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They Come With Cups

Posted on 149 191

Boniface Mwangi swings off the road and parks outside a bland commercial building, one of the many that dot the roadside. A woman peers from the grill opening of one of the kiosks. The name of the kiosk is “Fruits”. It used to be Bonnie’s shop, but then he sold it, or gave it away to a relative; I don’t remember the details now. I remember that the woman is called Jane and she’s either bored or we are boring her. Bonnie leans out of his car window and says cheerfully, “Sasa Jane” and makes small talk. We are in the heart of Mathare slums. I have never been to Mathare. I have never been to Korogocho or Mukuru Kwa Njenga, and I have only seen the scalp of Kibera from the southern bypass. I have been to Dandora and Kawangware.  Dandora was jarring. Kawangware didn’t leave any impression on me. But there is something about Mathare that makes me hesitant to roll down my window. It seems reluctant to accept me or even recognise me. So I sit in the warm car, it’s a cold mid-morning.

“Right now, two sets of phone calls are being made,” Bonnie says. “One is to the police by the informers. And the informers could be that fellow over there roasting maize or those boys chilling by that shop or it could be Njeri. The other set of calls being made are to the local gang leader of this area, by informers. And his informers could be that fellow over there roasting maize or those boys chilling by that shop or it could be Njeri.”

I chuckle.

“Either way our presence here has been noted by the police and the gangs,” he says nonchalantly. He might as well be reporting the weather.

“Is that a good or bad thing?” I ask. I don’t know whose guest I would feel safer being; of the cops or the thugs.

“It’s just how things operate around here.”

A dark, slim boy, just out of his teenage years,  in my estimation, runs across the road. He has a cluster of dreadlocks at the top of his head. The rest of his hair is cut off. He’s the kind of boy who you see in traffic and instinctively check if your doors are locked. He has a hard look. He’s in skinny jeans and sneakers. He’s the kind of guy you would see in a Busy Signal video. “Our guy is here,” Bonnie announces, reaching for his door handle. I ask him if I should leave my wallet and phone behind and he resists rolling his eyes, telling me that nobody can dare touch us here. We have access.

The boy greets Bonnie, and they catch up. They are speaking sheng. I get most of what they are saying but certain words fly over my head and I only glean their meaning in the context of the sentence. Of course you know that there are different types of sheng. There is the sheng that guys who live in houses with doorbells speak and then there is sheng from these parts. It’s a dialect with an edge. It’s slightly slurred and slowed down, which means that even when it’s spoken regularly it feels threatening, like it might implode into something vicious if provoked. It’s the language of identity but also of navigation and if you don’t have it, you can’t navigate through the slums or be heard. When you are not heard in the slums you are not recognised……and the slum is the one place you want to be recognised.

The boy is called Leon, a beautiful name for a boy born in this jungle of iron sheets. We all cross the road. Before us the Mathare slum writhes and pulses.

I’m in Mathare to interview a man with 11 children. Bonnie is the guy who knows that man. Plus he knows the terrain, so he’s holding my hand. Possibly, the plan is to ask him why he has that many children and if he, at some point in making these children, thought he should perhaps have stopped at the fifth one or six one or eighth one given that he didn’t have the means to provide for them adequately. I will ask him about family planning. I will perhaps ask him if he sometimes confuses these kids identities, or mixes up their birthdays. I mean, I have two of my own and sometimes when filling their birthdays and year of birth on forms I have to stop and think; was the first one born in 2008 or was it 2009? And you know you can’t make a call to confirm such details, so you just have to use your fingers and count backwards. Now I imagine 11 of them, I’m certain I wouldn’t even remember all their faces, let alone their birthdays.

To get to this man we have to get swallowed by the slum and crawl into its large intestines. Mathare slum, if you haven’t been, is a rambling dwelling of iron-sheets. Iron sheets that converge together. Iron-sheets that separate. Brown iron sheets. Old iron sheets. Children are born under these iron sheets, grow up under these iron sheets, seduce girls under these iron sheets, make love under these iron sheets and get babies under these iron sheets. Three of four generations have risen from under these iron-sheets.

And so you feel walled in by iron-sheets. Framed by it. We duck through narrow alleys, step over sewage water, duck under tin roofs nudging onto the pathway, pass outside doorways inside which there is only darkness. We hear the sounds of radios coming through tin-walls and sounds of TV and of children crying and men talking loudly and women laughing and someone frying something. We pass drunks and men who are going to get drunk. We get off narrow pathways and walk down wider paths of a thriving kadogo economy; women selling cooking oil and frying chips, men roasting mutura or “African sausages” on jikos, we pass miserable looking dogs and dirty ducks. Goats stare. Slum goats that probably know more about the art of survival than you and I put together. Goats that understand sheng.

We pass a small boy without shoes or shorts peeing on the street without holding his member, he just stands there peeing, both hands holding a piece of boiled maize. I find that fascinating. I make a small mental note to try and pee without holding my member later when I go home. Women laugh outside kiosks. Men stumble out of drinking dens, squinting in the midday light. I see lots of dirty water bubbling out of a little structure, Leon tells me that’s a toilet. The biggest business in the slum is toilets and water, he says. Nobody has private toilets. The man I’m going to see hurt his leg in a car accident so he can’t walk. One of his children always carries a small bag of his shit to throw away. I don’t ask where. I don’t ask how often. I don’t ask which child’s duty that is because I don’t want to add to the indignity of poverty. We pass two gentlemen walking in the opposite direction, Bonnie tells Leon, “Hao ni makarau” and Leon confirms it. I turn to look at the men and ask him how the hell he knew and he says, “Their shoes, you can always tell a cop by his shoes.”

We take a detour to a chang’aa manufacturing den by the river where men supervise boiling drums and explain to me the chemistry behind making chang’aa. There are a few chaps hanging around, obviously inebriated. Someone offers me a burning weed joint. I politely decline. Another offers me a taste of their changaa. I decline again, because the cup looks like if you placed it on your lips you would contract foot and mouth disease or God-knows, leprosy or something that penicillin can’t treat. The man insists and Bonnie urges me to try it, saying it’s like fine whisky and I’m feeling the peer pressure even though Bonnie hasn’t led by example and everybody there, including Leon is looking at me like I’m a spoilt bloody man who is too good for their product in the slum. Finally I think, f**k it, the worst that can happen is I get drunk and fall in the river. So I place that dodgy cup against my lips and the chang’aa touches the tip of my tongue. It doesn’t taste like fine whisky, I can tell you that. The cup, on the other hand, smells like athlete’s foot. The alcohol is sharp, my first taste of chang’aa. It’s underwhelming. They laugh and ask me how it is.

