have continuously been playing in my mind like a track record on repeat.

I find myself thinking about my death. The moment my family and friends have buried me. All I’m left with is a white cloth around me. Above me is a plank of wood and six feet of nothing but dirt. Everyone is leaving and I am left alone in darkness. This is my home now. My next phase of life has began. I am starting my new life helpless and at the mercy of forces beyond me. A terrifying place to be. An Abyss. I am now thinking about the orphans and how it must have been realizing for the first time they were going to live the rest of their lives without their parents. Helpless and at the mercy of forces beyond them. What a terrifying place to be. An abyss!

What do the boys in Kangundo talk about at night when they lie on their neatly made beds? When the lights are off, do Hassan and Ibrahim have a tough time falling asleep and end up talking about how different their lives would be if their parents were around? Do they wonder where their next meals will come from? Do they talk about the strangers who show up every once in a while with cartons of flour and sacks of rice? Or maybe they talk about their dreams and how one day they will be engineers. I hope on this particular Sunday, the 126 orphans have gone to bed thinking Donge la Mombasa is among the many forces beyond them they encounter but this one is good.

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