Nissan Romeo was five. World war 2 was long settled. Wounds were starting to heal. The dead, quickly forgotten.

World war 2 had gripped the world by the balls. Never before in humanity’s history, had such a war been recorded. The body count was of colossal proportions. Patriotic soldiers, men who offered their souls for their beloved nations. Women caught up in the cross hairs of the battle, raped without mercy. Children in classrooms were smoked out by bombs, flushed like rabbits from subterranean liars. Hitler on one side with his swastika and Axis forces, the Allies on the other side with American blessings. Europe was this massive killing field. And each day, as the sun retired, thousands of souls were erased from the world. Fathers and mothers. Sons and daughters. Uncles and aunts. Even pets did not survive this onslaught. If poisoned gas did not get to them, then certainly they would suffocate to death under debris of bombed buildings.

In the midst and mists of this confusion, Hitler launched his inhuman campaign against Jews: the systematic slaughtering of over 6 million Jews. History has never been kind to the Jews. And depending on your religious bent, they have always been on the run. In the bible, the Babylonians were the Jewish Waterloo. In world war two, it was the Nazi ideology, propagated by its most famous poster boy; Adolf Hitler. Jews were forced to scamper all over the world like orphaned chicks in the sights of an eagle. Searching for an unknown sanctuary. For a home so elusive, like rain in the Sahara.

 1949, Tehran.

Nissan gets home to a silent house.

His towering father is staring blankly at walls of the living room. While his loving mom was seated on the carpet. No words are exchanged, just a solid silence which echoes through the house. His mum runs and hugs him but his father remains stoic, his face blanched. White as snow, as if all the blood had been drained. He tries to ask his mom if all is well but he is met with more silence and a hug. After what seemed like an eternal quietness, Nissan’s father turns around to face them. His eyes are worn out. Veins run across his face like streams during the rainy season. Life has beaten him, it has won. He’d sworn by his forefathers’ name that he was going to stay no matter what. But there comes a time in a man’s life that he has to eat a humble pie. This was one of those moments. Iran had declared all the Jews as Persona non grata, and now he had to go. He could have stayed but what awaited them was but pain and surreal suffering. And no man can let that happen to his family. No sane man is going to seat and wait for his family to be killed right in front of him. His wife and daughters to be raped right before his very eyes. Watch as his son’s eyes are gorged out.

He summoned his family together. They prayed together that night. The last prayer they would have on Iranian soil. They had a hasty dinner, a last supper and set off for the airport.

On the runway, an Israeli jet was waiting; roaring like a mad volcano as the last of Iranian Jews boarded. Nissan and his family were among this procession. He took a seat by the window, his father settled beside him. His mother and sister were two seats in front them.

“In Iran, Jews were treated like second class human beings. We were compared to animals. We had to leave or hell and worse would be met upon us. To be minority is horrible, you don’t have a voice. And if you have it, nobody listens.”

The jet started moving. Nissan watched the last Iranian night flew by. They were leaving everything behind. All his young friends, yet to poisoned by the anti-Jewish crusade, he was never going to see them again. All the wealth his father and mother had worked for down the years, they had left it. Their house, their family car, everything. They never even parked, all they had was clothes they wore that day.

Iran did not want them.

The plane lurched and slowly lifted to the skies. Goodbye Tehran. Hello Tel Aviv. The city that had once been Nissan’s home was now a speck from the heavens. He would come back to Tehran again. Decades later, as a fighter pilot in the Israeli air force.

We are seated under a tent at Kisii university when he tells me this. This is his first time in Africa and he likes it. The weather is brilliant he says. And now that he has discovered Kenya, he will be a frequent.

“I heard so many stories about Africa, Kenya. But I had never really experienced this. I have travelled to almost every part of the world, but this is my first time here. It’s beautiful, I like it.”

We had this talk with Nissan almost 2 months back at the annual Kistrech international poetry festival. I am not a poet, I steer away from poets, they are weird people. To be honest, I don’t understand poets, I don’t like them. In my high school years, I tried poetry but I was too shitty, I stopped. So, what was I doing in this festival? Well, law school had started getting on my nerves and when the invitation came, I knew that I was going. No matter what. But what pulled me to the festival more were the people attending, I was hunting for stories. And what a better place to find stories than a party of poets? The festival was crap to be honest, its organizers need to up their game. The people who turned up though, did not disappoint. Some proud Greeks kept singing all through, oblivious of the fact that heat waves and a financial crisis were ravaging their country. You got to love poets.

It was in this melange of words, phrases, rhythms and music, that I met Nissan Romeo and his wife Judith Romeo. The name Nissan, I thought it was Japanese, maybe because of the similarity with the automobile maker. Nissan, as I learnt, is the first month of the Hebrew calendar. They have been married for the past 48 years and their love for one another continues to burgeon. She too was a victim of the holocaust, only she didn’t experience it firsthand. She has Hungarian origins; her mother was forced to flee from Germany as the gestapo unleashed hell on Jews. She found safe haven in Hungary, where Judith was born. When the Jewish state was created in 1948, like many others scattered all over the world, they started the exodus home. Generations on the run, they were finally headed home. An oasis of peace. No feeling trumps that of home. None.

We talk of Tehran. The city he was born.

