One Day at a Time
Dan Nyagol, a first-year Kenyan student at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, doesn’t want to think about the future. He lives life in the present, and understands attending college next year may be impossible.
After completing classes last December, Dan traveled to Emporia, Kansas, to celebrate Christmas with his older brother, Elijah, who supported him financially to go to school in the United States. Next to the youngest of eleven children, Dan is the first in his family to attend a U.S. university.
“Kenya has been stable since it became independent in 1963,” Dan said with a light British accent. “A light to surrounding countries. Many displaced people came there, like from Sudan, Somalia and a few from Ethiopia. People from Burundi and Rwanda came after their genocide in the late 1990’s. Even northern Uganda people found refuge in Kenya because it was a peaceful country.”
That changed in late December 2007 when Kenya suffered severe violence and riots after an election. Tribes, primarily the Luos and Kikuyus, disagreed and began slaughtering one another with sticks and machetes. Many homes were burned down and more than a thousand Kenyans were killed.
Elijah Nyagol, concerned about his family, boarded a plane to Kenya.
“I checked and found out he [Elijah]arrived in Nairobi on December 29th,” said Dan, who remained in the U.S. However, Nairobi, the capitol, had basically shut down overnight, including all public transportation and telecommunications. “We live pretty far away in Kosele,” he said. “About 250 miles southeast from the airport.”
Dan received no word from his family for almost a month. “I stayed online all the time trying to get information. News was in the international newspapers but nothing came from inside Kenya.”
At the end of January 2008, Dan finally got a text message from his sister. “She said she was living under fear. The town where she lived consisted mostly of Kikuyus. We are Luos, so they asked her to leave town. She asked me to pray for her.”
“A few days later, my dad called to say my sister arrived home safely. He did not know my brother had flown over there.” Dan hesitated as tears came to his eyes. Elijah, who has a wife and three year old son in the U.S., never showed up at his father’s home. He disappeared.
The news from Kenya worsened. “A few weeks later, my dad, who is a retired pastor, took in three small children from the Kikuyu tribe whose parents had disappeared in the melee,” Dan said. “When members of our tribe learned about the children, they told my dad to turn the children out. Dad refused, so they burned his house down.”
Dan holds onto a simple, yet important philosophy. “Politicians are inciting tribal differences which create
hate, pitting tribes against each other. Killing each other does not help us or our country.”
Majoring in Biomedical Engineering, Dan’s keeps focused on his school aspirations. “I want to do something for people like my mother,” he said. “From childhood, I saw my mother in pain. Her legs hurt badly and I couldn’t help her, so now she is my inspiration.”
When asked how he has coped, Dan replied, “My father has been my guide, physically and mentally. He raised me up to be who I am. Dad would also say to put a smile on your face and keep going.”
So that is what Dan is doing. Living one day at a time in the U.S. without financial support. Tuition was donated so he could attend the Spring 2008 semester but next semester is not certain. He is willing to work and is trying to get a special hardship permit to be allowed to do so.
“It is hard for us Kenyans to accept help from others,” he said, “but I have become very grateful for this semester.”