The river is significant, I’m told. It’s a Them Vs Us river, a tribal river. Different tribes predominantly live on either side. When war breaks out – especially when politicians have worked up emotions during campaign periods – you don’t want to be on the wrong side of the river with the wrong last name.

We leave the brewery, walk up the hill, get back under the iron-sheets. Eyes follow us. “They can tell you are not from around here,” Bonnie tells me. “ You can wear your oldest clothes but they will tell you are not from here.” I ask how and he says, “It’s how you smell. You don’t smell like them. They can smell you.” An ageing man stops us. He knows Bonnie. He’s probably 60-years old. He chats him up. I watch a few women sitting by a shop point at Bonnie. They must be saying “Isn’t that the guy who painted pigs on TV?” Or maybe they are pointing at my forehead.

Bonnie turns to me and tells me that the old man used to be a thug in his heyday. The man nods proudly, because being a thug must be a virtue, or it’s a sign of being tough. The weak die. I ask him if he used to be a robber with a gun or a knife. He says no, the type that chokes you and steals from you in the CBD. The ngeta type. But now he’s old, he says, he stopped that life a long time ago. He wants money from Bonnie. Everybody wants money from Bonnie. Bonnie tells him that we will be back and then as we walk away tells Leon to give that “mzae” 100 bob, later. Leon, I have figured by now, is an influential boy. I don’t know if he belongs to the police side or the gang side, either way, I get the feeling that nothing can happen to us so long as we are with him. Plus he has that streetsmarts swagger. You know when people say, “I know a guy”? They mean Leon.

We get off the road and walk down a corridor of houses, the smell of illicit alcohol hangs in the air, then we are off that path again and suddenly we are are knocking on an opened door and ducking into a dark living room that smells of what I’m pretty sure is poverty. There are two women seated on the floor of the darkened room, clothes hang from a line in the room, and further inside is even darker, broken by  light trickling through small holes in the metal sheet walls. The living room, when we access it, only has a wooden sofa that can seat three people, a table covered with a crocheted tablecloth, a small wall unit with humble cutlery and a small television set which is on but the screen only shows a deep blue There is a curtain separating the living room and whatever is behind the curtain. I take a seat, Bonny sits at the end of the sofa, Leon, being the OG, sits on the table like boss. The man with 11 children – David Msula – is seated on a stool. Overweight. A naked bulb burns dimly overhead.

David Msula lost one of his children a few days ago; he was swept away by the recently raging waters of the river. His body has not been found. So David’s not exactly in a great mood. That isn’t a good thing for my interview. At least not to talk about family planning, I suspect. I can’t ask him, “Form ni Gani?” which is a slang for the family planning campaign. I read grief in his body. It sounds metallic in his words. I can also tell that it would be churlish to ask him why he had many children …when he’s just lost one. But he tells me he has four wives. One is in shags in Kakamega. One took off and never came back. The other two are in Nairobi.  His first born is 29-years old, but he doesn’t remember the age of his last born (who can blame him?) so he calls out to his last wife, Maggie, to ask her how old the boy is. Maggie, from beyond the curtain shouts that he’s 3-years old.

“I haven’t worked in eight years after being knocked by a car,” he says. His left leg is swollen to the size of a tree trunk. The wives go out and do menial jobs to bring home the bacon. I ask him how that makes him feel, to sit while his women bring in the food. He says he feels challenged. His dream was to send all his children to school and to work to pay the rent of 2,000 bob a month, in this  two-room house. He was born in Nairobi, he lost both his parents early and he never went to school. He got menial jobs, working at a petrol station etc. He says he has a degree in pumping fuel.

I ask him how he spends his days, how he has spent them in the last few years with a bad leg that he can’t treat because they can barely feed themselves (his girth suggests different though) and he says he spends his days seated outside his doorway. What do you think about? I ask him. He chuckles in a manner likely to suggest that if I’m a man and I don’t know what men think about when they sit outside their doorways, then I’m not the man he took me for. He says he thinks about his dead child. And he thinks about life. And he thinks about how will he bloody get help; help to find his dead child’s body, help to get medical attention. He says, “Mambo ya maisha, si unayajua?” I nod, even though I don’t because I’m sure we each think about different things when we are alone with our thoughts.

Finally, slowly I ask him why he decided to get so many children and as Bonnie leaves the room to pick a call he tells me that “Watoto wakikuja wanakuja na kikombe yao.” Besides, he continues, I had to have a baby with every wife I married. His last wife comes and sits next to me. I ask her if she’s using a contraceptive and I immediately realise that although it’s not the wrong question, it alludes to sex and sex is something that she isn’t going to discuss with a stranger. She puts me straight, she asks “Hiyo ni ya watu wawili ama ya watu kumi na moja?

“Do you want to get more children?” I ask her and she laughs and says, “Hapana.”

I watch Leon sitting on that table, listening to this old man, watching how his life is dwindling into misery, and I wonder if he’s looking at him and thinking, “I hope I don’t end up like him. I hope, if for anything else, I don’t get bogged down with numerous children I can’t feed or take to school.” I hope being a father of a litter of kids at 23-years isn’t his ambition. That he doesn’t need to be 40-years old and asking his wife what his last born’s age is.

As we leave I marvel at the bleak hope in that household. How he said, “Sasa tunaomba tu,” when I asked him what his plan was. He will wake up the next morning, probably eat some breakfast bought by one of the wives, and then spend his day sitting outside his house, waiting for one of the 11 children’s cups to fill up with blessings for the entire family. As you read this he must be in a big old jacket, father of 11, wondering where the body of his son has washed up, but also wondering where the remaining ten will wash up in life and if they will walk in his tired shoes and marry many wives and get more children of their own under other iron sheets.  

