Everything changed when the police started shooting.
High school students had blocked the road to Namanga, so no-one could cross the border. They were protesting because their school had been waiting five years for a bus to be delivered. Trucks and cars were backed up on each side of the road. Drivers stood around chatting and texting their mates. The protesters danced and chanted. One boy pogoed high in the air, as if performing a set piece for tourists. We jumped out of the bus to enjoy the mid-morning sun. Maasai herdsmen strolled along the track by the side of the road in scarlet robes; they carried traditional knobkerrie clubs in one hand, but one held a mobile phone to his ear with the other. A snake nosed out of a bush. Meerkats sat up and took notice then vanished. A vulture settled on an acacia tree.
Then the police arrived. There were half a dozen of them to fifty or more protesters, but they were just kids and the policemen were big, intimidating men; and they had automatic rifles, tear gas and riot shields. Disperse and go home, the senior one said, or words to that effect in Swahili. But the protesters carried on chanting and dancing. The drivers carried on chatting and texting their mates. We carried on enjoying the sun. The vulture left its perch.
The policemen were frustrated at being ignored and started firing over the heads of the protesters, who scattered, except a boy of somewhere around thirteen who lay on the road in a puddle of blood. Someone said he was dead; someone else said just badly injured. He had been shot; no, hit by a rock; no, trampled by fleeing protesters. No one really knew what had happened.
We got back on the bus in an orderly panic and the drivers melted back to their cars. Then the riot began. The protesters flung stones and they thumped off riot shields. The police replied with tear gas. But the tear gas ran out before the stones and the police sprinted across the plain out of sight.
The protesters, then, stormed down the road, stopping to pick up more stones, determined to throw them at someone. When they stopped level with the bus, we dived onto the floor and the stones came through every window. I held my daypack over my head while more stones hammered into the panels beneath the windows and a few landed inside. A chunk of compacted glass went down the back of my shorts; I was bleeding from a cut on my arm. More protesters passed, right by us, banging on the side of the bus as we stayed down on the floor and hoped they would not try to get in.
Then they were gone and it was quiet and we got up and abandoned the bus and walked to a nearby campsite, emptying the glass out of our clothes as we walked. The road was clear within a few hours and we crossed into Tanzania a bit later than planned and I never found out for sure what happened to the boy who was laid in the road.
No doubt the school is still waiting for its bus.
(c) Richard Senior 2014