I have never really known there is more to being a street child than just walking around and asking for handouts like money and foodstuffs from passers-by . Looking at them you might wonder what their way of life might seem like . Many questions might run through your mind like where they sleep, what they eat, where they come from and where their parents might be . Majority of these families have no permanent houses of their own . They shelter themselves in polythene thatched structures while some of them would sleep in open air under old abandoned vehicles. Their clothes that were possibly new at some point are now tattered and rugged beyond recognition . Their shoes, torn and worn out you can see toes and heels peeping out. Their skin is covered with dirt patches, rashes and looking closely you may notice a variety of scars an epitome of how drastic and nasty street life can be.
According to statistics I found on Google there is an estimated 250,000 street families in Kenya and over 60,000 reside in the capital city, Nairobi. Among them is one, Mama Njoki who has lived in the streets of Nairobi for over 30 years now not knowing any of her family members. I had a chance of talking to her and she opened up to me about her life in the streets over the years. She was very particular on the hazards of living in the streets with the elder male street kids walking around at night. She lives in just another jungle of street families around Globe Cinemax, just under a tunnel of a main highway connecting the city of Nairobi to it’s outskirts . Here there are so many different families with very different characters and ideologies. For them experience is their only teacher, the closest they have been to a classroom.
Over the years, across the street corners , Mama Njoki has been widely known as Jamo in contrast to her real name being Margaret. Jamo is short form or nickname for James, a name given to people of the male gender. Like most female street children, Margaret tells us she lived almost 20 years of her life using the name Jamo and other male attributes like a fake hoarse voice , walking style and a male dress code as camouflage or a self-defense mechanism in order to survive in the streets. Over the years of posing as a male, none of her friends or even people she met on the streets ever at once suspect she was of a different gender.
Her taking up this role was as a result of what she had witnessed in the streets over the years. She has witnessed so many of her female mates being taken advantage of and sexually abused by not only the elderly street kids but also night guards and police patrolling around the city during the night. This is the reality in the streets, happens everyday without even a bat of an eyelash from anyone in the streets. But then again given our corrupt societal landscape , perhaps those living in the streets are considered non-entities unworthy of protection.
Over the years it was dead contrary to the common experience when time is found to have built its own defensive lines. It took Mama Njoki over twenty years to surpass this but eventually she did and went back to living comfortably as a female. All those years in the streets in the streets have given her power over so many families and even the elderly male street kids who take advantage of the younger ones. According to her, they have all lived in the streets for almost the same period of time giving them equal right out there. Experiences has taught her all the ways of the streets and she now has all forms all of self defense for anything that comes her way. She sees so many younger girls, new to the streets going through what she went through. This cycle remains unbroken. If the streets are practice ground for this behavior, then who will be next? Will it be her daughters?