Makaburini stood there in confidence, embraced by utter poverty. Standing here I could see that it was a big village seemed to have been forgotten or alienated from the rest of society. Life here was different; hard, tough maybe. It’s surroundings seem to be doing much better. Makaburini is slightly raised than its environs such that if you stood at certain place, you would have a better view of the surrounding villages and towns. This is my first time here. I am on a mission to try trace my friend’s family. I am left speechless by what meets me. A group of children without shoes, with bare bottoms and running noses playing along the roads. Their heels with cracks deep enough to fit in a coin or two. Youths staggering at this time of day, some of them laying down dead drunk. Something about this place was different. I take a few courageous steps deep into the village. I could see old men lying on the mud floor, bare chested. The houses here all look the same, I bet it’s very hard to trace a specific person. All of them are mud walled, tiny rooms with iron sheet roofing.
A strong stench of chang’aa barricaded the vicinity. It was so strong I sneezed. At this moment in time, I’m having second thoughts about pursuing the mission that brought me here. How could I ever have imagined that this place would look anything like this. It was like Makaburini was competing fiercely to be in control of the town. The town did not make it easy for this humble village. One of them was the protagonist while there other one was the antagonist, I couldn’t tell for sure which was which.
One thing I noticed when I first got here was the fact that this humble village is the home to all and sundry. People from different walks of life live here, the community is made of people from different cultural diversity and religious backgrounds but one thing brought them together for sure;poverty. Poverty is the word for Makaburini. The name itself was indicative of what they had done to their dreams, hopes and aspirations; they had buried it six feet under. People here live from hand to mouth, hope is not a luxury here, it’s a rare commodity.
The community is kept together by their circumstances. They offer each other a sense of belonging as they get caught in the web of their plight day in day out. All these is evident by the look on their faces, there is a deep look of sadness, of despair, of nothingness embedded deep in their eyes. It’s quite difficult to tell if they are really sad or happy.When they smile, the anguish masks the joy. I understand them, totally. How could one find joy in such a pit! How could they when everything is a struggle for them. Most of them don’t work as they have no education, many children don’t have parents and the parents, grey up without parents. I wondered what kind of a generation would emerge from here. There were no rules, laws were never followed and anyone who would try to interfere with their day to day life would have a tough time.
They knew each other too well such that they sniffed a visitor from miles away. To be here one had to dress down so as to fit in. If you didn’t fit in, you didn’t belong and if you didn’t belong you were in for a rude shock. Drugs was a way of life for the people here. It was the only way they got through the day. They wanted to cope with the grief that resulted from their way of life. Most of them detested it, but they had no way out. There was no where else for them to call home.
“Niaje brathe,” I said to the first young man I met who looked approachable. It takes a while before he realizes that I’m actually addressing him. He then looks up, his eyes are barely open. He seems to be on another level, maybe under the influence of something, I’m not sure. He gets up and stretches his fist towards me for a pound.
“Poa, brathe. Nikusaidiaje?” He answers.
I introduce myself to him and make him aware of my reasons for being here. He agrees to take me to the house I’m looking for, but at a fee. He asks me a lot of questions and finally when he feels comfortable enough that we have a rapport, he starts leading the way. I follow. There’s barely enough space for one to walk comfortably, I try to empathize with them, but I couldn’t quite fathom the depth of their plight. I’m lost in my thoughts for a moment, I begin to understand my friend a little more. I’m torn between giving him credit for having found a way out of this place and judging him for his actions that resulted to my trip to Makaburini.
See, I met Dan back in my village. He lives close to our home in a rented premise that is close to his guardian’s home. Dan sells ice cream by the road side. He helps his guardian with that business. He sells mostly to school going children. When I met Dan for the first time, he did not meet my expectations. I had heard a lot about him; he was well known amongst his peers. The silhouette that came to my head when I heard his name come up was different from reality. I expected him to be tall, at least taller than me; well built in physique, strong and very manly. I was disappointed, Dan is small in physique even for his own age. He looks older than a teenager though, something that gives you the notion that he is mature and tough. He was popular among the young girls in the village, he had a way to get them to talk to him, something I had not yet figured. His reputation preceded him.
