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A Time to Survive and Fight

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A Slum in Nairobi A Slum in Nairobi By Piergiorgio Rossi, Wikimedia Commons

Mukuru ghetto is only a ten-minute drive away from Nairobi city center. Residents of Mukuru know that their slum dwellings call for strong wills and tough spirits. Edu had lived in this ghetto for most of the twenty years of his life. Half of this time was spent in the same single-room structure. He lived in this mud-walled, rusty tin-roof room with his father and older brother.

His ailing father was a casual laborer in a nearby factory while Nyash, his brother had just completed high school the previous year and was now looking for casual work. This was a venture akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. The closest Nyash came to finding this needle was when a local wholesale promised him a cleaning job. When Nyash showed up the following morning to inquire about the job, two people were already sweeping and scrubbing the shop’s verandah. The needle just couldn’t be found.

One morning, Nyash woke up with a throbbing headache, so he decided to go and search for aspirin. He jumped over the drench at their doorstep and almost slid on a toddler’s faeces.

“Good morning Ninja!” he shouted through the tiny window of a room that was four feet away from their room.

“Yo!” Ninja answered drowsily.

Ninja was one of Nyash’s closest friends. He never slept before three and never woke up after seven. If he wasn’t in the ramshackle one-room gym, he was in the ‘old men’s den.’

This was the nickname given to the small room that served as a bar for chang’aa, the local brew. Nyash walked up the slight incline that led to a tiny shop owned by their landlord. He wanted to get some aspirin on credit.

Nyash saw his brother Edu conversing loudly with the shopkeeper and quickened his steps. If his noisy brother was negotiating to take some item on credit, then Nyash stood no chance with his aspirins. Indeed, as soon as he arrived at the shop, Edu stretched out his hand through the counter and received a loaf of bread. Nyash overheard him promising the shopkeeper that he would pay him in the evening. So much for the aspirins, Nyash thought. His headache would have to heal naturally.

Edu grinned at his brother and shot past him. Moments later, he sauntered into their tiny room, and proclaimed proudly to his father, “I have bought some bread for you papa!”

Papa was just leaving for work. “That is good. Make sure that you share with your brother. I am late, so I have to leave now.”

With that, the frail looking man left. He hadn’t eaten dinner the previous evening as he had returned home so drunk that all he could do was to slump into his mattress on the ground and sleep. He was feeling hungry, and would have loved to stay and munch some bread but he knew that his boys could use the munch too.

Edu had dropped out of school at age thirteen, when he was in the final year of primary school. One evening, he had returned home from school and announced to his papa that he was not going back to school the following day.

“But why my son?” papa wondered.

“I just don’t like school anymore,” Edu had told him.

Counseling and threats from his father all fell on deaf ears. His mother was even summoned from upcountry to advice him but the stubborn teenager remained adamant. So for seven years, Edu just stayed at home and did everything in general but nothing in particular. It was difficult to know what he did.

“Stay away from crime if you want to outlive me,” papa always told him, to which Edu would retort that, “survival should not be mistaken for crime.”

His propensity for brawls quickly gained him a reputation as ‘Tyson.’ Papa even advised him to become a boxer, hoping that this would help to channel his pent-up energies into a constructive activity. For once, his son listened to him.

 

Ninja, their neighbor, was already an amateur boxer so Edu sat at his feet and began learning the art of boxing. Every morning, Edu went to the gym together with the master. This gym comprised of two skipping ropes and a suspended sack of sand. This sack served as the punching bag. Like Ninja, Edu began spending hours in this tiny, windowless room. Fighting for a better tomorrow in which he wouldn’t have to negotiate with the shopkeeper for ten minutes, to be sold a loaf of bread on credit.

DJ Bwakali

Words can inspire action and change the world

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