Thursday 23 January 2014


by Diana Gitau

Maria woke up in her hotel room not knowing how she got there. The last thing that she could remember was having drinks with Ahmed the previous night. 

She looked at her watch and realized that she as running late and would miss her ferry. 

Grabbing her belongings, she quickly checked out of her room and ran to the port.

 “Ticket please!” the ticket inspector stopped her as she tried to rush to the boarding area.

“I will miss the ferry, can I just get in?’ Maria pleaded. 

“I have to see your ticket before you can go to the boarding area “he insisted.

Maria went through her purse looking for the ticket. She couldn’t find it! She emptied her backpack but still couldn’t find anything.

“You need to buy a ticket before you can get in”, the inspector insisted.

Her heart was racing. She had the ticket the day before. However, there was no time to start looking for it then and so she decided to buy another one. 

Going through her purse, she realized that her wallet and phone were also missing. 
 Suddenly, she heard the final horn being blown and watched in dismay as the ferry left the dock. That was her only means out of Zanzibar.

Maria assumed that she must have forgotten some of her things at the hotel in the morning rush. Dejectedly, she left the port and headed back to the hotel.

 “I think I forgot a few items in my room” she explained to the receptionist.

“Your room has cleaned, there was nothing there.” he said. “Have you checked your bag?”

“Of course I have!” Maria yelled feeling frustrated.

“Calm down Maria, I am trying to help.”

“No, I only had my phone and a little money.” Maria said when he suggested that she might have lost her ticket at the club. 

“Who was on duty here last night?” She thought that someone might have seen her coming in. If Ahmed had robbed her then someone might have seen him.

“I was the one here; remember I opened the door for you?”

“Was anyone else with me?”

“Of course not” he added tiredly.

Helplessly, she went and sat outside the hotel wondering what to do. There was no Kenyan embassy on the island; the nearest one was the mainland at Dar es Salaam.

“Maria, you are still around!” 

It was Ahmed, her only friend on the island!

“What happened last night? She desperately asked.

“We left the club at 3:00am and you came back to your hotel” he quickly filled her in. 

Maria explained the events of the morning and the fact that she couldn’t remember much from the previous night. Ahmed was equally perplexed. 

“I don’t have any money, I can’t help you”

“Can you get someone to buy me a ticket to the mainland; I can go to the embassy at Dar es Salaam and get help from there”, She pleaded desperately.

“I think I know someone who can help you.”

Ahmed took her to a house off the island where they found a man seated in an office behind a mahogany desk busy with paperwork. Everything in that office screamed of power and affluence.

The man was dressed in white. His robe had golden embroidery and so did his head scarf. He also had a huge white beard like most Arab men on the island. 

“So how can I help you Ahmed?” he asked.

 “This is my friend Maria from Kenya”, Ahmed explained to the man her predicament as he listened without interrupting.

“So how can I help you, my Kenyan friend?” he asked now looking at Maria
 “I need money to buy a ticket to Dar es Salaam so that I can go to the embassy”, Maria explained. 

“I will help you my friend…..actually, I will pay for your tickets all the way to Kenya” he said.

Maria sighed in relief; she was going back home! 

“Thank you Sir...”

“Call me Abdullah, we are now friends.” 

“I will need you to do me a small favor though; you will travel with my two friends to Nairobi where I have arranged for someone to pick them.”

Maria thought that was a small price to pay and so agreed quickly. Abdullah then arranged to have her travel on the next day. 

In the morning, she was introduced to a man and woman who were her travel companions.  They spoke in Arabic and Maria discovered that they didn’t know a word of Kiswahili or English.

“I have asked them to pretend to be deaf and dumb so that nobody asks about their language issue”, Abdullah explained much to the confusion of Maria.

“If anyone asks, say that you are all Kenyans and had travelled together”, again Maria wondered what was going on. 

“We have even given them nice Kenyan names; they are Musa and Rehema,” he added before cautioning her, “Do not let the immigrations officials inspect their documents.”

“Is this illegal?”She hesitantly asked.

 “Of course not, they just need to get to Kenya, they need help crossing the border because the language barrier”, he added smiling.

Maria had her doubts but there was no much time for second thoughts. Soon, the trio made their way to the port where they once again met the ticket inspector. She showed him all their tickets and headed to the immigration desk. 

She first handed over her passport which was quickly stamped. When she handed over Rehema’s passport, the immigration officer seemed to take forever with it. He started looking at it from page to page.

 “What were you doing in Zanzibar?”

“We were on vacation”, Maria quickly answered.

“I am asking her,” he said as he pointed at Rehema.

“She is deaf”, again Maria volunteered. 

“M-A-D-A-M…eh?” he called out to Rehema speaking very slowly and loudly.
“She still can’t hear you and she can’t read lips.” Maria said hoping to end the interrogation.

She sighed with relief as she saw him stamp the two passports.

They reached the mainland and luckily had no issue getting the Dar es Salaam to Nairobi bus. They just had to buy the tickets.

It was 6:00pm when they finally arrived at the border.

“Kenyans here, all non-Kenyans there”, the immigration officer shouted as he pointed at different queues.

The trio got in line with the other Kenyans.

“You two, I said non-Kenyans should stand over there, you are in the wrong queue!”
Maria realized that the officer was referring to Musa and Rehema.

“We are all Kenyans, from the North-Rift, Boranas”, She quickly explained, knowing that she was talking too fast and giving unnecessary details.

The officer looked at them for a while and walked away after he added, “They look like Somalis!” 

Those words shock waves through Maria’s body. Musa and Rehema did look like Somalis. She hadn’t thought of it but then it made sense! They didn’t speak any Swahili like everyone else in Zanzibar! Their appearance was also quite different.

The Kenyan government was very strict about illegal immigrants. Culprits were deported or imprisoned. The smugglers faced up to twenty years in jail. She thought of abandoning them and running away but then again everyone had already seen them together and she still had to get her passport stamped.

“NEXT!” the immigration officer shouted glaring at her. She hadn’t even realized that she was holding up the queue.

She gave him the three passports but to her surprise, they were all stamped and returned to her, no questions asked.

Maria couldn’t wait to get to Nairobi and get rid of her two companions now turned contraband. She had so many questions about Ahmed, Abdullah and the Somalis. She started wondering if all was happening was just a coincidence. Her lost phone, tickets and money, meeting Ahmed and then Abdullah who just happened to have two immigrants who needed to travel to Kenya; it had to be a set up!

Once in Nairobi, she rushed to the rendezvous as Abdullah had mentioned where a man called Mawe met her. 

“I have a long way to go” Maria pleaded refusing to sit down.

“Oh yeah, you are going all the way to Limuru.”

Maria was stunned. How did he know where she lived?

He reached into his pocket and handed her an envelope and a phone.

“This is your payment, always keep that phone on, we will notify you of your next assignment.” 

She was dumfounded. Payment? Next assignment?

“I am sorry there must be a mistake, Abdullah told me to bring these two here and that was it.”

Mawe burst out in a maniac laugh.

“Don’t be na├»ve Maria, do you know who these people are?” he asked.

“This is Wariahe Marda and his wife.”

The name sounded familiar but she couldn’t place it.

“They are wanted for crimes against humanity in Somalia and are now international fugitives. You have just brought them to Kenya so you can’t just run away from this”, he added coldly.

“Just go home, enjoy your money and I will call you for your next assignment.”

Maria silently picked the phone and the envelope which was quite heavy and left. That was not how she had expected her vacation to go. In just a week she had turned from a tourist to joining an underworld of smugglers.

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