Live and let live

Two years ago, around February, my mum and I moved out of our last rental flat in P****** and into our first self-owned apartment on the ground floor of an estate in S***** *.

For anyone who has visited Kenya, the proliferation of estates or gated communities will be well known because of the opportunities it offers for better security.

A male relative of my father’s had wanted to sell his flat and when he mentioned to Pappa, Pappa made an offer knowing how unhappy I was in P******. The male relative gladly agreed and we purchased the property.

We gave the incumbent tenant a couple of months notice to vacate and then slowly started shifting our belongngs across: a couple of car loads for the more fragile items and then a rather empty truck with the larger furntiure items like the beds, arm chairs and dining table.

The keys for the flat were handed over to us by the the lady who lives in the flat next to us; she is married to the younger brother of the male relative we bought the house from, and has always reminded me of the character played by Tommy Lee Jones in Batman. Her facial characteristics are distinctively similar.

A couple of days after moving in, the friction began.

Event 1

First she insisted that the two lampshades in the sitting room of the flat were not included in the sale price and that we should make a cash payment to her, or, she threatened, she would have someone forcibly remove them without caring what damage was done to the rest of the wall or the electrical wiring.

I was taken aback as you can imagine. Called my father and asked whether I should expect any more ludicrous demands for payment of light fittings. He suggested that to keep the peace, having just moved in, and should make the payment – approx Kshs 2,500 per light. So I did. Except that I made sure that I gave the money to her husband in front of her – just to check whether she had fabricated the entire story – but he accepted the money quite happily. In hindsight, I should have read more into than I did at the time.

Event 2

Next were her unsubstantiated accusations one evening that we were cutting roses from the communal front garden and quietly sneaking them into our flat to decorate our rooms.

Event 3

And then that we were not allowed to use the washing line on our side of the yard since they were also not included in the sale price of the flat, that she would remove her clothing wires and we should buy our own and tie them onto the structures. All the while, she continued to use the 3 washing lines on her side, the 5 lines which were in a shared area between the two flats, and the 3 lines on our side.

There were blissful days of silence and then torturous weeks of hurled abuse. She would begin shouting in the morning and eventually she threatened physically harm. To tanslate literally from her Gujrati, “see how I make my hands walk on you if you dare to …”

If we retaliated, it got more abusive. If we didn’t, more abusive still.

Event 4

She cast aspersions against my family’s mixed ethnicity, and accused me and my mother of sexual promiscuity. The accusastions were so explicit that I would rather not repeat them. And all at the top of her voice. And in Kiswahili, because her knowledge of English is limited to a couple of words.

Intervention 1

When we asked our estate management to intervene in the situation, he politely asked us not to aggravate her. A devout Christian, he went on to explain that if we were god fearing people, we would understand that are some people in this world who are pure evil, and it would be better not to worsen the situation. Each neighbour had their own stories to share when they heard of our difficulties, but reluctant to intervene they too eventually faded into the shadows after comforting us with words of solidarity.

So we continued to take a back seat and avoid her and her family at all costs, each of whom proved, in the coming days, to be as petty, vindictive and abusive as her.

Event 5

Around this time, she began to loudly lament that she regretted selling the flat next door to us – even though the flat did not belong to her and her opinion was not sought over the matter or perhaps precisely because she wasn’t consulted in a financial decision which she felt she ought to have had a say in.

Neighbours suggested that this latest accusation explained her anger somewhat. With her growing family, 6 adults and 1 child in a 3-bedroom flat, she hoped that we would leave allowing her to expand into the neighbouring flat and ease the woes of her living situation.

Event 6

Around six months ago the situation became unbearable. Completely unprovoked, she began to beat violently at our front door and threaten to file a police report for accusations which are still not clear. She showered abuse upon us at every opportunity: from when she bought vegetables from the ladies who patrolled the area to the two domestic maids she hired in her home.

Intervention 2

Again, I approached the estate management to intervene. Having taken several tongue lashings from her in the past, they either told us outright that they could not get involved or asked us to take a more aggressive tack and confront her behaviour.

I considered speaking to an advocate and having a restraining order filed, but I reconsidered. Her husband was related to my father, after all, even though he was predictably taking her side in the matter and if they had no respect for the bonds of family, I surely would not stoop to their level. And yet, I hold no respect for anyone in her family any longer because even though some of them may be slightly removed from the situation, they have made no attempt to resolve it.

Intervention 3

I approached our religious leader, explained the situation to him and asked him to mediate in resolving the conflict; at the very least to put a stop to her abusive, threatening behaviour which was making our home life unbearable. He spoke to the head of her family and the situation subsided some what.

The story continues however. Every couple of weeks, something ignites in her head and it starts. And now the behaviour of impunity is being imitated by her sons.

Neighbourhood conflicts are common. I know that. And I have read a number of legal decisions adjudicating on a quarrel between neighbours. I can see that I am too immersed in the situation and too angry to see this situation objectively or see how to resolve it. She or her family do something and my fury picks up from all the previous encounters.

But what is the core issue in this situation?

Is it just a child with its toys? A reluctance to share and in this case accept a new owner and graciously cede ownership?

And more importantly, how would you suggest I finally resolve it?

May 3 2012

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