149 Responses
  • Amuj Lio
    03.07.2018

    There are two things a man should never loose, HOPE and appetite.

    67
    • George Ng'ethe
      03.07.2018

      True, once there is life,there is always hope for a better tomorrow.

      3
    • Kelsey
      04.07.2018

      @Biko you absolutely reek of privilege in this article. I may have rolled my eyes once or twice (ati you can’t relate to the old man’s lone thoughts even to some extent? Rich or poor, there are some definite parallels but there must be some shared worries too). Back to your privilege… you admitted it first so just piggy-backing hehe.

      Appreciate the lengths you go to, to bring these narratives to life, to experience the reality of the story-teller and to relay it with honesty and respect.

      Can’t not acknowledge how much of a bawss Leon is for putting his tooshy on a stranger’s table. BRUH!

      53
      • Khayeye
        08.08.2018

        You don’t understand. Biko is writing with a heavy heart…searing at the “indignity of poverty” this is what Biko says. As poor as Biko is, he finds it difficult to relate to the level of poverty in Mathare. The description of the iron sheet is simply to paint the mental picture. It is the tragedy and/or irony of life. That a poor man is not just bogged down with his poverty but also a heavy burden of 11 children. Poverty is a cycle, and for you to break it, all your children must be empowered with something to do, something that is a mirage to Msula

  • Moses
    03.07.2018

    I’ve been looking forward to read today’s article.

    1
  • Dee
    03.07.2018

    One of my friends has this as profile pic on whats-app .
    “Work until you smell sweat & it pains because poverty stinks and hurts much more”

    48
  • LAWI
    03.07.2018

    GOALS!!!!!!!
    degree in puMping Fuel hahahahA!!!

    2
  • Migwi
    03.07.2018

    This is really a Sad Tale,
    I think we should focus more on contraceptives more as we empower women, having 11 kids and not working is not something a man can ever be proud of.

    I hope the best for him
    ❤❤❤

    29
  • Raphael
    03.07.2018

    Interesting,educative but again so sad

  • son of ice and fire
    03.07.2018

    The river is significant, I’m told. It’s a Them Vs Us river, a tribal river. Different tribes predominantly live on either side. When war breaks out – especially when politicians have worked up emotions during campaign periods – you don’t want to be on the wrong side of the river with the wrong last name.

    SAD. JUST SAD.

    22
  • Drums Beats
    03.07.2018

    Deep and educative.

    I think of it like this: If a man has little to do in the evening after work, all he will do is make children with his wives. Its hard to sleep for 12 hours and self control is not always something that you have control over. I know all the above is dumb but I need to say that contraceptives came to help.

    16
    • Wesh - Peter Wesh
      03.07.2018

      A rhetoric; what is better to do than baby-making sex in the evening?

      12
      • ces
        03.07.2018

        Sex doesn’t always have to result in babies!

        10
    • Gitaû
      03.07.2018

      Actually it isn’t dumb, my high school business teacher used this to illustrate what he called ‘the cyclic cycle of poverty!’

      7
  • Wesh - Peter Wesh
    03.07.2018

    Poverty sucks. I can picture the old man listening to the winds blowing against the rusty iron sheets and wishing that the next time they blow there’ll be more on his plate. His story exudes the need and desire for decent living but lacking in ability. I wonder what you talked about for the rest of the interview though. Did it matter to Leon that there could be a better path with contraceptives maybe? Do you think the young lads there would mind protection amidst their steamy sessions under the iron sheets? Oh and the chang’aa bit….how did it taste?

    21
    • TheBlackKennedy
      03.07.2018

      Wesh,

      Chang’aa tastes like boiled “Hunter’s Choice” served with pilipili….

      You should try it.

      It will burn the Baby Jesus right out of your throat.

      Cheers!!!

      19
  • Piccaninny
    03.07.2018

    This is a nice read.

    1
  • Desmond
    03.07.2018

    Hey gang, On a rather different wavelength, we may not be ble to get David Msula out of his misery but we can get him back to his feet literally. How about a fund for his specialized treatment?
    #getdavidmsulabacktohisfeet

    47
    • Rose
      03.07.2018

      With you Desmond. We can do it. We need someone to lead it. Can you take up the challenge?

      7
      • Mercy
        03.07.2018

        The last time Biko tried,actually,helped someone raise funds,the end was bitter.How do we do this without him,The Principal!

        2
    • Mama Israel
      04.07.2018

      Yass! Now this is a responsive reader. Good suggestion!

    • Mwenginator
      09.07.2018

      let’s hope if he gets a good leg, he wont’ keep on making more babies

      1
      • Zorro Ellie
        19.07.2018

        His baby making foot was injured. Poverty is a definition, he isn’t poor, just unlucky. The best gift for him would be treatment not fp.

  • Mushie
    03.07.2018

    Woi..
    I cant even begin to imagine what it is like for him to know that his child is dead and out there and they don’t know how to get him because they don’t have the means..and also after they find him and they need to cater for the burial requirements and he cant be of help because he cant walk and the other ten children and two wives also have their needs….This is sad but they have hope for a better and that is what keeps one going..

    “Sasa tunaomba tu,” …God never leaves his own in whatever the situation (this is a hard truth to tell anyone going through such though)

    4
  • TS
    03.07.2018

    I don’t know about this read today. I’m always such a fan but you come off as better than these people, with some words choke full of a condescending tone.
    “I’m sure we each think about different things when we are alone with our thoughts.”
    “dark living room that smells of what I’m pretty sure is poverty”
    “because the cup looks like if you placed it on your lips you would contract foot and mouth disease or God-knows, leprosy or something that penicillin can’t treat. ”
    “The cup, on the other hand, smells like athlete’s foot.”

    18
    • Lord Kithinji
      04.07.2018

      In his defence,he’s certainly not used to that lifestyle and only vividly describes what he felt the situation was.Would you rather he sugar-coated it and painted a rosy picture?

      17
    • Masimba
      05.07.2018

      Exactly my thoughts…….it is not Bikos cup of tea, he is an unfamiliar territory alright…..but the description has got a ‘better than though’ attitude written all over it…… maybe he tried too hard to drive the imagery home, am sure Biko means well.

