I saw a gym friend yesterday. I asked her how she was.
‘Fine,’ she said, ‘but didn’t you hear? We were evicted.’
Evicted, as it turned out, Kenyan style.
This particular sporty friend is pretty unflappable and she relayed her story with a sort of resigned acceptance. In her shoes, I would have been traumatised, hysterical, enraged, baying for blood, threatening to sue, or at the very least....on the first flight out of Kenya....for good. (don't all cheer at once).
My friend rents/rented a house from a Kenyan owner and has lived there for a quite few years. The property has a pool, she’s spent lots of her own money on the garden, the rent was a huge 200,000 Kenya shillings per month, the landlord was nice. But last Friday afternoon she found forty men, including police officers with guns on her property. She was called out of the house and went to speak to them in her drive.
‘Your home is being repossessed,’ they said. ‘You have two minutes to get your valuables out of the house, then you have to get out, we are evicting you.’
They told her that her house had been sold at auction on behalf of the bank the week before. Nobody had thought to tell the tenants this, not the landlord and curiously not the bank.
Now, funnily enough, my friend said that she was talking with the rest of her family the night before about the horrendous situation in Haiti, which had led to a hypothetical conversation along the lines of ‘if you had only two minutes to grab your most treasured possessions, what would you choose?’ Her husband had said, ‘passports’, her two daughters had said, ‘teddies’ and she had said, ‘jewellery and my wedding photo album’.
Remembering this, my friend rushed into her house, grabbed the passports, two teddies and her jewellery box but she couldn’t find her wedding album – then, once done, the men came in. They ripped down her curtains from the window then laid them on the middle of the floor. Into the curtain they threw everything that was in the room, until it formed a large pile then, room by room, the bundles were dragged outside.
For instance, in her bedroom this meant her clothes, including leather jackets, got mixed in with her face creams and a vase of flowers full of water and Jik (a few drops of bleach). There was absolutely no respect shown for her property. Pictures were ripped from the walls, furniture, crockery, glass, decorative items, cooking oil were all thrown in together with linens and leaky cleaning products. When they tackled the kitchen the simply tipped her stainless steel fridge, still full of food, onto its side and dragged it out into the road.
My friend said that as she stood there, barred from the house, she thought about the bracelet that she had left in the living room by the TV. She also remembered how the landlord had called in earlier in the week and asked for rent in advance for March, April and May (Jan and Feb were already paid.) Her husband had given him a post-dated cheque and fortunately they later managed to cancel it. Meanwhile, my friend called her neighbour and said ‘sorry but we’re moving in!’ She and her gardener did their best to shift the possessions into the next door garage as they came flying out of the house and were deposited onto the road.
Next my friend had to do the school run, so took off in her car, picked up her kids and took them straight round to a friend’s house. She also managed to farm the guinea pigs and rabbits to friends, then deposited the tortoises over the fence into the nearby Giraffe Sanctuary. When the men had finished they all stood outside in a row. One of the policemen told them to take off their clothes in order to prove that nothing had been stolen. Dutifully, the men removed their shoes and shirts.
‘Search them!’ he said to my friend. ‘No!’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t dream of doing that! I’ll have to take you at your word.’
By this time, my friend’s husband had arrived having dashed from his office in the industrial area. The chief police officer walked over to my friend and stroked his truncheon across her cheek. Looking at the husband he said with a sneer,
‘See, look, your wife is fine and we could have done a lot more damage to your property if we’d wanted to. I think now you owe us all some sodas and nyamachoma.’
With the guns in mind, the husband did as he was told and for some reason, probably in shock, found himself treating them all to a meal, sitting there in amongst the rabble as they ate and drank.
Now my friend is living in a hotel with her family. Her possessions have now been put into a storage container, but she will have no idea of the extent of damage to her property until she is able to unpack into a new house.
‘At least none of us were hurt’ she said, 'you do learn that people are more important than possessions,' My mouth gaped open wide for the full half hour whilst listening to the tale. All I could mange to say was, 'wow, you are so brave!'
‘The funny thing is that thinking about it there was nobody over to value the house, no assessors, no strange letters, phone calls or visitors, no warning whatsoever.’
Most shocking of all is that the exact same thing happened to somebody else living in roughly the same area, just before Christmas. Exactly as in this case, on a Friday afternoon, all the lady’s belongings were slung out onto the road by a gang of thirty or so men. She was heading out of town at the time but raced back to salvage her worldly belongings.
Apparently the bailiffs plan a Friday afternoon visit because it’s then too late for tenants to contact the courts and get the eviction stopped. They are also reported to spend the best part of Friday morning in a bar getting tanked up before embarking on their unsavoury work. My friend eventually got hold of her landlord on the phone. He was very sympathetic but obviously a good deal less traumatised than the evicted tenants.
‘Oh, pole sana.’ He said, ‘sorry, I had no idea this was going to happen, poor you.’
This tale begs the question why are evictions taking place in this way? Why are the innocent tenants harshly punished for the sins of their landlords? What is the critical breakdown in communication? One can only assume that (hopefully) that the banks are unaware of the low-down practises of the bailiffs that they are outsourcing to.
Perhaps this is because in Kenya the concept of mortgages and accessing bank loans by using property as collateral is relatively new. Previously, everything was paid up front as you couldn't get credit anywhere. With the changes in lending, proper legal systems should be put in place in the event of repossession, for as it stands, the system is archaic and terrifying.