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Lost for 51 years: Kenyan Man reunited with family after disappearance

By George Odiwuor September 18th, 2023 3 min read

Joseph Odongo, who left his Riwa village in Homa Bay County at 30 in 1972, resurfaced at home aged 81 on September 14, 2023, leaving his family astonished. His return unveiled property disputes that had arisen during his prolonged absence.*

Odongo’s whereabouts remained a mystery to his family for five decades until he returned in September, aged 81.

To his dismay, he discovered that his property, including a piece of inherited land, had been taken by some family members who believed he was deceased.

Odongo revealed that he chose to vanish for 51 years due to ongoing family disputes. Locally known as Osir Komollo, he explained that he had been living in Mombasa during the entire period when his family was searching for him.

During his absence, he worked as a caretaker in a house owned by a foreigner in Mombasa.

“I felt more comfortable being in Mombasa than being at home in Homa Bay,” Odongo explained.

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Upon his return, no one below 60 years could recognise him, and even the local chief had to seek help from elders to pinpoint the exact location of his ancestral home.

Odongo’s decision to disappear from the village stemmed from a disagreement with one of his now-deceased brothers.

He claimed that some family members had passed away during the dispute, and his brother was blamed for these deaths. To avoid becoming a victim of such calamities, Odongo decided to run away.

His goal was to go to the farthest place in the country, making it difficult for his family to trace him.

After witnessing his parents’ burial and separating from his wife, Odongo stayed home for a few months before making his escape.

He informed only a few family members that he was going to Sikri beach, located a few kilometers from his home in Mbita Sub-County.

Some family members believed he would return home after a few days, but weeks and months passed without any sign of him.

Communication was a challenge during that era, with no mobile phones available. The primary means of communication involved sending someone home, making it difficult to trace him. Eventually, the family concluded that he might have died.

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According to Mr Daudi Oketch, a senior citizen and neighbor, villagers speculated that Odongo had been attacked by a crocodile.

“His last message to his family was that he was going to the beach. We concluded that he could have been attacked by a crocodile which ate his body,” Oketch said.

However, his sister-in-law, Matasia Akelo, aged 90, always believed that Odongo was alive and prayed for his return.

“I had difficulties believing he was dead. We did not see his dead body, so it was hard to rule that he died,” Ms. Akelo said.

Upon his return, the family welcomed Odongo with open arms, inviting the entire village to celebrate his homecoming.

He revealed that he had been living in Mombasa, specifically in Likoni, where he resided in a multi-story building.

After leaving home, he had chosen the coast as his destination, but he had no plan for survival. He sat next to an American man in a local bar, who happened to be looking for a caretaker at his home.

Odongo seized the opportunity, and life on the coast turned out to be easy for him, erasing the frustrations he had experienced in Homa Bay. He even learned about flush toilets, which were a novelty at the time.

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Although he considered remarrying, the outbreak of HIV in 1981 made him rethink his decision. He decided to stay single for safety reasons.

Despite occasionally thinking about his family, Odongo did not bother communicating with them through letters or any available means. His employer never inquired about his origins, further distancing him from his family.

His employer left for Europe a few years ago, leaving Odongo behind. When the man failed to return, Odongo attempted to contact him without success, prompting his decision to return home.

He abandoned everything, including his due salary, and began his journey from Mombasa to Nakuru by bus. A friendly lorry driver travelling to Homa Bay later offered him a ride.

When Odongo walked to the office of West Kanyada Location Chief Kenneth Achieng, seeking assistance, the chief was initially unable to recognize him. Chief Achieng had to enlist the help of local senior citizens, some of whom could identify him.

His family was informed, and celebrations were held to welcome him back. However, Odongo expressed concerns about alleged encroachments on his property, emphasizing that he did not want to return to Mombasa but desired to regain ownership of his property.

Chief Achieng promised to address the matter and ensure that Odongo regains his property.

“His family should also look for a partner for him so that he does not become lonely. He does not have any source of income and should get all the necessary support,” the administrator said.

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