Mr Abdul Abdalla has been a bus driver plying the Lamu-Mombasa route for more than 12 years.
Each working day, his life has revolved around the images and events unfolding on the 300km highway.
The route is so much a part of his life that even after escaping death by a whisker on two occasions, the idea of quitting never crossed his mind.
Mr Abdalla, 41, survived an attack on a bus he was driving on the Lamu-Witu-Garsen stretch of the highways he plies each day.
He also had a close shave in another terror attack in which innocent people were killed in Mpeketoni, Lamu County, in 2014.
In the first incident, Mr Abdalla was driving from Mombasa to Lamu, all his focus trained on negotiating the gaping potholes that made driving such a rough and bumpy affair. Then he and his passengers sat still at the sounds of gunshots.
Kept on driving
“They shot five times at the windscreen. Some other bullets were ricocheting on the rear bumper of the bus. Apparently, the target was the tyres. All this time, I had lowered my head and kept on driving. More gunshots rent the air and I reckoned that if I didn’t stop the attackers would have killed all of us,” Mr Abdalla reminisced in an interview with the Nation, which took place after his daily journey to and from Lamu.
On that day, Mr Abdalla had left Mombasa at 10am behind the steering wheel of a 62- seater Tawakal Bus Company passenger carrier.
“I arrived in Malindi at noon, before heading out towards Gamba at around 3pm. But as we were approaching Nyangoro, about 50km to Mokowe, that’s when bullets started raining on the bus,” he said.
Looking for non-Muslims
As soon as the bus slowed down, four young men hopped onto the bus and announced rather bluntly that they were looking for non-Muslims.
“I was terrified. I looked back and could not see the conductor. They walked around the bus, asking each passenger to recite Shahada, a creed through which Muslims confess their faith. They then searched the whole bus and left,” he narrated.
Mr Abdalla said Muslims on the vehicle, upon figuring out the attackers were probably Al-Shabaab militants, had helped their mainly Christian compatriots to hide under the seats and among the bags.
These were bad times when a week hardly passed without a terror attack being reported in Lamu and North-Eastern Kenya. The militants had taken their campaign to as far as the heart of Nairobi city.
In most attacks, the militants would single out non-Muslims and kill them. The passengers on the bus on that day knew what the attackers wanted and had moved fast to hide would-be targets. Besides, some Arabic writings inside the bus convinced the attackers that the bus belonged to Muslims and exclusively served Muslims, so it was no surprise that there were no non-Muslims aboard.
What also saved them, he says, was a certain quote that was written on the wall inside the bus in Arabic that the men loudly said that the bus belonged to Muslims.
Before the youthful attackers – probably aged between 22 and 25 years – disembarked, one of them dialled a number on a cell phone and said they had not found whoever they were looking for. He even mentioned something about the writings inside the bus and that they were satisfied that the passengers were all Muslims.
Another one was busy recording videos perhaps to send to someone who wanted evidence of what was going on inside the bus. Yet another young man who carried a seemingly heavy rucksack just looked on.
“One of them came to where I was, hugged me and whispered to my ear that we had to leave immediately and not say a word to anyone on what had happened,” the driver narrated.
“The vehicle could, however, not start as the clutch pipe had been raptured. l turned off the vehicle,” he narrated.
One of the militants tried to drive it but it still could not move. The fuel was also leaking.
It took the driver of a Toyota Probox that soon drove along to file a report at Witu Police Station.
Shortly after, there were helicopters all over the Lamu skies looking for Al-Shabaab militants, who were believed to have hidden in Boni forest.
The bus, he says, was towed to a garage in Witu, where they spent the night. “We got to the garage at 6pm. It was risky to travel at night, so we continued the journey the following morning,” he said.
During the Mpeketoni incident, which happened in June 2014, people were killed and buildings were burnt in an attack by suspected Al-Shabaab militants.
Read: The scars of Mpeketoni
“I was driving at night near Mpeketoni when I saw a familiar face; a matatu driver I knew from Mombasa. He was drenched in blood. I told my conductor that I knew the man and he said what we were looking at was probably a ghost. You see, those were very tough days when we did not expect to find anyone in this section of the road at night,” he said.
Nevertheless, Mr Abdalla stopped the bus and the bloodied man got in. He then asked Mr Abdalla to speed as the area was under attack.
The matatu driver said he had been moving some tourists around Mpeketoni in a hired vehicle. They were then attacked and his colleague, another driver who was not Muslim, had been killed. Their car, he narrated, had been taken away by their attackers.
“I did not know whether to reverse or continue with the journey. It was clear that we were not safe. So I said a prayer and sped off heading to Mokowe,” he said.
On arriving in Mokowe, the mainland that leads to Lamu Island, Mr Abdalla dropped off the bloodied man to report the matter at a police station.
Reign of terror
They would later come to learn that the van the militants had hijacked was used in what went into history as the Mpeketoni attack of 2014, a reign of terror that remains etched in the collective memory of the country to this date.
Despite these near-brushes with death, however, Mr Abdalla went on driving buses on the same highway.
“This is what I have done all my adult life and Lamu is my home. Driving feeds my family and so I can’t quit,” he said, adding that tarmacking of the road had improved security.
“It is not easy for someone to attack a bus on the tarmacked road, where vehicles move at a speed of up to 100km per hour. Back then, the attacks would happen because the roads were poor and vehicles often got stuck in the mud,” he said.
He nevertheless feels there should be more patrols on the road, rather than security-escort services that line up hundreds of passengers on one trip.
“There are very many security camps but road patrols by the various agencies would work better,” he said.
Mr Abdalla, who lives in Mpeketoni, recently met someone who was in his bus during the first terror attack and who relived the ordeal and how they saved non-Muslims’ lives.
And while attacks are nowadays rare, reaching his destination is always a big relief.