“Unajua Dan haishi huku siku hizi? Alitoka base kitambo sana na hakuna msee anajua alienda wapi.” I was jolted back to reality by Kevin, the guy I had met earlier.
“Eehe najua kwenye Dan yuko, nimekuja kutafta madhake. “ I answered, trying not to give too much information as to why I was visiting.
We exchange a few more words, trying to keep the conversation going but the silence ensues again. It lingers in the vicinity with great intensity I could hear my breathing. I give in to the silence and slowly slip back into my thoughts.
Dan was good with words. He could talk to anyone and everyone. He was a good listener, he didn’t talk much unless he needed to. He had dropped out of Primary School when he moved out of Makaburini to go live with his mother’s old friend. His mother could no longer afford to keep him in School. She had also remarried and her new husband moved in with the family of four boys. Conflict became the order of the day. Men fighting for power all of them wanting to be in control. Space became a problem. The scanty resident could not accommodate five men. Therefore something had to be done and that’s when Dan’s guardian came into the picture. He had promised to take Dan back to School, he did but also made him work for him most days of the week. Dan eventually got tired of School as he spent more and more time selling ice cream for his guardian. Since his guardian did not have room in his house he rented a one roomed house for Dan to be sleeping in.
Dan then invited a friend to live with him. Then the girls started coming, School girls, Primary School girls. Dan was 17 then, he chased after 14 year olds and 15 year olds. They danced to his tunes, as naïve as they were. We all wondered what he hoped to achieve. We cautioned him most of the times but he turned a deaf ear. Everything was working in his favour, remember he had a room where he could take the girls.
“Ni hapa brathe, cheki tukiingia uwache me niongee, sawa?” Kevin said.
I nodded in agreement.
We get in. The room is crowded, I’m told it’s all there is to the house. That’s where they cook, eat and sleep. I can’t quite comprehend how my friend’s family would all fit here. No wonder he knew about copulation when he was so young. Dan was arrested by the police about two years ago. He was charged with defilement. The news about him and the School girls got out when he impregnated one of his young girlfriends. It did not blow out of proportion until the expectant girlfriend walked in on him having sexual relations with another girl, younger than her. She could have none of it and went on to let the whole village know. News got round to the young girl’s grandmother who went to the police and reported the matter. The girl was 15 years of age, a minor making it a sexual offence.
I was in a boarding school somewhere far from home and when I got back home for the holidays he was not there. He had been remanded in custody since his family could not meet the bond terms set. Dan did not have a birth certificate, he was therefore treated as an adult before he was taken for an age assessment examination. He was later taken to the juvenile remand home but could not quite stay away from the girls in the home forcing the manager with the help of the children’s officer to recommend that he be returned to the main prison which the court granted.
While on remand there, he interacted with the hardcore offenders, he studied their minds, their way of thinking and wanted to be tough like them. After five months, he finally requested the court for a free bond which was granted to him after a bail assessment report was produced in court by a probation officer.
He came back home after about 8 months. The villagers were not quite as forgiving. They taunted him, called him names and tried to make him pay for the allegations made against him. Even though he suffered from the stigma, he did not break. He continued selling ice cream for his guardian. The matter took over another year before it came time for sentencing. The court had found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt but deferred sentencing for another two weeks while waiting for a pre-sentence report from the probation department. Dan had expressed his interest in going back to School to the court, maybe that’s why the court requested for a probation officer ‘s report. Meanwhile, he was to be remanded for the two weeks as he awaited sentencing.
Dan was a minor when he was dating minors. It did not seem like there was anything wrong with that. To us defilement only applied when the perpetrator was an adult and the victim was a minor; we were unaware of the fact that it also applied to cases where the perpetrator was a minor. I’m here to inform Dan’s mother of the date of the sentencing. I promised Dan I would and I figured it would be exactly what he needed; his mother by his side, to give him a reason to change and the hope for a better day. As we await he verdict we can only pray for leniency.
“Habari ya kijana wangu?” said a woman who looked very beaten.
“Mzuri sana mum, naitwa Brian, me ni rafiki ya Dan.”