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Is this Mombasa's valley of death?

WEDNESDAY LIFE
By Benard Sanga | January 4th 2017
Locals views the mangled body of the TSS Public Service Bus at Bonje Valley along the main Mombasa-Nairobi highway in kilifi County. (Photo: Maarufu Mohamed/Standard)

Seated at a corner of his family’s bustling courtyard in Jimba, Rabai - Kilifi County Wilson Yaa looks approvingly at his three grandchildren running around the compound.

The smile on the face of this 69-year-old father of six however, hides a 47-year-long traumatic experience - he was involved in an accident that claimed the lives of 14 of his classmates.

Mzee Yaa counts himself lucky to have survived one of the grisly incessant accidents that have occurred in the area - located some 20 kilometers North West of Mombasa city, along the Mombasa -Nairobi highway.

To date, the Bonje area remains one of the oldest black spot. The latest accident occurred last month claiming the lives of three people after a bus they were traveling in veered off the road and plunged into a nearby coconut farm.

Residents say at least four accidents happen in the area every month. Vehicle parts are still visible and they tell of the cars that have veered off the road in the area.

“It was November 19, 1968 - we had just completed our class four exams in Kizurini Primary School and we went to Mombasa for a tour. At 7.30pm we started our journey back to Kaloleni but the lorry we were traveling in was involved in an accident at Bonje,” Mzee Yaa recounts.

Eight of his classmates died on the spot while six others were pronounced dead on arrival at the Coast General Hospital.

“This accident happened almost 50 years ago but it has remained etched in my heart and mind as though it happened yesterday. We were 55 boys and girls and my heart still bleeds for the loss of my close friends and classmates. Each time I see my family - my six sons and wonderful grandchildren - I think how close I came to having none of that,” he says.

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While the emotional wounds remain, a big scar on his left thigh further serves as a constant reminder of the events of that day.

“In my estimation, this spot claims not less than eight or 10 lives each month,” says Ustadhi Abu Ahmad Rajab of Majid Wakfu Nuor Mosque in Bonje.

Rajab, who stays 100 meters from the spot, recalled an accident in 2014 when a Nissan matatu collided with a trailer killing all 14 passengers on board on the spot.

“Images of this accident have stayed in our minds. The passengers were traveling from Mariakani to Mombasa when they were involved in the head-on collision. Then there is the police Land-rover that, in the same year, plunged into the valley killling three AP officers,” he says.

He described the experience as traumatising, especially to the young ones who often arrive at the accident scene first, and get a first hand glimpse of the horrific scenes.

“Our children often have nightmares after witnessing burnt or mutilated bodies being retrieved from the mangled wrecks. Despite this, there has been no intervention to offer this community some form of counselling, we have only been taught how to carry out first aid and sensitised against stealing from the victims,” he says.

Rajab says without professional help, there is little the community can do to help the little ones cope with what they see.

“Scenes of decimated human body parts and an ocean of blood is a stain that these children end up growing up with. I try to counsel them when they come for Madrass class but there is only so much I can do,” says the Imam who also acts as the Ustadhi (madrass teacher) at the mosque.

In 2015, three residents were killed while fighting to steal rice after a lorry transporting the commodity lost control, veered off the road and plunged into the pit.

On December 16, 2016, three passengers died and 24 others were critically injured when a bus they were traveling in plunged into a nearby coconut farm.

On February 13, 2016, seven people also died following a head-on collision between a Matatu and a truck on the same area which police have now labeled a black spot.

The guardrail on this section of the road has also been completely vandalised and residents say strong steel beams should be erected in the area to stop vehicles that plunge into the coconut farm in the area.

Some say drivers who have survived these accidents claim seeing a ghostly apparition of a white sheep which they then try to avoid hitting leading to an accident.

“Some other drivers, who have reported the sightings, do not crash but they are forced to swerve dangerously around the apparition,” Rajab says.

These claims caused Christian clerics, in 2014, to hold special prayers at the Bonje site in a bid to put an end to these accidents. In 2015, area Imams also held prayers at the same spot.

At Kibarani cross-way, many cars have plunged into the ocean and tens of people killed causing the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) to also designate the place as a black spot.

“In 2008 a Nissan matatu plunged into the ocean and all 14 passengers, plus crew, perished on the spot,” said Salim Ahmed - a matatu driver plying the Magongo-Ferry route.

Like Bonje, residents here say drivers also claim to have seen the ghostly apparition of a tall girl holding the hand of a young boy.

Others however, dismiss these claims saying it could be an optical illusion of some sort while insisting the high number of accidents are due to over speeding and reckless driving.

Nonetheless, various rites have been performed at the site in order to “appease the spirits”.

Mzee James Kenga tells us that in 2014, elders from Wamiji Foundation sacrificed a black bull, according to Swahili rites,in what was meant to cleanse the area of bad omen.

Kenga said several cars that have plunged into the Indian Ocean, at Kibarini area, have never been recovered which forced the elders to perform this cleansing exercise.

During the ceremony, which involved day long feasting, remains of the bull were put into a bag and cast into the depths of the sea.

Throwing these food remains into the sea, or what is commonly referred to as “Sadaka ya Bahari” (sacrifice for the sea) is meant to appease bad spirits and avert calamities such as these accidents.

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