      • Princess Maggie
        13.07.2018

        So you are a fan too eeh

    • DancingFlame
      05.07.2018

      A writer’s main goal is usually to describe situations in a way that the reader will be able to visualize what he is seeing. I don’t believe Biko was being condescending at all, it was just his way of bringing the scene into our minds so that we can picture the room, the cup, the smells.

      6
    • Bee
      06.07.2018

      Biko’s tone is authentic.Its how he feels considering he comes from a totally different lifestyle. I think people can be too sensitive at times.Poverty is poverty. Nothing good about it. Its demeaning dehumanizing it often comes with dirt and uncleanness. There is no sugarcoating it.

      7
    • Kelsey
      09.07.2018

      one thing to keep in mind as well- biko is a story teller. This is not a documentary or something. #context

    • AGirlHasNoName
      12.07.2018

      I’m with you on this one. This was terrible. It left me wondering “What’s the point?” Why did he go there if only to see what a passer-by would see and think? Biko did a drive by on this one. This article is exactly what a stranger would say.

      1
      • Jimmyh
        13.08.2018

        Biko does not consider himself rich, maybe he is rich. His description allows us (readers) to understand the depth of poverty as he sees it.

  • Martin oduor
    03.07.2018

    Chocolate man..I finally had the pleasure to see your face, at least i can confirm you are human.

    7
  • Linda Muringo
    03.07.2018

    Its good your interview was short… he had less reflections on the indignity of his poverty..
    I have neighbor in Kikuyu with 15 children…one man one woman..all alive…some with grandchildren living with them..
    They are very poor but one of the happiest families I know…

    7
    • Ngotho
      06.07.2018

      Ask Biko to do an interview with this 15 plus family so we can insights on being happy with meagre resources as your description reads,
      ‘Very poor but the happiest family’
      Has this man attempted to go to hospital Kenyatta Refferal or he did and it’s the usual story of no attention due to poverty.
      Big four agenda,my foot

      3
  • Carol
    03.07.2018

    So sad. I hope he finds his child and gets closure. I think that family planning should be a collective responsibility – it should not entirely be a responsibility for the women, men should start taking charge as well. Unfortunately vasectomy is still a taboo. Until we debunk the myths surrounding it family planning will continue to fail.

    9
    • Suleiman
      03.07.2018

      Vasectomy is not a taboo actually; as you mentioned, family planning is a collective responsibility. Both men and women should be involved, that does not mean men should undergo vasectomy…. (That sounds like am against it but no)

      4
  • Syl
    03.07.2018

    At least the Mzee still has hope in life.

    1
  • Biegon
    03.07.2018

    We are born then we die. the process in between the two is what’s happening now.

    4
    • Juster
      03.07.2018

      How can we help him biko? Education is cheap today…

      4
    • Mathew
      03.07.2018

      Life is happening

  • Titus Kamunya
    03.07.2018

    I never thought it was that hard in the ghetto

  • Titus Kamunya
    03.07.2018

    “Bonnie turns to me and tells me that the old man used to be a thug in his heyday. The man nods proudly, because being a thug must be a virtue, or it’s a sign of being tough”

    Life in the ghetto seems to be tougher than i thought

    1
  • Brian Kanja
    03.07.2018

    “We pass a small boy without shoes or shorts peeing on the street without holding his member, he just stands there peeing, both hands holding a piece of boiled maize. I find that fascinating. I make a small mental note to try and pee without holding my member later when I go home”- hahaha boys will always be boys

    5
  • Brian Kanja
    03.07.2018

    And of the boys member and the mental note- hahaha boys will always be boys

  • Zachuas Ogonji
    03.07.2018

    It’s until you have been down there is when you begin to see life differently. I make an effort to visit a slum often, it reminds me how hard i need to work and how much i need to change at least in my community.

    5
  • Sir Elvis Mayaka
    03.07.2018

    Its Always the parents hope foe his/her babies to have a better future than the parent.. atleast for me thats what i hope.. family planning is key. I think its key to sensitize people on family planning etc..

  • Carol Kuyo
    03.07.2018

    The beginning was kind of a happy one but the intensity of the story gradually builds up and I have the visual already.Great read!

    2
  • Emmah
    03.07.2018

    It is sad because as a man,you pride yourself in protecting and providing for your family.He can’t do both.Poverty sucks and there is need for family planning awareness in such areas.There is no honor in having many kids yet you can’t provide for them.I hope they will be able to get that much needed help to find the missing body.Closure is important.

    • ces
      03.07.2018

      And as for that tired rhetoric that kila mtoto huja na kikombe yake…….tell it to the birds! Africans seriously need to change their mindsets on family size.

      9
      • The Granny's Corner
        03.07.2018

        With you Ces. I don’t want to hear that quoted one more time. It drives me mad.

        We need to think about the quality of life we give out. It has a ripple effect

        6
    • Munyao
      04.07.2018

      At Mariestopes offers free contraceptives in some of these areas.All we need to do is to sensitize on the importance of contraceptives. Mariestopes.or.ke

      4
  • David Mwenda
    03.07.2018

    a bit sad today but contraceptives are very important

    4
  • Lucy
    03.07.2018

    Sometimes we take things for granted and we have the mentality of ‘wanting more’. What we have is never enough and we’re always looking at what others have and we don’t, forgetting that there are those who want what we have. This story inspires me to appreciate what i have and to not take it for granted.

    I wish him the best.

    5
  • Patsy Mugabi
    03.07.2018

    Captivatingly true. This reminds me of how many relatives are living their lives in shags away from this Nairobi filter of “wait till I get my money right”!
    Like Oliver Twist, can we have some more of these raw stories dubbed with unbridled honesty?

    6
  • P. K.
    03.07.2018

    Woe doom and gloom. ON a better note; I know of a lady with 11 children all her own. And she is in her 40s. They are on the other end of the spectrum..

    3
  • Klaiv
    03.07.2018

    This man needs treatment so he can go back to being able to provide for his family. Please let me know how we can help, even through Bonnie.

    6
  • Malaika
    03.07.2018

    Hivyo tu! The interview ended. Or is it what was said didnt really matter. I got more out of the description of mathare than what the mzee had to say. Poverty stinks, it robs one of dignity, it dehumanises you. But it also toughens you, you live to die another day.

