Tis the season for bright lights, Christmas trees, and all the Christmas events! In the weeks ahead, all the excitement of the holiday music, food, and family gatherings will continue to rise all around us.
However, let’s take a brief moment and imagine spending the Christmas holiday out on the streets. Waking up on the cold pavement and going to sleep under a park bench. Unfortunately, that’s what Christmas actually looks like for an increasing number of kids.
Most of them won’t trouble you for nothing more than the measly Ksh.10, then they will smile and walk away. They might even go ahead to wish you a “Merry Christmas” as they put on a happy face. But inside, worry and fear are eating them alive as they think of Christmas night-fall.
When it gets dark, they are haunted by attackers and the police. Ladies and mothers are often forced to move from one place to another seeking shelter in abandoned buildings and marketplaces in constant fear of the men who relentlessly follow them trying to get a hold of them and rape them.
This is actually the harsh reality that many of them call Christmas Night.
Members of the Chokora Culture Movement took a walk to the dumpster behind Shell Petrol Station, where we met Edna (*Name has been changed as per her request.)
She is hesitant to speak to us. She only talks briefly, but her short story tells volumes of where she’s coming from. How deep the suffering can be this time of the year for those who have already lost it all.
In the last three years, I have actually been homeless twice.
The first time was in 2015. At the time, I was living with my son at my boyfriend’s place in the army barracks. He was a Kenya Defense Forces Officer serving in the operation Linda Nchi in the town of Dobley, Somalia.
When the father of your child is off at war, all you do is worry! My boyfriend, however, would always tell me to calm down. He would entertain me with stories of a shootout that lasted all night and he would walk off the combat zone with nothing more than a scratch on his arm!
The one time he came back home looking hurt and weak, was when he caught a cold. He was actually like my real life Hero!
Our son was only two-years-old at the time and he only spoke what I’d call “baby-language”. I would never really understand what he was saying, but my boyfriend was fluent in the language. They would talk on the phone for hours. It was really impressive!
Then nearly a week later, there were reports of three officers found dead near the Somali town of Dobley after their Landcruiser, ran over an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).
I thought “No! It can’t be him. He’s invincible'” because I always thought that he was.
Then came a knock on the door. Only one uniformed officer came bearing the news I feared the most.
“He would be coming back home in a coffin!” I just broke into tears with my son in my arms.
I vividly remember a few weeks after his funeral, I received a letter informing me that my lodgings were terminated. I would have to vacate by the end of the month. His house was to be repossessed by the government. My family, however, was to receive some compensation.
At the time I wasn’t too worried. I just moved back into my mother’s home.
I was in form two at the time. I had dreams and goals that I wanted to achieve, but now I had to put them on hold. I started working around taking on casual jobs, washing clothes for other tenants, cleaning floors and toilets at hotels and sometimes I sold mandazis at the stage.
I was actually doing really well, I had even started saving!
Then suddenly, my mum fell ill. She just got a stroke. Her illness took us all by surprise. She was always full of life, her eyes were young and bright.
How could she just get a stroke?
Needless to say, her medication, the doctors’ appointments, the treatment that she was receiving, it ran my account completely dry!
Within one month we were in line at the church, hoping to get some supper. We had no resources. The family was destroyed financially!
In this country, good affordable health care is a myth and my mum was well aware of the fact.
One evening, she told me that she had made the decision to for-go her treatment. She wanted to hasten her own death and pass away before we end up losing absolutely everything, including our home.
I was heart-broken! She was not even going to try and fight. I begged her to hold on, just until the government could compensate me then I’d definitely be able to afford the best for her.
But even in her weak state, she was firm on her decision. She insisted that I use the remaining time to talk to her, share stories and laugh.
Obviously, I didn’t listen. I was bitter and angry. Every day I argued with her! Complaining and insisting that she takes her medicine!
I continued working harder and harder! I walked all over the city, taking more jobs than I could handle. I could go days without sleeping, without seeing my mother or my son. I needed to afford mum’s pills and food for my boy!
In two months, she was gone!
It all happened so fast! I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye! She closed her eyes for an afternoon nap and she never opened them again. Even now, I really can’t believe it. Sometimes, I wish I could just turn back time. I’d listen to her. Spare some time to hold her hand and smile with her till the end.
