While I was in Ong’eche (Monkeys in Luo) primary school, I had a close friend who stood out in class and in the entire school. He was among the few pupils who had shoes. They were always polished and clean.
His legs were clean while ours were full of marks because of exposure to thorns, mud and the occasional caning we would get. The rest of us fell into the category of ‘grass combers’ with our toes. To know how to swim wasn’t a luxury or a statement of the social class you belonged to; it was a survival tactic. It’s either you mastered the art of swimming or you drowned in the raging floods.
My mother hawked mandazis in our school during break time. We would join her, the six of us in that school, and help to sell them. We weren’t however permitted to eat even one. My friend, Kevin (not his real name) was a regular customer. He had lots of pocket money. Judging from where I stood, he definitely came from a privileged background.
Poverty was so rampant around me that those of us who could afford the bare minimums required to live a comfortable life were seen as heroes. They were the outliers. Every girl loved their company as some of us were shunned like mad men. We were the scum of the earth, men not worthy to be looked at twice.
Yet our pride was redeemed for a brief moment when exam results were released. I tried my best to maintain top 3 in that school. This is the mutual benefit and arrangement that crafted our friendship with Kevin. While he would meet my tumbo needs in school, I would help him revise to boost his report form. We became very tight till we sat for our KCPE exams. We enrolled in the same high school which had (still has) arguably one of the ugly uniforms in the whole of Kenya. How do you mix jungle green and a cream colour and hope that students will be bright enough to perform? That’s story for another day.
When we finished high school, we parted ways. I relocated to the city and started my hustling life. I went to the university, did my undergraduate and graduated. But we lost touch with Kevin.
Recently when I went home, I asked about his whereabouts. I was introduced to a man who looks like my father but he is my age mate. The stench that was coming from his mouth, if harnessed well, can easily kill the rodents in this city. He loves illicit brew more than he loves taking a shower. His will is crushed. His ambitions tossed into a deeper ocean. He is a shell of his former self. All the promise he had in his life seems to have met a ruthless end when he stumbled on the bottle. He is incoherent. We could barely hold a conversation. I gave him a tip then I went my way. Later I was told that he is a father of two. And that piece of information came in like a double-edged sword ripping my heart apart.
I couldn’t imagine the frustration his family is going through. That’s one less productive member of the family. The guidance and leadership that he needs to offer are simply non-existent and the collective dreams of the family have now been safely deposited in a pit latrine. At the thought of this reality, I felt like my heart was being grounded into fine powder.
Yet his story mirrors the unfortunate reality of a considerable number of young people across Kano. Alcoholism, drug abuse, illicit sex that leads to the spread of HIV/AIDS, apathy towards education, deforestation that has led to some of the worst droughts in recent past, meagre earnings from rice farmers among other challenges.
I saw young men, in the prime of their age and strength, roaming around with a band of frustration tied around their heads. Young women, barely 20 years old are already breastfeeding their 2nd born babies. Fathers often stagger back home with nothing in their hands.
Looking back, I’m honestly thankful to God for giving me victory in this land. Surely, a child born in Kano is under several risks. If not from the floods, that make us scream every year ‘serikali saidia’ it is the intense drought that eventually follows a season of floods. This place is full of ironies. It’s amazing that this place is a stone throw away from the second largest fresh water lake in the world but people have got brown teeth. Clean and safe drinking water is a problem in this village. Yet the rains are always falling until people have to literally move to higher grounds.
If you don’t die of floods, then you are likely to be caught up in a vicious cycle of poverty topped up with on over dependency on drugs. Some people who are my age mates, we went to the same schools together, have surrendered their fate to illicit brew. Some of the young men I grew up with have received thorough whips from life now they look older than my father who is in his late 60’s. illicit brew has ruined their lives completely. You can clearly see that his will has been crushed together with his passions, dreams, skills etc which now lie in a huge rubble of the waste that he often excretes.
While we are waiting for partners and the government to come to our rescue, we must take initiative and do something. The future of the next generation lies in our hands. It’s either we remain quiet and hope for some help to come or we take the bull by its horns and change our communities.
Let me be very clear, the county government is doing tremendously great. I’m actually impressed by the progress that Kisumu county is facing. There are also non-governmental organizations and civil society groups that are trying to reverse these challenges. People are doing their bit. The only gap I have noticed that I want to fill is the information gap.
How about a resource centre in the heart of Kano? A safe sanctuary for girls and boys where they can learn computer skills like coding? What if we stock quality books for the young boys and girls to read in their spare time? How about we partner with other organizations to conduct education on sexuality? This will be an oasis where their thirst for knowledge will be quenched as habits are shaped.
The resource centre will impart life skills so that women can have their own income generating activities. We want to crush the backbone of ignorance, disease and poverty. We want to train our people how to catch fish.