It is early morning on the day after Christmas. The time is around 4.30 a.m. I am walking along Moi Avenue in Nairobi heading to The Bus Station (BS). The city streets are almost empty. Only a few shops are open. Nightclubs, a few supermarkets, and eating joints are also open to capitalize on the festive season.
You can only see partygoers, early travellers, and security guards on the city streets. The street lamps light up the ambience of the city. Several cars also keep the city company at this dull moment of the night. The city experienced a downpour during the night and it is still drizzling at this time.
When I arrive at The National Archives, I come across another group of people, the street families. I see the first among them after jumping a ditch of muddy water. She is asleep on pavement and tucked under an old tattered sack that serves as her blanket. Besides her is her young child with whom they share the ‘blanket’.
Next, I see two children tucked under the public toilet at The National Archives. One is a boy but I cannot identify the younger one. My guess is that they might be siblings. The boy appears to be nine years old. He is wearing torn shorts, a torn t-shirt and slippers. He looks like he could use a bath and he is shaking from the cold. The kids are awake!
Just ahead, I come across another adult on top of a wheelbarrow. He is fast asleep unaware of his surroundings. Ahead of him is another adult sitting on the pavement. He has his head covered with an old worn-out sweater. He could not sleep in this weather.
When I arrive at Haile Selassie Avenue, I meet the last member of the street families. This one does amuse me. He sits with his head between his legs. What amuses me is that, just across the road from where he sits lies a major bank. The situation is ironical depending on how you see it.
The plight of street families
When the night was fresh, I saw a woman and her three kids in the same streets. They are street beggars. The children are two boys and one girl. The girl is probably aged seven, one boy four and the other aged two. The girl approaches me to beg for money. I grant her a small token.
When her brothers see that, they approach me crying in unison “Na mimi? Na mimi?” (What about me? What about me?). I tell them to share with their sister the little I could grant them.
When I reach the Bus Station, all these visions distress me that morning.
I can picture that woman and her three children among these homeless people dealing with the cold and rain.
These people have nowhere else to go. The streets are the only place they call home. They have become used to their situation of misery and neglect.
The street families live, eat and drink the streets. They dream about the streets. Their future seems to lie on the streets. They have no one to save them from these jaws of poverty and hopelessness.
This begs the question, who cares about the plight of street families in Kenya?
The suffering of street families
All the street families get is gruesome mistreatment from the Nairobi County askaris. The askaris view and treat them unsympathetically as ‘pests’ and ‘garbage’. They are dirt and destruction to the ambience of the city. They neither have any say about their predicament nor any rights and justice.
The Askaris bungle them into their Black Maria any time they see them. The street families engage with the council Askaris in a cat and mouse chase. Yet, at the end of it all, they still come back to the same streets they know.
The government sets aside money every financial year to cater to the street families. However, it seems the money never reaches the beneficiaries. It ends up in a few peoples’ pockets because of corruption.
Change to these families has become a cliché.
The common people also distaste these street families. When a homeless person in the street approaches many, all they can do is just cast a glance, ignore, and walk away.
All this reminds me of a Kikuyu saying that goes muthiini ndari mwaririria (a pauper has no spokesperson). Street families and other poor people live within our communities. They suffer yet most people cannot lift a finger to assist them. They see them as a ‘burden’ or a ‘nuisance’.
The excuse for failure to help these people is that everyone has their own problems. This public apathy coupled with government apathy makes the situation worse for street families.
Maybe it is time we considered becoming their spokespersons. The government might also follow suit and take serious consideration about the predicament of street families in Kenya.