Meanwhile, it’s a fruitful day and am energetic…
I am finalizing my research on street children in partial completion of my college course. The trip takes me to Kangemi, on the outskirts of the city where I plan to interview street children on reasons that resulted in their lives turning out that way. How did they end up in the streets? Its mid morning and I have spotted some, am nervous, visibly scared stiff and wondering if any of them will talk to me… how will I introduce myself? Will they ask for money, which I didn’t have? What if they consider me a spy sent to trick them into doing something they are uncomfortable with or I accidentally promise them something I cannot deliver?
My dad taught me that courage makes a man; people will laugh at you but the eventual satisfaction that you achieved something that you set out to do is priceless. People will respect you and talk about what you did and how you made others feel for decades to come. Just be bold and do something! I summoned my guts and crossed the road to where this group of street children was seated. Some were sleeping; others were lazily sniffing on the symbolic glue. Now something about street children I observed from my research is that they are organized in groups and senior members are always on watch albeit from a distance and any advances to any member of the team is treated with suspicion. They will easily mobilize to counter any threat or mistreatment. If they have assessed you are harmless, they will certainly ask for some coins or food from you. I approach one of them who was sitting alone then introduced myself and requested if I could ask him some questions. He was about sixteen years old and later on, he revealed his name as Kyalo. He came from Mazeras and the reason he joined the street life is because his step mum began mistreating him after his mother died. One day he had when he had had enough, he walked up to Mombasa-Nairobi highway then hung onto a petrol tanker up to Mlolongo, where he spent the night in the cold. He had a few coins and bought bananas to survive for the night. His first night was tricky. He saw one of the harlots arguing with a truck driver and moved closer to eavesdrop and little did he know that he was her saving grace. The driver thought he was in a group with other guys and it could spell disaster. They lady gave Kyalo some money for ‘saving’ her. Tomorrow’s meal was guaranteed. Kyalo began ‘enjoying’ the life and each night, he could hover around to scare away men and gain something in return as each night brought with it a share of controversies between the prostitutes and the truck or tanker drivers from Mombasa on their way to Malaba.
During the day, he would sleep at the Bus Park or some quiet place. ‘Business’ became tough and Kyalo had to walk to the city where he joined a group based in Muthurwa. This is just one case, other boys had their reasons too. They are from other parts of the country; Kiambu, Maseno, Kamakowa, Chiga, Kakamega, Tala, etc … it was amazing how they opened up. People began wondering what was going on and I was beginning to be surrounded and you would wonder if it was a Bunge La Wananchi episode outside City Hall. Am satisfied, my courage paid off now the challenge was how to break free and bid them good bye. All this time, I was taking notes and I had gained their trust and taken charge of the mood. They reciprocated that by listening carefully and honestly told their stories. Am closing my note book and capping my pen now…
With me, I had Kshs 370; a two hundred shillings note in my wallet, one hundred shillings note in one pocket and seventy shillings in the other trouser pocket for my fare back home. You guessed right…I removed my wallet right in front of them and gave them everything that was in it and told them to share or buy anything of their choice.
The hundred bob is for my lunch so I obliged and ate something in a nearby kiosk. The previous week, I had fulfilled another assignment and was sure I had been paid so incase of anything, I would just walk into an ATM and get some cash for transport or better still, empty the entire account as it was very little anyway. Why don’t I eat some mango instead as I wait for the bus to town. Mmm no, let me alight in Westlands then walk to Sarit Center ATM lobby and get some transport money. Shock on me, the account is reading negative; the bugger has not paid me. A chill runs down my spine and it dawns on me that I might have to strategize how to get home early before bus fares are increased. Its approaching 1PM. I take my transaction receipt from the ATM and walk away. Yes I will walk to CBD. So I take Muthithi Road, and then cross Ojijo Road into Kipande Road. Why am I still having the ATM receipt in my hand? I tore it and threw the pieces beside the road. Mistake… Some youths who had been hired to protect and maintain the now Michuki Memorial and Recreational Park saw this and immediately apprehended me. They frog matched me to their operation base inside the park beside Nairobi river and ordered me to sit down with the others with a similar offence of littering park.
A gentleman is rumbling how people don’t see the benefits of preserving the environment, three more join in and rhetorical questions begin. And in that instance, my phone rings. It’s my friend Jerry. I can’t ignore, am in trouble anyway so I might have the chance for a last smile, laughter or at least inform someone of my situation.
Me: Vipi mtu wangu( Hi buddy)
Jerry (With happiness): Niaje Aleki, maze leo kameingiana (Hi Alex, man today am lucky)
Me: Usiniambie umeshinda jackpot (don’t tell me you won a jackpot)
Jerry: Wachaga ufala… Kuna yellow yellow flani hapa job kwetu nimekuwa nikiotea lakini saa hii amenipigia ako area na angetaka kujua kwangu. Nimemshow akuje digs niko solo. (Don’t be silly…there is a light skin lady I have been secretly admiring and she just called to say she is around and would like to know my place. I have invited her to the house as I am alone.
Me: Basi kuna shida gani tena (Then what’s the problem?)
You see, my phone’s earpiece was a mess so I had to put it on high volume that means everybody can hear what am saying. And I don’t care now, Jerry needs my help…
Jerry: Maze kuna shida moja. Mbele nyuma niko na three chwani lakini hiyo hamsini ya juu usihesabu coz nataka kubuy nayo credo. Niokolee mtu wangu. (Man there’s one problem. I only have Kshs 350 but don’t count the Ksh50 since I will use that to purchase airtime. Bail me out buddy)
Spanner is in the works now
Me: Whah! Jerry! (At this point, all the other culprits are looking at me and fully following my conversation with my pal). Ok, kwa hao uko na nini? (What food stock do you have in the house?)
Jerry: Maze huku kuna tu kitungu moja, nyanya mbili kubwa, na rice. Mafuta ya kupikia pia iko (I only have one onion, two large tomatoes, rice and cooking oil)
Me: Nice, chukua soo mbili ubuy nayo maini halafu hiyo ingine nunua nayo half litre ya soda, change nunua nayo dania na royco. Panga hao pia poa, niko njiani nakam utanichapia story baadaye (Use Ksh200 to buy liver, for the remainder, buy half a bottle of soda then other food additives like Royco and Dhania. Also arrange the house properly, am on my way. You will tell me the story later).
Back those days, two hundred shillings would secure you a large piece of liver so everything was sorted.
Jerry: Asante sana mtu wangu, nilijua utatatua hii story (Thanks buddy, I knew you would handle this situation)
Me: Usijali man, wewe ni wetu( No worries, you are ‘ours’).
Everybody burst out laughing including our accusers. Then one of the ladies remarked “Haki ya nani hivi ndio wanaume huwa wanateseka. Haya, tuondoe kwa hii shida pia’’
….they let us free with a warning; the men said they have never thought about a plan like that on their first dates. Everybody was happy and main man Jerry was lucky too.