Getting her body released from the morgue cost us more money. Arranging her funeral service and finally laying her to rest, I suffered a series of financial hits. I was left with absolutely nothing in my account.
The landlord was kind, he waited a month after mum’s funeral, then we were evacuated.
That was in August of 2015. I really could not believe that I was actually homeless. For a long time, I had always thought that people end up on the streets because they have a drinking problem or a drug problem, but there I was, at 15 years, with nothing but a two-year-old baby by my side and a bag on my back!
I was panicking. Where would I sleep? How would I cook food for my boy? How would I wash and clean myself? I dreaded being seen as someone who can’t look after herself and her son.
I tried to reach out to my other family members, but I soon realized, no one was willing to deal with a teenager and her child. I no longer had any connections. I was actually all alone.
The first thing I did was seek help at a homeless shelter within the city! I stayed at the shelter for a few months and I’ll definitely never return.
There is a huge mix of characters there. Alcoholics, prostitutes, real criminals, inmates who had just been released from prison and others with a serious case of mental disorder.
The first night I got there, I saw a guy get his shoes cut off from his feet. You can’t really fall asleep at the shelter because you’re too scared to even close your eyes. When I was there, I got a boyfriend. It’s not that I loved him, it’s just what you do as a woman in the shelter because you don’t want to get raped.
You’re safer when you sleep with a man by your side, the other men finally keep off, your child is safe and you can finally get some rest.
My boyfriend, however, introduced me to disgusting behaviors like sniffing glue and using cheap heroin. I was so addicted to the high, I even turned into a pedlar! If you ever needed some drugs, even needles, all you had to do was talk to me.
Then, before long, my son picked up on the habit and started sniffing glue.
I guess I was just so busy getting high, I didn’t even realize when my son got his own bottle of glue.
At only two years old, he would pass out in the middle of the day after he got high!
I felt a heavy wave of guilt hit me hard. This is what rock-bottom actually looked like!
I made the decision to escape the shelter. I left my bag behind. It had my whole life; my clothes, my son’s clothes, all the pictures of my mum and my boyfriend, everything I kept in memory of those that I loved.
I just had to move on.
Starting up on the streets is not easy. Just one night holding your son as he sleeps without a roof over his head and you’ll feel like you have a loose screw.
I’m constantly depressed, I wake up every night crying, thinking I’m going mad.
This will be my third Christmas out on the street.
The festive season can get really rough. From around November, the city comes alive with bright lights and beautiful decorations, but its hard feeling like nothing is really yours at a time when everyone else is supposed to be thankful for what they have.
The idea of navigating Christmas on the street with my son, It’s a pretty heavy thing to do. When I first got to the streets, the Christmas spirit was alive. There were a few friends that shared with us.
They even played music. I remember my son was so excited. Seeing him happy, jumping up and down, shuffling his little feet as he tried to dance, it meant everything to me!
But over the years, Christmas has become just like any other day. We walk around town, begging the few people around for a penny, digging through dustbins, scavenging for leftover food and fruits.
The #ChokoraCulture Movement would like to encourage everyone to think about what they can do to make it warmer for some of those who will actually be in the cold this Christmas.
You can start by simply sharing this article as a post on your social media page. If one child could be helped from your post this Christmas, wouldn’t that be marvelous?!
We have partnered with the Family Wellness Centre – Kenya and together we plan to donate foodstuff, clothes, and anything else to the young and the old who are out on the streets this Christmas.
Feel free to drop off any of your Christmas Donations, (Foodstuff, clothes, toys and anything else) to-
Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC)
Lower Ground Floor LG9-
JAMES KIMANI GITHONGO OFFICE
Your contribution and dedication to the movement is really appreciated.
Safaricom – Lipa Na Mpesa
Pay Bill Number – 522522
Account Number – 1204222878
Lipa Na Mpesa
Buy Goods and Services
Till Number – 529161
Family Wellness Centre Kenya,
Account Number – 1204222878 – KICC Branch
Visit the site – http://www.familywellnesscentre.org/family-wellness-centre-profile/
Contact- +254 710 868133
+254 722 715424
Email – email@example.com
ChokoraCulture would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
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