“They were up on our necks. You would walk in the market and people would point at you. You would hear someone saying how they planned to take your house. Another would be eying your car. To them we were the scum of the earth, vermin that did not deserve life. We were branded ZIONISTS. And what was the motto in the Arab world?"

Death to all ZIONISTS!!!

I tried to comprehend this but nothing prepared me for the bomb he dropped next.

“There were people who walked around with sacks. They would ask if anybody wants Jewish skin.”

And trying to picture that is the most gut-wrenching thought to ever cross my mind. WHO WANTS JEWISH SKIN???

“We arrived in Israel, with nothing but tired hearts and aching souls. There, we would have to start from the sewers again. But when you’re home, no challenge is insurmountable. We dug in our heels and slogged.”

Military duty came calling, and this is the part that, Judith, Nissan’s wife jumps in with humor.

“Military service is a must in Israel, you have no choice. Girl or boy. On your sixteenth birthday instead of a cake, you get a letter from the government. ‘Congratulations on turning sixteen, the army needs you, your country needs you.’ To a certain extent its brainwashing but its for the best. In world war two we were almost wiped out. But now, in case of anything we are more prepared. And anybody threatens us, we rain fire upon them.”

In his time with the army, Nissan served in the Israeli air force. Flying over war zones and leading numerous campaigns against the Arab world. He steadily rose through the ranks, but one time in a training exercise, it hits him. Maybe he wasn’t meant for this. He needed to do more in life than flying over villages and turning them into mountains of ashes. His purpose in life wasn’t to exterminate enemies of the Jewish state. That night as he lay in bed with his wife, he shared his thoughts with her. He wanted to quit the army and study stuff to do with electronics, majoring in robotics. That was the north pole the compass of his heart was pointing to. Judith kissed him in the darkness, soft and hard. Their teeth collided in the Jewish night, he had her blessing. And what more than to have the woman you love on your side?

At the time of this conversation, in the hills of Kisii, life has been good to Nissan. He has done well in robotics and his company is thriving in the robot business. He is about to retire from the business and he is taking his eldest son of 45 years through the paces.

“Soon he will be in charge. The company needs new blood and my time is drawing to a close. I am not a poet but my wife is. So, when she was invited for this festival we decided to come together. The young boy can run the show back home. All I want to do right now is travel the world. Go to places I have never been to. Talk to people that nobody else is talking to. And learn of new cultures because Israel is boring in a way. It’s almost like a medicated slumber of Netanyahu’s propaganda.”

He says this and then turns to his wife. Smiles run through their faces. They are beacons of true love, a romance which has withstood the test of time. Their smiles seemed to say so much, yet so less. They had learnt of each other’s demons and accepted to live with them. Most likely they had fights, but such did not break them. A bond stronger than diamond had been forged through decades.
Is it love which has made them to stick together?

“It takes more than love.” Judith says.

“Because with time, romance will fade away. There you have to learn how to cultivate a discipline. Accept that you’re going to wake up to the same eyes each morning. You’re going to sleep in the same pair of arms each night. I think when you do that and lock away what the rest of the world thinks, then you will stick together."

We talk with Nissan about manhood and passion. Of course, I had to ask about manhood, I can’t help it. Whenever I run into older men, this is one of the questions I carry with me. You see, the funny thing here is that of all the men I talk to, none seems to understand this concept of manhood. They will all take you through some wild goose chase. Tell you bullshit philosophies about what really entails to be a man. When you look at it, everybody battles manhood in their own way. Manhood is a lonely fight that not even your father can help you win. You just have to find your own path in the wilderness. “Find your own way Momanyi, find your way.” Nissan said.

“With passion. Do what your heart wants, the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning. Find purpose in your cause, don’t be led by the hunger to get money. Because money will always be there.  So, do your part and let nature take care of the rest. I think that when you do your best in anything, sooner or later you will get somewhere.”

Nissan has a second degree in reflexology. I know people like Asirikwa will ask, what the hell is reflexology? This is an art that involves applying pressure to certain points on the feet and joints. This helps to alleviate pain and can greatly relieve stress. One time, his eldest daughter is giving birth. She had been in labuor for over 2 hours but the doctors weren’t making any progress. Enter Nissan, the reflexogy master. He did his thing and in less than ten minutes his daughter came through and gave birth. So, all campus chicks reading this, don’t shy away from giving birth.
Ati sijui labour pains. Reflexology is here.

Photo credits (Nissan Romeo and Judith Romeo)

Ps. A happy birthday to Ann Alvira, she has been reading ever since we crossed paths. She’s a lady, not girl, lady. Cheers Annie.

This is a story of refugees. Nissan got a chance to better himself but not so many out here have the same opportunity. More so here in Africa where the refugee crisis has its foundations. From the rain forests of Congo to the sands of Somalia. From Kakuma to Daadab. UN in conjunction with other organisations have tried to change there lives but the story is the same. Those camps are ticking time bombs. 

This holiday, bring a smile to someone’s face. Join the movement @LuQuLuQu foundation and give the small you can. In Kenya, employ the m-pesa business number (329378), account number  “TheGreatestGift”.

Join the conversation on social media #IamLuQuLuQU.

Share widely. #DoItLuQuLuQu

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