    5
  • Betty
    03.07.2018

    This is sad. Not the 11 kids, the missing child.
    How can we help him? his leg needs treatment and he needs his child ( dead or alive)

    5
  • Leana
    03.07.2018

    He is a strong man, sitting down for eight years every day and watching his family go about their daily chores without him contributing to anything is the most devastating thing. I can imagine how he wishes he could stand up and walk to delve into the search for his missing child. He once could walk but now can’t, he once could fend for his family but now can’t, let’s all appreciate good health as the greatest wealth and while at it let’s offer to life the best that is in us

    6
  • boboshanty
    03.07.2018

    Yet some of us are never grateful for the little we have. May he find solace and joy.

  • Faith
    03.07.2018

    Oh, this story. It’s painful to read

    2
  • Faith
    03.07.2018

    Oh, this is a painful story to read

    2
  • Stephanov
    03.07.2018

    …but also wondering where the remaining ten will wash up in life and if they will walk in his tired shoes and marry many wives and get more children of their own under other iron sheets.

    This ending comes across as insensitive and arrogant! Such a bourgeoisie attitude in the face of other people’s suffering.

    20
  • abdullah omar
    03.07.2018

    the smell it is true of places times and status.each has its own distinct smell

    2
  • Stained Soul
    03.07.2018

    Reading this reminded of a passage in the Bible, “His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God would be displayed in him”. This man is not lazy if he were to be made whole again he would provide for his family. Question how much is required to make him whole again, how can it be raised? Where is it going to be sent?
    On the other side information on contraception should be made freely available including vasectomy, though this is a hard sell (don’t know why). Depending on prayers for tomorrow is not very good insurance but sometimes that is all a man has and they use it.

    8
  • T.C
    03.07.2018

    I don’t know about this read today. I’m always such a fan but you come off as better than these people, with some words choke full of a condescending tone.
    ” I’m sure we each think about different things when we are alone with our thoughts.”
    “dark living room that smells of what I’m pretty sure is poverty”
    “because the cup looks like if you placed it on your lips you would contract foot and mouth disease or God-knows, leprosy or something that penicillin can’t treat. ”
    ” The cup, on the other hand, smells like athlete’s foot.”

    6
  • Njoki Ndung'u
    03.07.2018

    Really touching story. It definitely reminds me not to complain beacuse many go through worse things… And i should therefore be grateful for what i have.
    Great read Biko.

    2
  • Adhiambo natalie
    03.07.2018

    This story brought back memories when my mother,three brothers and one sister lived in a single room in kangemi slums..water was from the nearby sewage.breakfast and lunch was a dream. Alcohol called jet was the order of the day for my brothers who didn’t manage to finish school.my mother and brother didn’t survive.now..many years later…i work and work until my back aches and bones break…because I can never forget the smell of poverty.brings back memores…

    27
  • The Granny's Corner
    03.07.2018

    I will skip telling how I smelt different. I will skip telling how for once I felt Insecure in a Matatu. Half full with my age mates and some younger kids. How I hoped I didn’t have a backpack that screamed laptop. I will skip telling how I wished I had alighted the stage before and looked for a ma3 to town from there. Instead, I will go straight and say how annoying I find the “a child comes with their cup/plate” phrase.

    I am listening to Nerea by Sauti Sol and I can’t help thinking how that child might become Lupita and have an awesome role in Wakanda. Or maybe Mandela and liberate Africa. The South part. or Biko to have a way with words that we look forward to. Tuesdays. I am also thinking he might end under raging waters. His body never to be found. Or he might end up with 10 bullet holes from Hessy wa Dandora. Charred remains from some angry mob in town… Probability.

    I know our fate is not entirely in our hands but can we stop this saying. This practice. Especially where kids are involved. Biles me up. I

    9
  • Milly
    03.07.2018

    Sad story indeed. Poverty is a menace that so many people are stuck in. And it is even worse because that vicious cycle keeps generations on end living the same poverty stricken lives.
    Also, hehe, it is true.There is the sheng that guys who live in houses with doorbells speak and then there is sheng from the slums. Very different those two.

    3
    • Washington Odera
      03.07.2018

      I felt like I was in the journey to the sharks with you.Thanks

      1
    • Stained Soul
      04.07.2018

      I agree with you, if I don’t have a plan for raising up a child then I shouldn’t be planning on having that baby born. Sometimes though you have plans and then someone just tosses those plans out of the window. You get a child, it’s 3 months old and the company you work for does restructuring and you are laid off. You begin a business, it fails with all yours savings, you move to shags and “unaomba tu” while thanking the government for free education otherwise your children wouldn’t go to school. So it is not always the begetters fault, sometimes life and bad things happen to good people.

      6
  • jackie
    03.07.2018

    Gosh, this is really sad, i hope they find the missing kid.

    1
  • Monicah
    03.07.2018

    Ever worth reading!

  • Tonnie Namu
    03.07.2018

    I agree, this man needs is some help with his medical condition.

    1
  • Kayz
    03.07.2018

    …like the usual saying “Cha muhimu ni uhai” .

  • Cynthia
    03.07.2018

    The imagery on this one – deep, vivid, “swallowed me into its intestines”

    1
  • clif_the_tall
    03.07.2018

    Unless you’ve lived through it, you can’t understand poverty. I literally tried to figure out how it smells, but i have failed to paint a ‘perfect’ picture of what it smells like. It is ugly, that i know. This got me thinking about the old man and his family. It must be very rough for them. It is indeed true that we each think about different things when we are alone with our thoughts.

    2
  • Black Parrot
    03.07.2018

    So Biko had a taste of the ‘other side’ of Nairobi, eventually! I hope the old man gets medical help, and his son.

    1
  • Caroline
    03.07.2018

    I am lost on the message on today’s write up…It is jumbled up, I have a feeling it was supposed to communicate on contraceptives but the language you chose to use especially on the mzee was very judgmental . It sounds like you are telling him he deserves what he is going through for siring many children in deplorable conditions. Maybe this man’s
    life could have churned out differently if he wasn’t orphaned at a young age or maybe born to a wealthy family. Never hit a man when he is down because no one chose their stroke in life before being born, everyone born to misery wishes to have been born to stellar homes but does it happen?

