Esther Kioko, 37, a travel consultant and mother of one teenage daughter almost lost her life one afternoon in November 2010 in a drama that unfolded in Nairobi’s city centre. She recounts to FAITH MATHENGE her horrendous experience in a shootout that not only left her injured, but also shaken to the core.
Esther Kioko reported back to work after her annual leave on November 15, 2010. She was excited to be back at work with the tour company she worked for. Energetic and enthusiastic about the remaining part of the year, Esther purposed to do her best at work. She received a warm welcome from her collegues but a day after her return to work, things turned in a different direction – not least of what she would have expected or dreamt of. She recounts events of that day in her own words.
“I was in the office on November 16, 2010 at around 4.30pm when I remembered an urgent phone call I needed to make. Since I didn’t have enough airtime I called my twin sister, Liz, requesting her to send me some top up credit. I made the call as soon as Liz topped my airtime. My routine after work was always to pass by Liz’s shop, which was close to my office and we would go back home together.
I was about to leave the office when a client walked in. Another tour operator had referred him to us. Since the company policy was that a commission be paid to any operator recommending clients to us and a booking was made, I needed to sort out this payment before heading out. The operator requested that I pay him through MPESA service and this meant passing through an MPESA agent to do the transaction. I left the office at around 5.10pm and went straight to an MPESA agent located at Travel House on Nairobi’s Kaunda Street. My plan was to load the money in my phone and pay the operator before going to my sister’s shop. There were two clients ahead of me and I waited patiently for my turn to be served.
All of a sudden, I heard a loud bang from outside and without giving it too much thought concluded it was a tyre burst. In a fraction of a second, another loud bang shook the building I was in and then I saw something hit the floor and bounce back. Then I knew danger was looming. Someone shouted that it was gunfire and I became alert. The next thing I heard was a voice ordering everyone to lie down. Things were happening so fast that even before I could get on the floor, there was yet another gunshot.
I was not so lucky this time. The bullet hit my right cheek and blood started oozing from my mouth. I silently called on God to preserve my life because it was apparent death was beckoning. The shooting went on and another bullet hit my right leg. The pain was unbearable but I lay still. I later learnt that there was an exchange of fire between the police and a group of thugs who had taken refuge outside the shop I was in. After the fire exchange died down, a policeman came into the shop to check on us. Next to me lay a lifeless body of a man who had succumbed to gunshot wounds. I did not establish immediately if he was a thug or an innocent victim like me.
My head felt heavy and I was in great pain but I told the police officer that I needed to call my sister. With the little energy left in my body, I reached for my phone and called my sister who responded swiftly. She was allowed into the shop and with the help of a few good Samaritans, they took me to Mater Hospital.
The emergency unit acted swiftly and after first aid treatment I was taken in for X-rays to determine if a bullet was lodged in my body. The X-ray revealed bullet particles that needed to be removed in the theatre. My family had already gotten word of the shootout and was already at the hospital. They were told it would cost around Ksh 950, 000 for me to be hospitalized and treatment started, and since they couldn’t afford that kind of money, they opted to have me transferred to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).
We found the queues long at KNH and I was rushed to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital, as I was in too much pain. Family and friends in the meantime were calling each other to help raise the money required before I could be operated on. I was wheeled to the theatre at 1am. Although the surgery was successful, I was horrified to see my heavily bandaged face when I checked myself in the mirror the following day. I was in a lot of pain and couldn’t eat or drink because of the wound on my cheek. The injury on my leg was more severe and took much longer to heal. It was a most trying time and whereas I thanked God for sparing my life, I couldn’t help asking, why me?
I was taken back to theatre after three days to check on the wound on my face for the doctor to decide if I needed skin grafting. This was eventually not found necessary and I responded well to treatment. I was discharged from hospital after a week. Although I still bear the scars of this horrific incidence, I thank God for sparing my life. I am grateful to all my friends and family who supported me financially and emotionally. Their prayers continue to heal the emotional wound, which I still bear.
My daughter Kristi Ndakayao, 17, has been a great source of inspiration to me. When the shooting happened, she was away in school and only got to learn about it when schools closed. Initially she was very disturbed by the incident and the thought that her mother could have died, but we have walked through the healing journey together. The pain in my leg intensifies when the weather is cold, so I have to ensure I am warmly dressed at all times. I can’t wear high shoes and I couldn’t relax my hair or braid it for two years because of the wound on my face. But I am happy that with time, things are slowly getting back to normal and I am getting stronger emotionally. At least now I can style my hair any way I want.
An inquest into the shooting is still ongoing and we hope to know the verdict once it is concluded – when that will be, only God can tell. I have not received any compensation, nor the people who died in the incident, including a police officer. But I remain grateful to God that I am alive, although I still pray for justice.
I have learnt to value life since it is a gift from God and can be taken away from us without any warning. I appreciate each day I live. I also learnt the importance of friends and family. We should always value and treasure them. They gave me tremendous support and this hastened my healing.
One advice I would like to give to people is that if you ever get caught up in a shoot-out, you should immediately get on the floor and remain lying down until fire ceases and you are sure it is okay to rise. It is also important to keep off crime scenes as chances of getting caught by a stray bullet are many.
Published in January 2013