Tales From The Road – When Machetes Ruled The Day

I spent New Year’s Eve, 2008, at 36,000 feet somewhere between New York and Dubai. I was on my way to Kenya for the third time in 6 years. My friend Pat and I decided to break up our long travel itinerary of about 24 straight hours from San Francisco to Nairobi by stopping for a few days in a place where neither of us had been before, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

After three nights at the Dubai Sheridan, we were sitting in the bar watching the television in disbelief. In Kenya members of the Lao tribe were in the process of slicing up Kikuyu tribesmen. The weapon of choice was a three foot machete.

The week before, in a hotly contested national election between the incumbent Mwai Kibaki (Kikuyu) and his chief rival, Raila Odinga (Lao). Kibaki was the clear winner but the election was a joke. It was proven that both sides were guilty of cheating and election fraud.

The rift between the Kikuyu and the Lao began many years ago during British rule. The hate was cemented when, in 1962, the British left Kenya and installed Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu as president. Political nepotism became the order of the day and Kenyatta installed his Kikuyu tribesmen in key government positions. The Lao were pushed to the fringe. Their lives for years were ruled by the Kikuyu.

The Lao thought that 2008 was their year. Their chance to rule. Their chance to get even. They felt cheated. Actually the Kikuyu were just better cheaters than the Lao. The Lao were determined to even the score and hack to death as many Kikuyu as they could find. We watched all this on CNN.

Pat and I watched with great concern as we saw the ruins of a church were 12 Kikuyu ran to hide. The Lao burned the church to the ground killing all inside.

I was more than content to spend a week or so in Dubai and then go home, skipping Kenya all together. Dubai is a place where there is clearly too much money. I had a great time. Except for the evening Pat and I ventured out to the local market place (Think Indiana Jones and The Raiders of The Lost Ark marketplace) and walking through the crowd, a man grabbed my crown jewels and gave them a gentle squeeze. He disappeared into the crowd. After I made a few phone calls to friends in Nairobi and were assured that all was well in the city, it of course was not, we knew it and still left Dubai as scheduled and completed our travels to Nairobi.

As a side note in 2003, Pat and I were inducted into the Kikuyu tribe in the small Kenyan town of Kiambo. In previous visits to Kenya we told everyone we met that we were Kikuyu. This time I told Pat to tell everyone we were CHEROKEE!

The second week of our visit Nairobi was locked down under martial law. Our movements were being tracked and limited. Pat decided to head to the island of Zanzibar for a few days and I headed to Karen, a town outside of Nairobi to visit our school.

Upon arrival at the school, Sister Catherine told me that there were only a few girls there. The rest would arrive tomorrow. So I spent the afternoon playing soccer and talking with the girls. Later I cleaned up and headed across the compound to have dinner with Sister Catherine and Sister Mary. The house smelled wonderful as Sister Mary was baking chicken and boiling potatoes and veggies grown in the compound.

About half way through dinner, Sister Catherine received a frantic phone call from one of the girls, she had made it out of Kibera, the largest slum in Africa with about 1 million inhabitants. Because of all the violence, theft and rape, all bus service was suspended. She had no way to get out of there. Sister Mary literally flew out of her seat like Superwoman and said she would go and get her. Well, I couldn’t let her go alone, so I jumped out of my seat, grabbed a chicken leg went with Sister Mary.

Sister Mary handled that older model blue Toyota Rav4 like an expert as she flew down the pot holed and rock covered road. I held on for dear life while I ate my chicken leg.

Accelerating around a sharp right hand turn, she hit the brakes and slowed to a crawl. There were 5 men running in front of us. Sister carefully stayed behind the men. In the orange, brown and pink African twilight, all 5 men looked the same. All shirtless running like gazelles. The difference was the man in front was running for his life as the four men behind him were carrying thee foot machetes. Sister kept her distance.

The man in front, was losing ground and tried to put a Jerry Rice type move on the other four men. As he cut to the right, machete man on the right swung his machete and caught the runner across the outside of his right knee. He went down like a gazelle who was clipped by a cheetah. He tumbled and laid in the dirt in the middle of the road on his stomach. One machete man raised his machete high in the air and slammed it into the fallen man’s back. The blade was dull, he only bled a little. The other three men finished him off. With a fury like I have never witnessed before, the four men repeatedly slammed their machetes into the man’s back and head until, I assume he was dead. While the murder was taking place Sister drove slowly around the men so we would not be noticed.

About 80 yards down the road, we found our girl. She had been joined by seven other girls. We loaded them and their personal items in the Rav and drove to safety. Not before we witnessed 4 Kenyan military beat the life out of another man with their riot clubs.

We made it back to the school safety and made sure the girls were settled in and fed. I went back to my room, collected my bottle of Johnnie Walker Black and headed for the Sisters home. There was to be no alcohol in the compound, but Sister Mary and Sister Catherine were grateful for a shot or two after that evening’s adventure. I must admit, it was fun watching Nuns drink.



Raila Odinga


Mwai Kibaki


Railia Odinga - Mwai Kibaki, - Daily Nation Front Page, Kenya

Railia Odinga – Mwai Kibaki, – Daily Nation Front Page, Kenya




1 Comment

Filed under Tales From The Road

One response to “Tales From The Road – When Machetes Ruled The Day

  1. Ronald Gonzales

    Wow Mike , that was one hell of an adventure !! Glad you made it out, and home safe . Now I see your Indiana Jones hat fits you perfectly . You were a long ways from 6th st in Rodeo my friend . A shot, and a toast of Johnny Walker to you ol bud .Salud !!

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