Story by MACHARIA MWANGI
Publication Date: 1/18/2008
Naivasha Town will soon be bursting at the seams with street children and street adults.
And thanks to a flourishing horticultural industry that has attracted many job seekers, the town’s population is exploding.
Many such job seekers end up in the back streets where they beg, bowl in hand. Those below 10 years station themselves at major shops soliciting for alms from shoppers, while others survive on dump sites from which they forage for food.
But there is order.
Newcomers who fail to adhere to the street rules are punished and the incorrigible ones driven out of town.
“We have our own rules, regulations and guidelines,” says Peter Njoroge.
The streets have been zoned off into three different categories known as “base”, and depend on the age-group and experience in the streets.
“Those below 15 stay in an area named Kaduma (darkness), while older ones while away their day and night at Stage ya Unango (slang for Kinangop bus stop),” says Njoroge.
Being young and largely inexperienced, the Kaduma boys have perfected the art of begging while their Stage ya Unango counterparts are regarded as the “elite”.
The Kaduma street children are not allowed to stray into the territory of the older colleagues, unless they have an urgent message to deliver.
Those flouting the rules are beaten up by the “disciplinary committee” members.
Our visit to the territory attracted suspicious attention. Accompanied by Njoroge, we ventured into one of the bases during the interview, but Njoroge reassured me they meant no harm.
Unperturbed by the sweltering afternoon sun, several street boys had cans of glue firmly stuck to their mouths, while others were fast asleep, snoring.
Other shabbily dressed ones were intoxicated after sniffing glue, and were drooling over, mumbling incomprehensibly.
“This is Salmonde, which acts as our base,” said Njoroge, insisting they no longer went by the name of street children. “We regard ourselves as a street family due to our advanced age,” he adds.
The base is home to those aged 20 and above, the veterans of street life. Half are said to have spent the better part of their lives there.
Their leader is Pilato, and every member of the street family is answerable to him. He is a no-nonsense character who sets the rules to be followed.
“He decides on the mode of discipline, depending of the nature of the offence,” said Njoroge. His word is law.
Those old enough to start a family are allowed to do so, but have to shift to a new home. Crime attracts a beating and a possible expulsion. But Njoroge admitted it was impossible to control all the street children, with their number now estimated at 400, and swelling.
Initiation into street life is brutal. If a newcomer survives the beating, he is considered tough enough to survive the rigorous of the streets.
Words like weedi, ganja, domu and gode, all slang for bhang, are commonplace, suggesting that drugs are a way of life. Boys smoke openly without fear of the authorities.
Njoroge said they were sometimes subjected to traumatising moments by police in case of theft in the area. “They make arbitrary arrests, on suspicion that we are behind these thefts,” he said.
The boys have started a robust dog selling business. According to Njoroge, they have more than 40 dogs that help them feed the group of over 30 lads.
The money from the sales is used for buying food, while any savings is used to bail out those arrested. They also use the money to pay for circumcision.
“We save. The dogs have a ready market, so we can buy food and bail out colleagues in trouble,” said 22-year-old Maulidi Asali.
A four-month old dog fetches Sh300 to Sh400. The dogs eat the same kind of food they eat — from the dustbins.
They know all dogs by name, and if they happen to lose one, they spend a sleepless night looking for it.
Woe unto their colleagues if they trace a dog to another base. That means territorial war that often gets bloody.
Njoroge said he had been spending nights in the cold for 15-years after he left home in Kinangop.
Now 25, he says he has no regrets. He left home at a tender age of 10, after his relatives continuously mistreated him following the death of his parents.
“I was treated like a pariah by my relatives and decided to seek greener pastures,” he said.
The street children rarely fall ill, even as they eat from the dustbin. “I’ve never been to a hospital for seven years,” says Maulidi with a wide grin.
Njoroge said their main challenge is to get an ID card once they reach the age of 18. “We’d like to obtain IDs and voting cards like other Kenyans,” he laments.
But area residents view the increased number of parking boys as a menace.
They say they have taken control of some streets and one dares not pass there after 7pm for fear of an attack.
“They have taken control of some back streets in town and spread terror to passers-by,” says an area resident.
When Narc came to power, a number of them joined the NYS and have already graduated in various trades. Then, their number decreased considerably unlike the case is now.
The joy expressed by the residents at the time was short-lived.