    22
    • Jil
      03.07.2018

      It depends on how you chose to interpret.

      10
    • Rose
      03.07.2018

      I did not get that sense Caroline

      5
  • kiri
    03.07.2018

    the picture in itself loud, shouts of the unsavoury parallel universe from where the lad with 11 kids hails from. wow

    1
  • Adonga
    03.07.2018

    Leon the fixer….. I hope he learnt one or teo things listening to that Mzed

    1
  • Zawadi
    03.07.2018

    I have walked through kibera several times and each of these times the sad reality of the social status margin is ever do clear. It is sad that a man can loose his child and lack the ability to verify his whereabouts. Help rendered to improve the health of this man could go a long way pulling him away from the claws of poverty.

    1
  • Mware
    03.07.2018

    Kindly let us know how we can help the guy in the little ways that we can. While you are at that, kindly tell the person who operates the info@bikozulu.co.ke account to be a bit faster in replying to emails.

    2
  • Gee
    03.07.2018

    How can we be of help to his medical attention, he’d rather struggle with one problem.

    1
    • Rose
      03.07.2018

      I’m with you Gee. I’m wondering how we can help

  • Muranga
    03.07.2018

    In our family, we are also eleven, and all are alive and past thirties, but we are born of the same mother and father. When growing up, mom could call several names before arriving at mine. You would be surprised at how the family turned out.

    5
  • Bren
    03.07.2018

    Biko, every time I read your articles about other people’s life stories, i just really pray and thank God for the life that I have because nobody chooses to be born where they are. I really just have a deeper sense of appreciation for the life I live, though it’s not close to perfect, it’s much better than what a lot of people go through wah!!!

    2
  • Maingi Antony
    03.07.2018

    He’s Biko. He’s capable of starting a eulogy with euphoria. Jackson.

    2
  • cindy
    03.07.2018

    Am in the point to give up, but this have made me to fight on. thanks Biko. as u said every man have his thoughts!

    3
  • teddy
    03.07.2018

    looking for the cups

  • Imelda
    03.07.2018

    Unsure on how to feel about the man, empathy or otherwise.

    2
  • Naiko-oleyieu
    03.07.2018

    The whole story depicts how the vicious circle of poverty keeps swallowing generation after generation of our people. This Country needs to come up with a practical and feasible “Marshall Plan” to alleviate the debilitating poverty affecting a large part of the population.

    5
  • Morris
    03.07.2018

    Deeply compelling! The old man’s HOPE is disturbing, sadly!

  • Faith
    03.07.2018

    Does NHIF cover such ailments(his leg)? It must plus for 500 a month he can cover the wife with youngest kids….I’m just thinking here guys. I’d be willing to contribute his monthly payments for 3months even if I’m unemployed I’m 100times better off than him

    We can help him, I’m sure of it, if we come together.

    1
  • Brittany
    03.07.2018

    I’m disappointed with some descriptions used today, they’re downright condescending and imply heirs. Biko, get a moral police to be checking your articles. Today, no.

    3
  • Brittany
    03.07.2018

    Exactly. Condescending

    1
  • Rose
    03.07.2018

    Sad read. Question is what can we do to help?

    1
  • Caleen
    03.07.2018

    Trevor Noah on poverty: being poor sucks but being poor together it makes it a lot better! That’s what happens in the slums

    3
  • Rose
    03.07.2018

    @Kleiv @Betty @Gee @juster @Desmond
    Can we make it happen? Help Msula? We can do something about medical treatment if nothing else.

    2
  • judy
    03.07.2018

    They come With Cups….how true!!!

  • Karanja
    03.07.2018

    Beneath the enclaves of the rusty iron sheets lies a people beaming with hope. Hope of a better tomorrow,a better life,dreams not deferred. Praying and toiling that the cycle of misery and poverty gets broken, that in this life or the after life something’s got to give,it’s a cross generational mantra that even poverty can’t kill.

    1
  • Cathy
    03.07.2018

    I can’t tell you how poverty smells like, but I know how it feels. It’s a house that has 3 bedrooms but you all sleep hurdled in one room. A family of five children all sleeping in one room because all the rest have been turned into stores for what I don’t know… Poverty makes you not reason. Been there

    1
  • Cate
    03.07.2018

    Biko this piece was good but your most condescending in my opinion. And that ending…dont get me started. Pathetic from someone of your caliber.

    1
  • Pesh
    03.07.2018

    A Paybill number for us to changa for his medical bill?

    1
  • Drizzle
    04.07.2018

    Poverty is what you get from ignorance. There are no poor people but ignorant ones. You can’t be so ignorant and cling on hope. Hope for what?

    Sorry but some facts are stubborn.

    1
    • Mama Israel
      04.07.2018

      I beg to differ… Even the Bible acknowledges that there’ll always be the poor in our midst. It’s not a choice one makes, you’re probably born into it or circumstances of a disease in the family get you there… And there’s always hope for a better tomorrow. I have been there…

  • j.k
    04.07.2018

    The difference of perspectives in this article is glaring,in slums introspection is a luxury and sex is a necessity for escapism..When I was in Campus ,I stayed at Mukuru slums for three years because the higher-ups in our university administration saw zero need to build more hostels to cater for the large number of students. We shared a tin roofed,tin-walled room that we used to pay 1500 bob ,when it rained you would come back to a house filled with sewage and waste from KenPoly Company,that house roof did not leak,it was the floor that leaked.During the day the house/room/tin metamorph into a boiler room and during the night ,we experienced a Siberia moment.Expecting toilets in a slum is like expecting politicians to have morals,we used Fresh life public loos,you pay five bob ,the loo attendant gives you a rumor of a toilet paper and cup full of sawdust,but if you are forced to choose between using the five bob for vegetables or loo,the common sense dictates that you buy Sukuma wiki and wait for the cover of darkness to exercise your bowel movement at the railway line.By 9 pm the owner of the makeshift loo will lock the loo,woe unto you if you need to use the loos past 9 pm,you will be forced to seek alternative options.I wont complain about the unisex communal loos,it was a sight to behold to share bathrooms with cute adorable girls……

    4
  • Kabugzz
    04.07.2018

    ‘Bleak hope’ … never strategy in that, just despair.

