Jemima




I once slept in between two countries. Because of a boy.


See, I was in my fourth year of Medical School and had travelled to Rwanda for a conference. At that time I was dating a lad who worked in Bungoma — a large county situated in Western Kenya — which was on the way to Rwanda. I seized this opportunity to visit him without my mother’s eyes on my back. The plan was to attend the conference, leave a day earlier, then pass by to see him on the way back. Luckily two other students needed to leave early too.


There was just one problem. We were all as clueless as a GPS that has to ask for directions. We dragged our feet not knowing that the border closes at some point.


So we get to the Kenya Uganda border and we are told we can’t cross.


“What do you mean we can’t cross? We are Kenyans!!” I wailed in frustration.


“Hypothetically speaking you can cross. There are no snipers on some roof waiting to neutralise you. But if you cross without the immigration stamp, you won’t be allowed back into Uganda.” A stranger told us.


The consequence, though not dire, sounded too final. We were too scared to risk it.


We were now stranded. Between us, we only had enough money for transport and a cup of tea. That is how we found ourselves with the sky as our ceiling, frightened and chilled to the bone. We hurdled together like people around a fireplace and took turns to sleep; using our suitcases as a headrest.


I remember that night as one of the worst, longest, coldest nights of my life.


Jemima, the last girl I spoke to when I visited Maparasha was unlike me. By the time she was five years old she was used to sleeping under open skies.


“I wanted you to interview me first,” she said when she came in to the office. She was unlike her peers and entered into the room with her mouth first. She had on a multicoloured marvin on her head, scrawny as a baseball bat, her skin the color of sand. She held my gaze the entire time we spoke.


“Why did you want to be the first?” I asked her, my tongue dry from a long day.


“Because my story is long and I love to talk.” She spoke from the side of her mouth.

I sat back and told her, “Leave nothing out.”


“I lived on the streets when I was five years old.” Her words jumped out. No preamble.


She didn’t start off on the streets though. There was a house; the size of a virus; where she lived with her mom, her stepdad and her younger sister. Everything was hard to come by —  food, clothing, air, space.


“I have memories of my mom carrying me to town, setting me on the street with a cup at my feet to beg for money. Sometimes she would leave me there the whole day then pick me up in the evening.” This became a daily routine and soon Jemimah started to make friends.


The money her mom would get would be spent on changaa. “Mum had a drinking problem. After we got home from a day in the streets, she would leave us — our bellies groaning in hunger — and go out with dad.” When they would return home in the dead of the night, his hands would curl into fists and the ruckus would begin.


They would throw things at each other inadvertently waking up the girls. The fighting sometimes began way down the street and moved closer until it was right on their heads. Most times the kids got caught in the crossfire.


“It became too much until one day I ran away from home.”


That is how she became a child of the streets.


“I knew how to beg for money and I had friends. All I wanted was peace.”


Life in the streets is not haphazard. You have to be in a crew or else you won’t survive.


Because Jemimah was young she never ventured out alone. “At night, we would look for a quiet street or one of the parks, lay down cardboard and sleep. I was quickly taught to sleep with one eye open.” Because they had to watch out for other gangs or the city council.


During the day, they did all they could to get money. Beg, snatch, run. “Twenty bob was sufficient to fill my small belly. It would buy me mandazi choma and tea.” But on other days she would offer to babysit other street children’s children. Children having children being taken care of by children.


“Babysitting was lucrative. I would get 50 bob by the end of the day.” Her crew had become her family. At least here there was no violence and she could get a meal a day.


Still, thoughts of her mom and her sister haunted her, young as she was. They passed through her head like bullets and to silence them she experimented with drugs. “The drugs help you forget your problems. When you sniff that glue you envision yourself in a loving home, with both parents and three meals a day. Your mum hugs you and your dad protects you.” Then the effect wears off and you find yourself lying on concrete, the sun in your face.


After a few months, the novelty of being a street girl wore off and she missed her mum terribly. She wanted more for herself. So she walked into a cops station and said, “I am lost.”

“Where are your parents?”


“I don’t know.”


“Where do you live?”


“I don’t know.”


So they took her to a children’s home called Rescue Dada where she stayed for a couple of years.


When she was of age they transferred her to Anita Children’s home.


“So you never saw your mum or your sister again? I ask her.


“Oh I did.” She smiles.


Once while still at Rescue dada, she started to throw tantrums. “I want my mum,” she would wail. It became a daily dirge so one of the guardians there asked her, “Where do you stay? If we take you there do you think you would find your way?”


“I think it was a place called Industrial Area.” She told the guardian.


They took her there and some of the locals recognised her. One even directed them to where she used to live.


Before they got to the house they stumbled upon her mom, drunk as a lord, waddling on the road. “Mooom,” Jemimah screamed. “Mooom it’s me,” she said, her eyes misting.


The guardian asked her mom, “Are you this girls mom?”


Her mom cocked her head to one side her eyes studying Jemimah’s face. Then she said, “No. I don’t know this girl.”


They were puzzled. Maybe time had eroded Jemimah’s memory.


“Do you know where their house is?”


“Sure.” she answered, her words coming out hindered.


And she sent them on a wild goose chase. They never found the home.


“I couldn’t believe she denied me like that.” The next time Jemima saw her mom was in a hospital bed. Stomach cancer had enveloped her body. Holding her tight. “When you get to a certain age the children’s home strives to reconnect you with family. They managed to get hold of my aunt and through her I found out mum was sick.” She slipped out of this world a few weeks after Jemima saw her.


“What about your sister?”


There was a beat of silence and she faltered before she answered.


“It pains me. But I don’t know. Sometimes I wish I went back for her. Or that I never left. My stepdad was her real dad and I figured he would care for her but…” She shrugged her shoulders.


“Tell me about Anita home,” I changed the subject.


“It was lovely. They had numerous activities and a great support system for the kids there. That’s where I discovered I could draw and design. They are the ones who got me into this school. When I came of age, and they had traced my aunt, I was sent to live with her. They still maintain contact with me though.”


She is now dependent on her aunt and partly the children’s home for fees and basic necessities. But it’s still a struggle because her aunt has now been diagnosed with stomach cancer that is eating into her body and bank account at the same rate.


“So who takes care of your needs? Like now when you are in school?” I ask her.


“During the holidays, I wash my cousins clothes and they pay me. That’s what I use to buy things like pads and soap for school.”


Her life is full of broken promises. Her mom promising to stop drinking. Her dad promising to stop fighting. People listening to her story and promising to help. Then dont.


“When I grow up I want to design wedding dresses. But I also want a home and to be part of a family.”



 

Jemima is one of the five girls I met at Maparasha. This is part of a series I am doing to raise funds for school fees for five girls who desperately want to stay in school. For the other articles, click here: https://www.medroomeyes.com/post/hills-of-maparasha


To donate or contribute to their fees/upkeep click on the link below and help me help a girl in need.


https://tinyurl.com/yfen9qk7



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