I Know A Place

I knew
When you told me you don’t wanna go home tonight
And you tried to just shrug it off when I asked you why
Somebody hurt you
Somebody hurt you

The air tasted of destruction. A strange mix of smoke, dust and metal. Smoke rose angrily to the sky as if cursing the stupidity of men. Screams rendered the air adding to the din caused by the iron roofs burning. There was chaos. There was confusion. People ran past him clutching whatever belongings they had managed to salvage. Some called to him. Urging him to get away. To go far away before ‘they’ came. They knew and he knew, that this was only the beginning. Like rats, they were being lured out of their hiding place. They were being poked out of their holes so they could come out to the light. Out in the open where they could be easy targets. He knew. He understood. But he was still shocked. Stunned that they would go to these lengths.

There had been talk. Whispers of an impending raid. But there had always been talks. His life and that of his friends was punctuated with anxiety, marked with worry. They always lived on alert, bags packed, one foot out of the door awaiting the soon to come raids. Nothing had prepared him for the devastating sense of loss. As he stood there watching the only place he had called home burn down, anger, like a fist, curled within him. He wanted to scream. To kick something. But there was nothing left to kick. It was all enveloped in the flames. It seemed strange to him that the flames looked like they were dancing. Celebrating the end. He started to move closer, to get one good look at all he was losing when a hand grabbed him.

Saba looked disheveled. As if he was caught either in the middle of dressing or undressing. His shirt was unbuttoned and he had his boxer shorts on. He was panting, a sheen of sweat highlighting the worry on his face.

“I thought I lost you Tsuki. We have to go!”

Reluctantly, Tsuki allowed Saba to pull him away.

“We are meeting K and the boys by the school field. They have a car. They want us to drive to Kenya but we have to go now. “

‘Cause I can recall when I was the one in your seat
I still got the scars and they occasionally bleed
‘Cause somebody hurt me
Somebody hurt me
But I’m staying alive

And I can tell
When you get nervous
You think being yourself means being unworthy
And it’s hard to love with a heart that’s hurting
But if you want to go out dancing

 

The gray and brown that was Tarach Refugee Camp was replaced by vivid reds, bold blues and triumphant yellows. Area 4 looked like a rainbow field. The rainbow flags were draped over seemingly every surface. Tsuki cast his eyes over the makeshift stage that was also painted with rainbow colors and smiled. He allowed himself to start believing that this event could actually happen. The planning process had been hellish, with threats being left everywhere and a few attacks. Saba and a few of their friends had been attacked as they left soccer practice. A gang of burly men had accosted them, wielding knives and proclaiming that they would kill all the gays. That they would not allow the gays to make Tarach an ungodly place. They only managed to escape when the patrolling police came by scaring the gang off. Saba was still nursing his wounds.

Tsuki shook his head, willing the sadness away. Today would be a happy day. They were having the first ever Pride Month Celebrations in Tarach. There would be no beatings, no attacks and no fires. They had scraped together all their savings and paid the police to ensure they would have round the clock protection for as long as the event lasted. The event program in his hand detailed the activities of the day. The Rainbow Refugee Society, an NGO from the States was screening a film. Afterwards, there would be a free medical clinic, voguing, dancing and a fashion show. The Commission for Refugees was providing food and drinks. The event would close with a special service, in remembrance of the friends they had lost, either at the hands of the other refugees or those who had run away seeking a better life. An ally pastor had accepted to lead the service on condition that it would be held at night. He couldn’t risk his church members knowing that he was affiliated with the gays. As a church leader, he had earned some respect and power and couldn’t risk being ostracized.

Even after months of preparation, it still felt like a dream to Tsuki. He couldn’t believe that it was actually happening. As he watched his friends making their way to the venue, he couldn’t help but smile. They all gave him a pat on the shoulder as they made their way to their respective positions. Saba, limping, slowly walked towards him. When he reached him, they hugged and stood side by side, watching their friends prepare. Saba was the first to speak.

 

“Can you believe it?”

“It feels like a dream”

“I am proud of you.”

Tsuki nodded and held Saba’s hand.

 

“Do you think you’ll be able to dance?”

“For you, nitajaribu.”

 

They will try to make you unhappy
Don’t let them
They will try to tell you you’re not free
Don’t listen
I, I know a place where you don’t need protection
Even if it’s only in my imagination

 

Tsuki watched Saba, as he lay beside him. Saba, although he adamantly refused to accept it, had the cutest snore. As usual, sleep was hard to come by for Tsuki. His dreams were full of smoke, and dust and the taste of metal. And running. He always woke up in a sweat from dreams of running as fast as he could but still being caught. In some dreams, there was fire but he didn’t have legs and he could only watch as everything including him, burnt to a crisp. It was easier to stay awake and watch Saba sleeping. His mind drifted to the pride event. It had been a wild success. They had vogued, modeled and danced to their heart’s content. It had been an evening of love. The air seemed sweeter. Even the unbearable heat of Tarach had seemed lighter that day. Slow dancing with Saba had been the highlight of his night.

Tsuki’s smile faltered. It was hard to think of the event without thinking of the warning. It had shown up the next day, on almost every surface in Area 4.

 

We have been quiet for to long. It’s time for you gays to go. You are spoiling Tarach. We will kill you one by one. All you sinners.

It wasn’t different from the other threats that had been shared earlier. It had the same grammatical errors and carried the same beliefs. Tsuki wondered how these people, most of whom had lost their families and homes, still held on to the hatred. A hatred that was backed by and hinged on the love of God. Saba had said that there was nothing to it, that it was an empty threat. Tsuki told himself that over and over again.  It’s just an empty threat.

He was still muttering to himself when Saba woke him. His eyes first registered the bag that Saba was carrying and second, the panic etched on his face. Even before Saba spoke, Tsuki knew what he would say.

“Get up. Quick. We have to go.”

Song Lyrics: I Know A Place by Muna

There was a pride event in Kakuma Refugee Camp a few days ago and a warning letter, a few days thereafter. I had read a lot about LGBTQ+ refugees from Uganda, Congo, Burundi and other East African countries and what they go through at the camp. Seeing that warning letter they received inspired this story. While watching Alex Strangelove, I was reminded of I Know A Place by Muna, and the anthem that it is. It got me thinking of safe places. Where do you run to when you are already on the run?

I do not know yet what we can do for the community there but when I learn, I will be sure to share.

 

 

 

 

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