The Robbery, A Story

By David Zarembka

Based on a true story.

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My Dad’s house and cow.

Two weeks ago early Tuesday morning, my Dad was robbed. And it was my fault. I work in Kisumu and saw a small black and white TV for sale that runs on a car battery. I thought it would be nice to buy it for Dad. He is 84 years old, but quite active and alert. As many people of his generation he always kept up with the news as he lived through the struggle for Kenya independence and then the euphoria of the early days of the Kenyatta regime. He has a battery powered radio and still listens to the news a number of times each day. So I thought that the little TV would add to his enjoyment as he could actually see the people speaking. I had no doubt that my nephews and grandnephews would watch the Saturday evening English football league game of the week.

So Friday after work, I got the matatu (mini-bus) home to Vihiga County as I always do one or more times each month. I presented Dad with the TV and set it up in his living room. He was pleased. On Sunday afternoon, I returned to Kisumu to go to work the next morning.

Tuesday morning about 2:00 a.m. around fifteen youth attacked his house and robbed him. They entered through the back door which, unlike the front door which had a very strong bolt, had a weak lock and therefore they were easily able to just push their way in. They tied Dad up to his bed and cut up his mattress and pillow looking for money. Naturally they ran off with the TV and battery. They also cleaned out his house of everything – his clothes, dishes, and food (not only the sugar bowl but the sugar in it also). The whole heist took no more than 10 to 15 minutes.

They carried off the chickens but not the cow since it would have been impossible to drive the cow unnoticed in the middle of the night. I need to explain a little about that cow. Like I indicated Dad is of that older generation and one of their attributes is great attachment to their cow(s). All of us children built the house pictured above for him over twenty years ago. It has a living room, his bedroom (Mom died five years ago), another small bedroom where two of his young great grandsons sleep, and then the last room was his cow barn. We children argued with him time and again that the cow should not live in the house because it was unsanitary. We offered to build him a barn. He refused. He used to come visit us in Kisumu now and then, but after a day or two he would start worrying about his cow(s). He always had one or two cows and often a heifer if that is what the cows had given him in their last birth. He worried: “Were the cows being milked?”, “properly fed?”, and so on? No young mother fretted over her first born baby more than my Dad did with his cows. Again this was not unusual for his generation.

Before going to bed Monday night, I had turned off my cell phone. When I turned it on early Tuesday morning when I got up, there were a lot of missed calls from William, my nephew who lives across the road and the one who takes care of Dad on a daily basis – his sons were the ones sleeping in the extra bedroom. I immediately called William and learned about the robbery. I called my boss, told him what happened, and secured leave for the day to go to the village to see what had happened. Since I was told that they had stolen all his clothes, I packed up some extra shirts, trousers, and other clothes in my house and caught a matutu (mini-bus) for Stendikisa in Vihiga County. After alighting from the matatu, as I knew there would be a lot of people at the house, I stopped by a shop to buy some tea leaves, sugar, bread, Blue Band margarine, and a few other items. I boarded a motorcycle taxi and arrived home shortly after 9:00 a.m.

The house was packed with people. All my five siblings except one sister who lives too far away in Nairobi were already there. Since this was our home area, so many relatives lived nearby and most of them dropped by as did many of the neighbors, people from church, and the sub-chief of the area. My Dad told the story of the robbery over and over again until he got tired of telling it and William took over this duty. Everyone sympathized with Dad and most brought something to replace what had been stolen. My sister in Nairobi sent me some money through my phone as did a number of Dad’s grandchildren who did not live in the area. With this we were able to buy him a new mattress, pillow, and beddings. By the end of the day, except for the TV and car battery, I think he had been “reimbursed” for everything that had been stolen including his chickens.

In the discussions with the visitors, we realized that Dad’s robbery was not the only one in the area. In another case about a month previous, two sisters had come from Nairobi with presents for their mama and the gang had attached the house while they were still there and slashed one of the sisters with a panga (machete). We realized that Dad was lucky that he hadn’t been hurt. Then again another elderly couple had been attacked after their son had come to visit them.

We also discussed and realized that someone had to have told the gang about the TV and to enter through the back door. Our suspicions turned to a drunkard nephew who was conspicuously not around. A few days later he was beaten up by the gang. The speculation was that he had told the gang that they would get a lot of money that I had left behind, but they got only a few hundred shillings (a few dollars). This is because I don’t give Dad money since I know he will spend it all in a few days. What the family did was to make an arrangement with a shop keeper in the village with whom I had gone to school. Dad would take whatever he needed (within reason) on credit and, when I or my siblings visited, we would pay off the debt. This had worked well. It meant that there was almost no money for the robbers to steal. We assume that my nephew was supposed to get a cut of the proceeds, but got beaten up since he had misinformed them. Some speculated that he might normally be one of the gang members although he obviously couldn’t rob Dad because he might easily be identified.

During the discussions, my Dad said that he wanted to go to the witch doctor to have a curse put on the robbers. Since Dad was a Christian, I was somewhat surprised that he suggested this, but then again he still was old-fashioned. All of us siblings immediately told him that this would be just a waste of money so he dropped the idea.

In the end Dad took the robbery in stride. I think that this was because he received so much sympathy from the family and neighbors, was fully re-supplied by the end of the day, and most importantly because the robbers hadn’t stolen his cow. I decided it was wise not to replace the TV.


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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region. He is an analyst on eastern Africa issues for TVC News in Lagos, Nigeria.


David Zarembka

Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC)

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