    This one was vividly sad Biko.

    1
  • Mama Israel
    04.07.2018

    A very touching story indeed! Having many children isn’t such a bad thing. The wherewithals to raise them is the challenge. I am a 12th born and not from different mothers, one Mum. I also have steps from two other mothers. So we are more-many…. My Father was the toughest man I have know, a serious disciplinarian & a serious hard worker. We turned out well, some great, others struggling, some abroad. We’re a cocktail of many different societies, social status, religious status, financial status & I tell you even psychological status. I have almost seen it all just within my family… Probably the difference is that we lived in the urban setting where it’s not as challenging as living in a slum.

    I can’t imagine what that man must be going through esp when he’s incapacitated. It brings back the memories of my father on Sundays sitting under a big tree that once manned our compound a Bible on the stool & as we whisked past him to church, I’d steal a glance at him to find him staring down blankly… I’d go wondering many things But am now realizing that he could have been greatly worried or disturbed or stressed over where the school fees for the 8children in primary school at the time & another 4 in secondary will come from plus how the divorce process of two of his older children will turn out…

    I will pray special prayers for that Dad & his family… May God visit him in a very special way…
    Kindly Biko, help me help God visit that man through a Fundraiser since you have brought us this touching story that has stirred my heart…
    Let’s help him think on his feet & work out that Degree in Oil Pumping. He may as well find his way out of the Slum through Ngamia 1

    2
    • Rose
      17.07.2018

      Please go the Bikozulu Facebook and look for WhatsApp link on the comment section of this story.

  • Marete
    04.07.2018

    There was a time the government almost succeeded impacting on the populace the need for family planning . Then,it relaxed and politiciantook making things worse by encouraging people to have more children to achieve their own selfish ends. Family planning is key and ALL and sundry ought to be to sensitized on the same. People should be made to understand that its not an achievement to have many children yet one cant fend for them. We deserve quality life in Africa too and should change our way of thinking too ‘ Kila mtoto huja na kikombe yake slogan is self defeating and retrogressive. It leads to vicious cycle of poverty that and such kind of believes is our doom.

    As for contributing to help the old man, it would amount to a drop in the ocean. Just think millions of others who have not been highlighted like him. Who is to contribute to get them out the woes ?

    1
  • Bree
    04.07.2018

    Well,…On one hand, It is not a lie that Mungu akileta mtoto analeta saa ni yake ( hata na sahani or even kikombe yake) – Many People are a living witness of this..

    On the other hand, Really, form ni gani??
    And not just on birth control but also on poverty eradication and quality, accessible and affordable health care for all..

    Sigh

  • Louis Wamukoya
    04.07.2018

    A truly different world.

  • Ndirangu
    04.07.2018

    My Campus coursemate & roommate grew up in the ghetto and he once took me there and i saw firsthand the indignity of abject poverty. He has since made something of himself. I am sure Mzee David can turn around his fortunes some day . 11 kids with 4 wives is a huge family to sustain considering his present circumstances. It will get better with time.

  • Mbinya Faith
    04.07.2018

    Poverty sucks, it really sucks.

    1
  • Mandila
    04.07.2018

    Quite a perturbing story there. About contraceptives, am a clinician but I just don’t know whether to support it or not… I don’t support siring many kids either, it’s a grey area for me (contraception)

    • Bree
      04.07.2018

      How about use of alternative methods e.g safe days??

      1
  • Vina
    04.07.2018

    Three weeks ago, I had an opportunity to be at Mukuru kwa Njenga….OMG. Never imagined people live in such conditions…am not an artist so I couldn’t get magical with words to vividly describe the scenes like u Biko….those condemning you here just imagine…they need to tour the slums in a rainy season….let’s do something about this one mzees health…i bet he can consider vasectomy in return

  • Nancy
    04.07.2018

    In other regions, ‘they say they come with plates’.
    Good story, you took me along your trip to the slums. Reminds me of one time I criss-crossed the slums selling pharmaceuticals and yes, they smell visitors.

    Sad for Mzee. Let us know how we can help him get back on his feet.
    For me, unfortunate thing about not using contraceptives and siring many kids one can’t support is that it’s the innocent kids that suffer. They find themselves in a place they wouldn’t have wished for. Just like i feel sad/helpless for the small babies born by street mothers.
    I wish Mzee cure.

    2
  • Amukune Ambuyo
    05.07.2018

    I have learnt one thing today. Most of us are willing to give suggestions to rectify a situation but few of us are willing to take the first step. I have been reading the comments and one thing I noted is most of us were quick to admonish biko for trying to appear as better than the guy interviewed. He is but a messenger. If you haven’t lived in the slum, then you probably wouldn’t know what biko was talking about. The slum is like a vortex, it sucks you in and one thing you will likely turn out to be is a hopeless person but just getting by. I have lived in several slums most of my life, not because I wanted but sometimes it is what it is. Why do you think most youths get gunned in the slums each and every other day ? It’s the fact they are seeking a better life and the only seemingly sure way to do so is revert to crime. It’s upon us to make the first step in trying to help people but being good in giving advice will never change the situation. Am 22 years, pursuing engineering, paying my own bills, running a company I started from scratch but still running a program to help youths venture into entrepreneurship. It all starts with us.

    2
  • Amukune
    05.07.2018

    I have learnt one thing today. Most of us are willing to give suggestions to rectify a situation but few of us are willing to take the first step. I have been reading the comments and one thing I noted is most of us were quick to admonish biko for trying to appear as better than the guy interviewed. He is but a messenger. If you haven’t lived in the slum, then you probably wouldn’t know what biko was talking about. The slum is like a vortex, it sucks you in and one thing you will likely turn out to be is a hopeless person but just getting by. I have lived in several slums most of my life, not because I wanted but sometimes it is what it is. Why do you think most youths get gunned in the slums each and every other day ? It’s the fact they are seeking a better life and the only seemingly sure way to do so is revert to crime. It’s upon us to make the first step in trying to help people but being good in giving advice will never change the situation. Am 22 years, pursuing engineering, paying my own bills, running a company I started from scratch but still running a program to help youths venture into entrepreneurship. It all starts with us.

