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Surviving The Streets

Surviving The Streets

I left my parents’ house on the evening of 13th June 2004, with a Sunday Nation newspaper in my hand and a walkman in my pocket. Running. For peace of mind. Trekking through the abyss that is Mombasa Rd to town from Mlolongo, two days to my 16th birthday. Drained by life. Betrayed. Lost and frail. Saying to myself I’d rather die far away from the violence at home.

A distance of 25km took me 4 hours to cover. I arrived the CBD to the silent welcome of city lights and street urchins, one of whom I was about to become. June was cold. And lonely.

I dropped the newspaper at a Telkom booth and later, the owners of the night hustled me off my walkman – three rough men whose faces I never caught. They didn’t hurt me.

I’d hang out with commercial sex workers on Koinange Street. They became my friends even though I came off as mysterious to them. I didn’t look like a street child who’d been there long. It was however outright that I was at the wrong place. I witnessed the sweat of their work. They told me stories I’ve never forgotten. Though their faces and names long faded from my mind, expect for a one Makena who seemed just as lost as me.

My lips cracked from lack of water. I shoplifted Dairy Fresh Milk as a means to survive. Supermarkets didn’t have cameras like they do today. But I was caught the following Sunday at a Naivas outlet on Ronald Ngala Street. And some kind Kenyans administered mob justice on me.

I was done for. I thought it was the end.

But somehow somehow, the road was just curling. The sun held its breath for me. After he was called by the supermarket manager, dad showed up with his big Eriksson phone, paid for the things I stole, ordered a cab, and directed the driver to bundle me in the boot.

“Mzee hii ni kijana yako?” Driver asked. “Wacha tu akae kwa kiti ya nyuma, mzee. Apana kasirika.”

He’d bought a nyaunyo for the day I’d return. But it was also the first time I stood against him. The first time I told him, no, you’re not beating me again. This ends today. I don’t know where I got the courage. He chased me around the house, but I was determined to stand my ground. And that was it.

I hated everybody and everything in that house except my siblings. I hated that they fought without paying attention to my emotional needs. I hated that my mother felt helpless. I hated that she shouted at me a lot those days. I hated that daddy only cared for himself. Women would call mum threatening her over the phone. To burn our house and drive her and her kids away.

Quite frankly looking back, it was miraculous I endured it. Not only did I survive the chaos. I also survived my own despair.

Onyango Otieno

Onyango Otieno is a cultural designer ardent in maximizing the power of storytelling for healing and connection. Onyango believes in the potent spirit of humanity collectively creating safe spaces for interaction, development, business and movement, for a more cohesive world.

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