My wedding gown arrived two weeks after we buried my fiance
Kenya: In London, a friend was moving fast to get a wedding gown made and shipped to a friend in Kenya waiting to marry a Kenya Defence Forces platoon commander.
In the trenches of Somalia, the would-be groom, military officer Lieutenant Kevin Webi, was fighting the Al-Shabaab militia with part of his life dominated by his upcoming wedding to a young lawyer, Rachael Masika.
In Western Kenya, Webi’s parents were immersed in wedding plans for their son, not in the least bothered by the soldier’s earlier counsel to them that being a KDF officer, they should be prepared for anything, including getting killed in war. But the wedding was never to be and the gown from London landed on Rachael’s hands wedding was never to be and the gown from London landed in Rachael’s hands when it had turned into just a piece of cloth, clawing at her heart and opening up layers of painful memories in her mind.
Back at Webi’s home, what the soldier had said as a joke or perhaps in premonition of his death had come to pass.
The wedding plans had long turned into funeral arrangements and the body of the brave soldier once garlanded by then President Mwai Kibaki for outstanding performance in training had been interred amid tears.
In a cruel turn of events, Webi’s colleagues, who had been preparing for the military formation at his wedding, where the groom and his bride would walk between ceremonial bayonets gleaming against the sun’s rays, instead turned up to send him off with a 21-gun salute.
As they pulled the triggers to fire, the recoil from the gun probably shook their hearts and opened floodgates of memories of the gunfire that chillingly marked their days in the battlefront.
Ironically, though the sound of the gun was supposedly the most honourable way to send off a soldier who died in the line of duty, it instead seemed to replay the moment when the sniper’s bullet killed him, cutting short Webi’s and Rachael’s dreams of lifelong love, companionship and raising a family brimming with happy children, as any parent would want.
Today, Rachael is still numbed by the pain of loss and in a constant luckless battle to shred the bad memories that, try as she might, have refused to go away. The memories are a part of her life; the image of what she loved most but sadly lost. It is what has seen her, in her own words, contemplate suicide many times.
The elegant wedding gown ordered for her by a childhood friend, arrived in Nairobi on the morning of February 17, 2013.
“There is a parcel for you. It’s a wedding gown,” read the message that day.
The gown arrived two-and-a-half weeks after the man she was engaged to marry, Lt Webi of 1KR, had been buried.
She is aged just 24.
“I have never forgotten him. I will never forget him. I will always love my Kevin,” she says.
In the interview, she bore a bag stuffed with pictures of herself and Kevin, all of them a pictorial exhibition of the best moments shared. “He died four months before our wedding day,” she recalls.
Lt Webi was killed on the Sunday of January 22, 2012, exactly one month after he was deployed to Somalia, becoming the third officer to be killed since the start of Operation Linda Nchi.
The other officers were Lieutenant Edward Okoyo and Lieutenant Evans Ng’etich. A sniper killed Okoyo while an anti-tank gun’s bullet tore into Ng’etich’s stomach.
In eulogising their deaths, former military spokesperson Col Cyrus Oguna said: “Their command and control ability is not in question and even though we lost them, the loss is not in vain.”
During his commissioning in May 2009, Webi was recognised by the then Commander-in-Chief, President Kibaki, as the Best Officer Cadet in Leadership and Command and winner of the Sword of Honour.
Webi was the Colour Officer during the Trooping of the Colours parade at Uhuru Park on August 27, 2010, during the promulgation of the new Constitution.
The officer, who served for two-and-a-half years before his death, also played the same role during the Jamhuri Day celebrations on December 12, 2010.
“As an army officer, if tomorrow you hear I am dead, do not be shocked because this is our job,” Pius Webi, Kevin’s father, recalls the young man saying.
On the day he was shot, he had written on his Facebook page: “When you never have time to rest and pray on a Sunday, you simply offer your entire life and actions as a sacrifice to God. Every action I take is a prayer in itself, Amen.”
He met his death hours later in the Southern Somali town of Delbio. “I printed those words and kept them in my wallet for encouragement,” his brother revealed.
Despite “preparing” his loved ones for his death, his family says that his killing left a scar that will forever remain in their hearts.
Rachael first met Webi through the social site, Facebook. She was then a second-year law student at Moi University.
And when they met for the first time in December 2009, three months after regular chatting on Facebook, she was wooed by his “height, handsomeness and mien”, she said.
Webi drove all the way from Nanyuki for their first meeting: A date over a glass of juice at Sirikwa Hotel in Eldoret.
During the meeting, Webi claimed that he first saw her at a friend’s house-warming party in Kiminini, Trans Nzoia County.
“He asked me to be his girlfriend on the first day,” she recalls. “I thought it was a foolish thing to do but I liked his command and authority.”
Although she declined the advances, there was an air of love between the two. “Sometimes, we women say no even to the very thing we want,” she recalled.
Rachael remembers how Webi wanted everything in a hurry.
“He wanted the relationship from the word go, saying that he was done being in non-serious relationships,” she said with nostalgia. “I remember him saying that his career was a dangerous one and he was eager to start a family.”
On the very same day they met, Kevin introduced Rachael to his mother over the phone.
“When I heard mother’s voice on the phone, I was so surprised to the extent that I couldn’t talk,” Rachael recalled. “I remember her saying, ‘Just come home and meet us’.”
But it took months before she knew that this man was in the military.
“He just said that he worked in Nanyuki. When he finally told me he was a soldier, I developed fear about a relationship with him,” she says.
“I had heard many stories about how irresponsible military men are when it comes to relationships… how unfaithful they are and so on.”
Five months after this meeting, Rachael travelled through the dusty Kitale road to Ndalala village that cuts through sugar plantations to meet Webi’s family for a formal introduction.
“He just came and said that his mother was waiting for me at their home,” she narrated. “I argued against it because it was abrupt. But he said he had made up his mind and even bought a dress for me to wear for the occasion.
“When we arrived, I realised I was the only one who had been ambushed. Almost the entire family had congregated. The meals were almost ready and it appeared as if I was the only one missing for the party to start,” she said.