Book review – Hop, Skip and Jump

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I am thirteen years old. But war knows nothing about age because the world has set a precedent for child solders…war cares not about children,” recounts John in Scholar Akinyi’s autofiction book, ‘Hop, Skip, and Jump’. Narrated by three adolescents—Vena, John/Joni, and Bob/Bobo—their stories symbolize the lingering trauma experienced by families affected by the 2007/2008 post-election violence.

In the backdrop of Naivasha Town, the children from the same estate, whose parents toil in flower farms, experience what seems like a typical childhood. Boys begin to write letters to girls, while girls engage in innocent games like ‘Hop, Skip, and Jump’, which later lends its name to the book. Despite their ordinary beginnings, their journey to adulthood takes an unexpected turn. They taste war, which burns their innocence like venom.

They innocently hop and skip through life’s challenges, but when they leap, they find themselves thrust into the flames of conflict—not the comforting warmth of a hearth, but a fire that consumes innocence and leaves scars on their souls.

Dehumanisation: from People to statistics 

In the aftermath of Kenya’s post-election violence, people were dehumanized, reduced to mere numbers and statistics in official reports. Thousands lost their lives, thousands were displaced from their homes, and thousands more continue to grapple with both physical and mental injuries. Hundreds of thousands saw their means of livelihood cut off.

Vena reflects on this grim reality, remarking, “I was beginning to learn the patterns of the news; I started making up the figures. I did not need to watch the news …I just had to come up with the figures of dead people and attach them to a random town…”

This statement highlights the disturbing impact of reducing human suffering to a mere intellectual exercise of numbers and statistics.

The burning church 

One of the most poignant and disturbing aspects of the violence that unfolded during the post-election turmoil was the horrifying act of burning a church. Tens of people sought refuge within its walls at the height of the chaos, only to face a merciless mob that set the building ablaze, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 40 lives, according to reports.

Bobo says, “the burning church feels like euphemism for the people whose burning skins, flesh and bones filled the air with the smell of death. People who ceased to be people but instead turned into logs; igniting and burning the flame of hatred.” 

Unanswered questions 

This book serves as an invitation to confront difficult questions that linger in the depths of our minds. What happens when political differences tear apart a couple? How does a mother cope when her child disappears amidst election campaigns? What happens when the collective hope of a people dissipates with the clandestine swearing-in of a president at night? Why are children left languishing in IDP camps, nursing wounds instead of attending school?

Even Bobo grapples with profound questions: ““How did my father end up beating my mother? How did Kibaki end up beating Raila?” 

Yet, there are no easy answers. John has learnt something about questions and answers. He says, “…in the face of agony, questions fall on blank slates that cannot echo back answers. Questions can also bounce back into our vocal chords and stifle our voices…” 

These unanswered questions weigh heavily on the characters, just as they weigh on Kenyans. Vena struggles to articulate the horror she witnesses: “I would never have known how to describe the colour of ravaging buildings…I did not know how I would describe a burning church, roasting human flesh within its confines, mercilessly, like the church was not a place where mercy and grace abounded.”

John reflects on their fractured existence at an IDP Camp: “We are like roses with thorns hidden beneath our beauty. Enclosed within the shelter of a greenhouse, we endure the relentless barrage of hate and distrust, our souls blistered from the constant evasion of arrows aimed at us.”

In this narrative, questions linger unanswered, truths remain elusive, and the characters grapple with the complexities of their shattered reality.

How, then, do we move on? 

As I immersed myself in this book, I couldn’t help but reflect on the countless instances of violence that went undocumented, unseen by the cameras.

Even as we proclaim, ‘Never Again,’ there remains a lingering uncertainty, a wavering conviction. Election period fills us with fear and anxiety, a palpable sense of dread at the potential eruption of violence. We hesitate to voice the “what if” scenarios, acknowledging the dormant volcano that threatens to awaken. Yet, despite our apprehensions, we cling to the hope of ‘Never Again,’ painfully aware of the scars etched into our collective psyche and the capacity for violence within us.

For every Kenyan, this book is essential reading—a journey into a past we wish to erase from memory, yet one that is integral to our collective consciousness.

How do we begin to heal from this trauma? How do we nurture hope amidst despair? How do we ensure that ‘Never Again’ becomes a reality? How do we dare to envision a peaceful future for our children? These questions compel us to confront our past, to acknowledge the wounds that still fester, and to chart a path toward healing and reconciliation.

Scholar poignantly reminds us that we are the torchbearers of a new generation, entrusted with the solemn duty to remember and to act with integrity for the sake of our children and our country. May we never forget our past, and may we strive to build a better future.

Review done by: Verah Omwocha, an Editorial Consultant, Communications and University Relations. 

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