You call me chokora, yet I have a name, Brandson Mburu*. But how can I blame you for not knowing it, you do not see me as equal to you, so how can you fathom the idea that I can actually own a name? I am a street child after all, homeless, rugged, unruly, unworthy of affection, unworthy of your time, to you living in the streets is quite a privilege to me. I am an outcast in your eyes, so why bother acknowledging my presence?
I have not always lived in the streets you know. I was born in a nearby slum, Kiandutu, in Thika. Yes, I was born, meaning I did not magically appear in the streets. I have parents, a mother and a father. Well, they are separated, and I lived with my mother though in abject poverty. Sleeping with no food, lack of clean water, lack of adequate change of clothes, barely a roof over my head as our house was tainted with massive holes is not something I find particularly new while on the streets.
My mother tried her level best to provide for me and my other nine siblings. But out of her meager salary, nothing was ever enough. Unlike the contrary belief that poverty-stricken parents always send their kids to beg in the streets, such was not mine. She abhorred the idea of her children begging in the streets and beat us up when she discovered that we did so.
I know you are wondering how I then ended up here, if my mother constantly advised us against it. I was barely four years old when I came to the streets. My elder Brother, Raymond* introduced me. At such a tender age, I looked up to my elder siblings who to me had life figured all out. He was fourteen years old, big bodied, seemed to possess quite a wit that I could never match up to, so I was gullible.
When we woke up in the morning, he would take me to town and command me to beg for money since I always owed him money. How I came to always owe him money is quite mysterious to me, but he was older so he knew best. I would beg from passersby in the streets, shops, restaurants and any place that I thought had a potential of kakitu( something small).I think the words ‘auntie nipatie kakitu’(auntie give me something small) are well imprinted in my mind as they were my anthem.
Do not look at my preference to beg from ladies as some sort of discrimination from well-wishers. Having been brought up by my mother, I am slightly biased towards ladies as I find them more merciful and philanthropic. However, do not get the impression that all ladies were always willing to lend a helping hand; some were extremely verbally abusive as I have been told severally ‘mbwa, toka hapa, mimi si mamako’ (you dog, get out of here. I am not your mother).
The money I collected belonged to Raymond. At the end of each day, I would obediently give him what I collected and only when he was in a good mood, would he give me a portion of the money. He would then go to watch movies, play PS or wage the money. At four years of age, this kind of life seemed interesting, so I could never understand why my mother was so much against it.
Despite our differences, in the streets we were a family. Always looking out for each other, I guess in this spirit of brotherhood, how could they not introduce me to drugs? Something to take my mind of the worries and troubles of life; which I seemed to quite comprehend at such a tender age. When Raymond gave me my portion of the money, that I had earned, I was quite spoilt for choice at what kinds of drugs I could buy. There were cigarettes, bhang, alcohol, glue, Musi (jet fuel), Kuber( forgive my spelling), pills and many others. What struck me the most is that these drugs were always readily available. We would get them from peddlers, who were not street children, as well as other older kids.
Life on the street is not glamorous. One has to always be weary of police officers and county council officers who would constantly harass us. I cannot count the number of times that I have been brutally beaten up and left to nurse injuries. Without proper medical attention, adequate food, clean water and clean clothes, these wounds would take a very long time to heal. I could not always go running back home as I knew what awaited me; thorough beatings from my mother and my brother always for antagonizing reasons. My mother wanted me home, my brother wanted me on the streets, so eventually, my brother won me over.
I do not despise my mother, I love her very much. In fact if I get a chance to go to school, I want to excel in my studies so that I can support her when get I get a good job. I want to go back home, but I cannot, not after several years on the streets. I am not even sure if she still lives in the same place or was evicted from her shack. This is not a life I would wish upon anyone as being considered unworthy and a nobody can produce massive psychological effects on a child. I have nightmares; I have been told that I have developed ulcers by a good missionary doctor, that I should stop thinking too much.
Tell me, how do I stop thinking and wishing for a different life? I cannot afford that luxury. Cartons are my blankets and Christina Garden is my bed, my home. Glue and gum is my food, and these oversized clothes and a dirty, oily jacket is my wardrobe. I do not know what I did to deserve this. It may appear that I had a choice; my brother or my mother. But we lived no different from how I lived in the street. The only thing I had then was a sense of belonging, and that is what I long for. At eight years of age, I still wondered if this was to be my fate.
I was lucky one day when people from Action for Children in conflict (AFCIC) rescued me from the streets. I now have a roof over my head, food to eat, clothes to change and a chance to learn and eventually integrate myself in society. I am among the few lucky ones with this opportunity. I have friends and acquaintances’ still living in the streets, not sure what life has in store for them. I vehemently pray to the Almighty to give them a similar chance. For them to know another side of life, to experience their child hood as all children should and that fate be kind to them.
(The names used in this passage are fictional, but the story is that of a former street child)