Over a Common Pain

Michael Onsando
7 November ,2017

As I write this piece I mourn with the Kenya rugby family the deaths of Mike Okombe and Peter Wekesa. May their families find some form of peace in this trying time.

It’s been a sad year for Kenya rugby. This weekend, Mike Okombe was allegedly stabbed to death by his girlfriend during a party. Hours later, Peter Wekesa was in a road accident along with his brother John Wekesa – neither of them survived. This comes in a year when the rugby family has lost James Kilonzo, Ogeto Gecheo, Victor Wayodi and Andrew Wekesa (who was Peter Wekesa’s younger brother).

There’s something about rugby players that makes them seem larger than life. Perhaps it is their physical prowess that makes it difficult for the rest of us to imagine that they can die. When you sit on the stands on a Saturday afternoon and watch the pace, power and will of these men they almost looks like gods. Maybe this is why their deaths strike us to the core. Just like in a rugby game, where tackling the opponent’s largest player kills their morale – death striking one of the strongest shakes us to the core.

Emmanuel Iduma writes:

“Death, rightfully, is said to be the imagination of the living. When hundreds of people are named dead, following a massacre, the hashtags that follow aim to discover the nature of dying. 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. Anything else is like frolicking in the wrong garden.”

But no one talks about the value of smelling the flowers. Life cannot be a clear cut case of functionality. We must allow ourselves to mourn, for in mourning we let go. In mourning we begin to detach ourselves from that which was alive. Allowing them to stay in the past that we might move into the future. But there is something in what he writes about us mourning ourselves. Death reminds us of our own mortality. Reminds us that death will, one day, come to visit us as well.

In this way, death unites us. It is the one thing that demands our utmost respect – the great equalizer, if you will. A pain that we all know, understand and fear.

And with this knowledge we know to respect grief – for one day we too will grieve.

For some reason though, it is difficult to do when it comes to men who are killed by the women close to them. The discourse somehow shifts. The conversation around Okombe’s death being consistently derailed to what he could have done to deserve it. Why did she (allegedly) do it? It reminds me of a similar killing in 2014 (in draft one I wrote death – even that is telling, why the instinct to write it in passive?). This time of a former classmate of mine – Farid Mohammed. He was stabbed 22 times by his girlfriend. This time the conversation suddenly became about cheating men – as if they deserve to die.

There’s little space to talk about men who go through physical and emotional abuse within the current frames of conversation. Especially today, when we are looking at power structures and systems it seems difficult to see men as being victims of something. Yet it is this same space where we lack the ability to see men as capable of pain that drives the patriarchy in the first place. This dangerous notion that “men are logical” which, while used to erase the narrative of women is also used to suppress ideas of weakness within men. And what greater weakness than to be subjugated – by a women no less? In many ways it is a self-inflicting cycle – because it cannot happen it continues to happen.  Because we cannot imagine it as happening, we cannot even begin to think about how to stop it from happening.

And so it continues.

And we know that we don’t talk about them because we hear the stories years later. We hear them in passing, one drunken night a friend whispers ‘yeah my ex used to hit me every time she got mad’ and we laugh it off. Or we watch with amusement in a club as a boyfriend tries to calm down his girl who is dead set on getting as much pain out of him as possible.

“The weight of dreams is evenly distributed – and equally unjust. It is almost as if to revel must include a shared misery. A togetherness that is neither with joy nor desirable.”

As with any system, we all play a part in it. And often, understanding the part that we play in it involves the ability to look beyond our own pain and into the life of the other. But how do we do that when we are buried in our own pain, in our own contexts?

“How can you blame the thing that brought you here for getting you lost?”

But even this is a big ask, because our pain helps us develop the tools to defend ourselves, we know not to touch fire because we have been burned by it. So maybe then it begins by understanding that there is more than one pain point – and that the ways in which we are broken will often come up against each other.

As always it boils down to empathy and compassion – who have you othered? Who do you lack the tools to build compassion for?

Who do you refuse to mourn? Because if you can’t imagine their deaths – were they ever alive to you?


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