Excuse me, have you seen my daughter?” Ms Clara Asiko cannot recall how many times she said those words on Saturday morning when news broke that there was a fire at one of the hostels in Moi Girls School, Nairobi.
Ms Asiko had just left home for work.
While seated in a matatu, she read a message from a WhatsApp group that her daughter’s school had caught fire.
When she arrived at the school, parents were blocked at the gate but eventually allowed in.
“The Form One parents were asked to go to one room to account for their daughters,” she remembers.
From then on, it was a flurry of activities, most of which involved asking everyone around the school if they had spotted her only child Natalie Nanga.
Ms Asiko was given several versions about her daughter’s whereabouts.
Some said she jumped from the first floor while others claimed that they saw her getting into a van that rushed her to hospital.
“I met one teacher and asked her if she had seen my daughter. She just walked away.
“I waited in my daughter’s class — Form 1R — and asked the class teacher if she had seen Natalie but was told that after the roll call, my daughter was not seen,” she narrates.
While it is not certain that Natalie is among the victims of the fire, her mother is holding on to hope that she got disoriented in the confusion and wandered off somewhere, and is yet to return.
Natalie, who turned 15 on August 12, is described as “very friendly”’ by her mother.
Before joining Moi Girls, she was at Lukenya Academy where she scored 390 marks in last year’s KCPE exams.
The last time the mother saw Natalie was on the night of Sunday, August 27, as she was packing to go to school the next day.
Parents who have not yet accounted for their daughters will be giving DNA samples today (September 5) at Chiromo Mortuary and wait for 14 days before they can be certain that their children are among the victims of the fire.
“I have hope,” Natalie’s mother says.
“Until I am told otherwise, she might be somewhere out there and that is why I am sharing her pictures on social media just in case.”
Another parent, Mr Aziz Juma, was supposed to send his daughter — Hawa Aziz — some money for a charity walk.
That morning, as his wife Judy Faizah was casually scrolling through her WhatsApp messages, she saw something that worried them.
“We called the class teacher and were told that our daughter Hawa was among those taken to hospital,” Mr Juma says.
The couple went round nearby hospitals looking for their daughter but her name was missing from all lists.
When they returned to the school, they were met with confusion, chaos amid pushing and shoving.
When they got to Hawa’s class — Form 1T — and asked the students if they had seen Hawa, they all went quiet.
In what seemed like being taken round in circles and being tossed from one corner to the other, Mr Juma and his wife were directed to another class, Form 3N, where they were met by a team of counsellors.
“I told them that we did not need counselling. We only wanted information about our daughters.
“We wanted to know if our children were alive or dead,” he says.
From then on, Mr Juma got visibly angry and had a confrontation with the police as he and other parents demanded to go into the hostels to identify the bodies of their daughters.
This is the moment captured on camera on Saturday afternoon as parents grew impatient having not known the fate of their daughters.
The parents finally were allowed into the hostels to identify the bodies of their daughters, amid warnings that what they were about to see would be very disturbing.
“When the first body bag was opened, I was in shock,” Mr Juma recalls.
None of the bodies could be identified, for they had all been burnt beyond recognition.
While some parents cling on to hope that their daughters might show up, Mr Juma has already considered the possibility of the worst.
Dr Matiang’i revealed that the fire was not an accident but an arson attack.