I hope you’re good. Live life and have fun. Yee, I’ve missed you, though I’ll be doing this every day until we come home…
Yess, Yess I’m reading… But Pesho ain’t coming back and I feel bad. But don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. I’ll do happy things to forget it… Take care of yourself, okay. I’m trying my best here as hard as I can. If I don’t pass in entry, I’m sorry I’m just sad, but I promise I’ll make for it end-term…
I love you so much, mum. I’ll do everything to make you happy.
This is the first and last letter Natalie Nanga would write to her mother in a journal she had titled ‘Mum’s letters’. It was written on August 30, two days before the Moi Girls Nairobi School arson that killed Natalie and eight other girls.
The journal is one of the items Natalie’s mother, Clara Asiko, was given when she went to collect her daughter’s belongings from the school.
When we visited Clara at her home in Syokimau, Machakos county, on Saturday, she was preparing for a church service on the estate. She was unusually calm and struck the figure of a woman who had not quite come to terms with the loss of her only child.
Clara was a single mother.
IT WAS JUST ME AND NATALIE
“It was just me and her. Natalie loved to write. This letter is so sad. Pesho was Natalie’s very good friend. They did everything together, but she transferred and it really affected Natalie,” Clara says as she looks at the journal pensively.
Pesho, a nickname for Patience, had bought Natalie the journal for her birthday, which was on August 12. Natalie was turning 15.
In her note, Patience said, “I was so excited about your birthday I bought this book in June. Nagubenda gama banda bassion [nakupenda kama Fanta passion — I love you like Fanta passion].”
Patience had been Natalie’s friend since their primary school days in Lukenya School. Clara says perhaps the culture shock of moving to a public boarding school from a private school was too much for Patience.
Natalie, too, had wanted to move to another school. “She said she didn’t like the school and didn’t give any specific reason, but I think it was the change to a public school. I thought she would get used to it with time, but she kept saying she didn’t like it, to the point I was considering moving her.”
Clara has not had much time to process Natalie’s death. The previous day, she was digging through her photo albums to look for good shots of Natalie to use for the service that will be held tomorrow before the burial on Friday.
Hawa Aziz was the first of the nine girls to be buried on Saturday at her parents’ home in Homa Bay county.
As Clara goes through Natalie’s photos, she says she finally found someone able to unlock the pattern on her daughter’s phone to retrieve more good pictures.
Clara reminisces about the playful, life-loving girl Natalie was.
She says lovingly, “The problem with Natalie is that she always had funny photos. She was always posing or making hand gestures [like the peace sign] in her photos. Now I don’t know which one to use.”
Clara goes silent for a moment, then says, “This thing is hard. I cannot even describe it. I think I am still yet to process what has happened. It hasn’t sunk in yet. But we thank God.”
Clara’s strong faith is evident, and she says she raised her daughter to be a God-loving child as well.
Natalie’s friends are around and will be ushers for the Saturday service. They will sing the song titled ‘Oceans’ by Zoe Grace during the burial on Friday. Natalie loved it. Clara plays the song for us.
“My playlist is full of gospel music, which Natalie loved.”
One of Natalie’s favourite verses was, “When oceans rise, my soul will rest in your embrace.”
“Natalie was a good girl. She loved God. She was outgoing and had many friends. She was the kind of girl who would play ‘the last man standing’ where members of a WhatsApp group would compete to be the last person to write a message [even if it meant staying awake all night],” Clara says.
Clara’s joy of reminiscing about Natalie turns into anger when she recounts how she found out about her daughter’s death. “I don’t even want to go there. I think I am bitter about how the whole thing was handled,” she says.
LEARNED VIA WHATSAPP
Clara found out about the Moi Girls’ fire through the WhatsApp group for parents from Form 1R — Natalie’s class.
On the morning of September 2, at about 7am, Natalie was scrolling through her messages and saw one of the parents had written there was a fire at Moi Girls’ and he heard reports some girls had been injured. He told the parents to check on their girls.
Clara immediately replied, ‘I’m going [to the school].’
Upon arrival, there was confusion, but Clara spotted a teacher and asked her if she had seen Natalie, but she just walked away from her.
When a head count was done, Natalie was nowhere to be found.
Clara kept the faith and was advised to file a missing person’s report. In the meantime, she circulated a picture of Natalie on her social media pages asking for people to report if they had seen Natalie.
Between September 2 and 12, when the results of the DNA testing were released, Clara says she did not receive the kind of communication she would have liked from the school administration.
Some representatives did visit, but they didn’t have the answers Clara needed.
“Whenever I ask questions, I am made to feel as if I am making noise. The parents [who lost their children] were once told to stop behaving like activists because this is not a trade union,” she says.
“I have received more support from strangers. There was a woman who came to visit me who doesn’t even know me. She lost her son during the Westgate terror attack and consoled me.”
During the requiem last Thursday, Moi Girls’ principal Jael Muriithi said the administration tried its best to rescue the girls.
Muriithi said they “braved the darkest hour of the night… did not hide our nakedness… and moved with speed to attend to the cries of our little angels”.
She said teachers thought all girls had been rescued from the dormitory by the time the fire was put out.
“We were shocked when we learnt we had lost eight girls in the fire and that one succumbed to her injuries while undergoing treatment,” she told the service at the school.
Between the time the parents’ DNA samples were taken and the results announced, Clara said she experienced insensitivity, even from clerics.
“There was a man who said he was a chaplain who visited and told me that I should accept my daughter was dead and move on. I had been sending a missing person poster because I was still hopeful, and besides, the authorities said that until the DNA results were confirmed, the children would be treated as missing persons.”
