Michael Onsando
14 April ,2015

The road to Garissa gives a detailed history of the things that brought us to this space. This place where a spark ignites a stampede. But focusing on the fear feels selfish. Like ignoring the 147 students who were killed on 2nd April 2015, their families and their friends.


something of the soul is broken in us

we don’t even know enough to miss it, or to mourn

– Wambui Mwangi

What does it mean to mourn? I’ve been thinking about a very brief and recent history of wailing using a lamentation of mourners and a man wails. A confusion of violences, not one but many. I’ve been wondering about how these threads can come up in our lives; in different ways. I’m wondering what these tears mean.

I still do not know how to speak back to tears.

There is a treading that is necessary, there is a thinking around it. In the space of vulnerability and being aware of the vulnerability of others we are forced into a space of (un)thinking. The monsters under the house begin to rattle and we remember that we have been hurt before.

That speaking is the enemy.

Veena Das reminds me that silence is a form of poisonous knowledge. Inside silence there are words that move unspoken, sentiments that are felt but not expressed. The brand of silence we have actively silences. It is accompanied by a lashing out, speaking is seen as an intrusion. Questions thus become something that are to be avoided at all costs.

But vulnerability demands questions.

This space we’re in demands questions.

And this is where the pushing and pulling begins. This is where two years of success find themselves as two years of hopelessness. This is where the rigorous redefinition begins to happen.

We are one.

Except, we aren’t. We are many. What does it mean to be one? If we are one, which one are we? Who do we erase in the creation of this one? Even in this time of vulnerability whose vulnerability do we heighten? When we begin to gather who do we gather, and who do we move out of the way?

“In its latest move to counter the terror threat engulfing its country, the Kenyan government has banned at least 86 entities and individuals it accuses of financing or supporting terror activities in the country.”

– Kenya is Stopping Remittances of Over 70 Million a month

“Even I’ve witnessed [it] out of my window. I’ve seen it. The policemen came and just grabbed some boys from the street three days ago.”

– Kenyan Somalis speak out

(I’m unnerved by the stubborn distinction between Kenyan Somali and Somali.)

“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”

– Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals


But this is an essay about tears.

Specifically about these tears. About the National Disaster Management Unit’s ten security tips. It’s about how an arbitrary number becomes the only thing we can talk about for a week. How, in the same breath, a number becomes a ghost.

We have numbers.

Numbers that we mutter under our breath. 147, 68, 1500, 5000.


“Who are our ghosts and what do they demand when they come to visit?”

– Ndinda Kioko


Foucault talks about docile bodies. Bodies that are no longer active but are not passive either, that have been trained, disciplined. They are efficient. He reminds us that docile bodies can be activated at any time.

Gukira writes:

When it comes to Somalis in Kenya, what remains now is “muscle memory”: state-sanctioned physical movements and affective dispositions devoted to maintaining Somali disposability.”


“Mourning is imagining your own death, nothing more. It’s a form of humility to admit that you mourn yourself; that while mourning you realize the immediacy of life’s moments. Grief should be utility. Grief should become a way to avoid unnecessary dying.”

– Emmanuel Iduma, mass dying

What does it mean to mourn? To continue to gather the numbers?

When I was a child I’d try, often, to count to a thousand. It was hard. Every other second came with another distraction, another thing to do, another experience to collect. The constant novelty of life wouldn’t let me focus on the numbers.

I always lost count.

And those were numbers that I wanted to keep, to accumulate.

Those numbers did not come with a whole human being attached to each of them. They did not carry any form of pain/loss.

These numbers do.

These numbers come with a career in medicine cut short. They come with classrooms having been shot up and bullet riddled bodies in the media across the world. They come with discussions about things that could have been done better. They come with late call response times. They come with discussions about representation in the media.


“We’re not evolving emotional filters fast enough to deal with the efficiency with which bad news now reaches us…”

– Teju cole

To mourn, then, is to stop the numbers. Just as apologies must involve restorative action, so must mourning. The question, which this all is, then becomes simple: who are we restoring? From a place of vulnerability, what do these tears mean?

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