    1
  • kaka Odhiambo
    05.07.2018

    Good read, I can fully relate with this having been born and raised in Mathare the only problem is mentioning names especially when pitching the police against the gangs this can cause more harm than good to those mentioned. Kindly edit their names out for their own personal well being.

  • angel
    05.07.2018

    condescending, rude, arrogant,,, just horrible
    aarrrggh!!! especially the ending

  • Mbithe
    05.07.2018

    I don’t think anything has ever compelled me to work harder more than this article

    1
  • Achieng
    05.07.2018

    Lol, all those complaining about Biko’s so-called condescending attitudes need to realise that they are using technological tools to type these comments when others do not even have a meal or a roof over their heads!
    Please remember not to throw stones when you live in a glass house. I personally find Biko’s honesty quite refreshing! Ati you feel proud of yourself because you gave a street kid 5bob through the little slit in your harrier’s window or sijui you tipped your local mama mboga 2 bob because she’s a single mum with 5 kids…. don’t catch feelings because someone else can say it as it is because that is journalism at it’s best. Note that these problems citizens are facing are ALL due to poor leadership and abhorrent governance! At least Biko took the time to visit the place and see for himself therefore he is entitled to his opinions. What makes me shudder is that it appears this particular post has hit home for lots of people and hence the almost loud absence of the idiotic ‘first commentors’…….. please sort out the log in your eye before you look at Biko’s forehead…. LOL LOL LOOOOOL

    5
    • rose
      05.07.2018

      I love you Achieng; I really do!

      3
  • Rose
    05.07.2018

    Those who want to help- Here is how you can participate (or start to participate)

    I called and talked to Leon Sumbua Msani (The Leon in the story) to find out how we can help Mr. Msula. The greatest need right now is medical. Leon is a neighbor to Msula and he will talk to him . Basically, we agreed that he will find out if Msula had medical treatment in the past and where. Based on that info, we will strategize way forward. In the meantime, we can move the conversation to a WhatsApp group. If you would like to participate, reply to this comment and let me know.

    1
    • James Irungu
      06.07.2018

      It caught my attention how Biko describes the streets of mathare slums, which they seem reluctunt to accept him. The picture in mind is that of a mulnorished area, maybe of a street in the slums of Khayeltisha, Cape Town, South Africa nor in India, the place sounds unwanting both to mind and physically but only to Biko.

      The slum has a unique way of giving life, only that it is locked to opportunities.
      The slums are also devided like the sheng ”one spoken by people with doorbells and the deep distinst one” having the upper region and the lower region.

      The man in picture ‘Having children who come with cups’ is motivated by the time spent alone with the wives, There are positive notes to attach on the streets, The happiness of freedom that comes as a gift and as a right of belonging there.

    • Merici
      06.07.2018

      Rose,

      Did you ever get the effort off the ground

      • Rose
        09.07.2018

        Yes Merici. We have a WhatsApp group – and should have the paybill set up by tomorrow

  • sandra
    06.07.2018

    This is a no no Biko,, so condescending and rude and arrogant,, so heartless of you.. am sorry i am disappointed this time round..

    WISH you could apologize

  • Little princess
    06.07.2018

    Ooh Biko, I wish you found the man in a different time other than when he was grieving his missing child. Grief has a way of equalizing the rich and poor. We all grieve. If you found the old man in his usual time, you would see a joy that you couldn’t imagine existed. The kind of laughter that is infectious, you find yourself laughing when you did not even hear the joke.
    The poor have a kind of joy that is quite the mystery.

    The conversation on Contraception should extend to the young girls and women who live on the street. They are young girls who become mothers and their children’s children become mothers while on the street. Is forced contraception a conversation to have? Is free contraception an option to rescue the young girls who only understand the language of the street life?

    1
  • Bee
    06.07.2018

    Biko is just being authentic. He tells it from the perspective of an outsider looking in. Poverty is poverty. Its demeaning, dehumanizing, undignified, pathetic. I think people should learn to separate the disease of poverty from the person afflicted by that poverty. These are two different elements.One must be hated and fought by all means, the other should be loved and treated with respect.

    2
  • amos95
    06.07.2018

    just stumbled on this blog the other day and i can’t get myself off the phone nicely done

  • Elena
    07.07.2018

    Hao ni makarau” and Leon confirms it. I turn to look at the men and ask him how the hell he knew and he says, “Their shoes, you can always tell a cop by his shoes.”…
    You can tell by their shoes good read Biko

  • Mwenginator
    09.07.2018

    This article reminds me of Joyce Meyers Word in church today that we have so much that, we have so much and we complain we can’t make a choice.
    I’ve been to Mathare and Kibera and yes, you can smell poverty!

  • Grace Guya
    11.07.2018

    What ails us in Africa is this whole living in hope thing. People need to plan first. You cannot have 11 kids when you can barely survive yourself. Life happens. There needs to be increased family planning education. This whole mungu huleta sahani thing is a lie. A majority of people end up struggling with poor quality of life.

  • Rish
    19.07.2018

    I look at the picture and stare at it hard, I can’t get my eyes off the pair of a blue croc that sits at the foot of his left swollen leg probably belongs to the 3 year old whose age could not be remembered, brighter side… I see hope

    1
  • john
    26.07.2018

    Planning is part of clarity

  • Sos
    27.07.2018

    John 16:33 “I have told you this things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!…….”
    We all are or will be dealing with something beyond us at some point in this life. It is important to create paths (when we are still standing) for miracles to find us during such times.
    Mr. David created this path and this is how we got to hear his story.(there are people probably going through worse whom we will never hear about but will still get help or not)
    Bonnie and …… it is not enough to tell a story because there will be another sad story tomorrow,find this guy some help. organize for a fund raiser and let us know if join in it’s a win, if we don’t at least you tried.

  • Joy May
    08.08.2018

    A Tad bit judgmental?

  • Ben
    04.10.2018

    I happen to know Mathare and the young man Leon we used to call him sumbua I love the way you’ve described the streets n everything it made me feel as if I was walking with you all the way to the man with many kids

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