MORTUARY ROLL CALL
On the dreaded day when the DNA results were ready, Clara went to the mortuary and says the parents’ names were called like one would a roll call.
She is irked that some people think it was a consolation to remind her that the state will cater for some costs.
“I don’t want costs covered, I want my daughter. When I viewed Natalie’s body, it was bad. It was really bad.” The bodies were burnt beyond recognition.
Clara said some people have been posting comments and generic messages of condolence on social media, but do not care to understand what the parents are going through. She called for mindful posting.
She also says it is painful to see how fast some parents whose children survived have moved and have shifted to calling for funds to build another dormitory, without seeming to care that she and the parents of eight other girls are still grieving.
In the middle of the interview, Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko’s office called and asked for details of when Clara needs a hearse to transport Natalie’s body for burial in Kakamega county.
“Let’s see if they follow up. There is a lot of protocol when following up on the money pledged by the government,” Clara said.
Last Thursday, Education PS Belio Kipsang said the government will pay hospital and mortuary bills, costs of DNA tests and funeral expenses.
He said the government will give each family Sh100,000 for burial. Sonko pledged hearses to transport the bodies.
As visitors stream in to prepare for the service, it is evident Clara’s calm is perplexing to many.
One woman could not hide her bewilderment as she saw Clara calmly walk up and down, welcoming and engaging visitors.
Perhaps it is her faith that keeps her going, the Philipians 4:7 “peace that surpasses all understanding” that is at work.
The visitors reminisce about Natalie. She was a focused girl. When she scored 390 marks out of 500 in her KCPE exam last year, she was inconsolable.
“She had expected nothing less than 415 marks, but she was among the first batch of students to sit an exam under the [Education CS Fred] Matiang’i strict exam rules. Natalie wanted to be a paediatric surgeon,” Clara said.
The room lights up as Clara narrates how Natalie saved up to buy ngomas [rubber shoes].
“She set a target to save up enough money to buy ngomas [rubber shoes] and a big chocolate and when it came time to buy them, I saw her pick the small chocolate and asked her why. She said she was Sh15 short on her savings. I told her she should have just asked me to top up. But that was who she was, an independent girl,” Clara said.
STUDENTS CANNOT SLEEP
Clara said parents should listen to their children when they complain about issues.
She said other students need to be counseled because the tragedy has left them scared and scarred.
“One girl told me she cannot sleep. She tosses and turns and at 2am, she is still awake. She says she wants to be awake in case a fire starts so she is alert and can escape. Children need to be counselled because for most of them, death is remote. It is that thing that happens to their grandparents.”
Clara said Amou Malong, who survived the fire but lost her sister Alakiir, has been grieving two people — her sister and Natalie, who was her friend, too. She said Alakiir and Natalie might have perished trying to rescue each other. Alakiir will be buried in South Sudan.
Right now, all Clara wants is answers and that those behind the arson be brought to book.
The Ministry of Education in 2008 launched the Safety Standards Manual for Schools.
The safety manual outlines guidelines on drug and substance abuse, disaster and emergency preparedness, school and community relations, infrastructure and how to create a conducive teaching and learning environment.
According to the guidelines, every school should post a blueprint map of the buildings, classrooms, dormitories and hallways.
There should be a telephone tree list including names of employees, teachers and parents for contacts in case of an emergency.
The safety measures include installation of serviceable fire-extinguishing machines, good security arrangements with provision for both night and day, well-maintained and clean learning rooms, a properly reinforced fence with an appropriate mechanism for repair and maintenance.
The dormitories should also have emergency exits at the middle and back, and windows and must be without grills and should be easy to open outwards.
Fire extinguishers and fire alarms should also be fitted in the dormitories.
Safety guidelines for dormitories
The space between the beds should be at least 1.2 metres while the corridor or pathway space should not be less than 2 metres.
Since sharing of beds is prohibited in schools, admissions should be tied to bed capacity at all times.
All doorways should be wide enough, at least 5 feet wide, and they should open outwards. They must not at any time be locked from outside when learners are inside.
Each dormitory should have a door at each end and an additional emergency exit at the middle. It should be clearly labelled “Emergency Exit”.
Dormitory doors should be locked at all times when learners are in class or on the playing fields. The keys to the doors should be kept by the Dormitory Master/Mistress or the Dormitory Prefect.
Dormitory windows must be without grills and should be easy to open outwards.
Fire extinguishing equipment should be functioning and placed at each exit with fire alarms fitted at easily accessible points.
Regular spot checks by the teachers and the administration should be undertaken before learners retire to bed.
An accurate roll call should be taken every day and records well maintained.
There should be regular patrols by the school security personnel or any other authorised security personnel. No visitor should be allowed in the dormitory.
There should be inspection of hygiene standards of the dormitories and the learners on alternate days of the week.
Bunkbeds should be strong and firm and fitted with side-grills to protect learners against falling off.
Carter Otieno, a close relative to Natalie Nanga Asiko also shared a heartbreaking message describing the late as a good girl who had an impact in the lives of many.
“It breaks my heart even to admit that you’re gone, it’s like someone just reaped off my beating heart. I remember your first steps, your first words, you were only too young but impacted the hearts of many…..you’re too dear to me and everyone you came across. Always smiling….you touched my heart in a special way Natalie Asiko Otieno I thank God for every precious moment he allowed me to have with you, it was always great. You made every moment special just by being there. I thank God for your beautiful soul.I cannot say goodbye, but rest in the Lord’s embrace. Clara Otieno may God give you peace and comfort.”
Source: Star/Claire Munde