Bangladesh

If you brush shoulders with the poor, the needy and the disabled, you’ll want to know how they live their everyday life. Their challenges, shortcomings, ups and downs and whatever they do as they try to make ends meet. Most of our population do not surpass the dollar benchmark. Often, we feel the need to see things from their perspectives. That was how I found my self in Bangladesh slums between Changamwe and Mikindani in Mombasa. In such areas as it is common with most slums in the country, one can’t just walk in and get out okay or unscathed. You have to part with some protection fee so that other gangs would’nt attack you. I met a young man called Kinuthia. Kinuthia was our guide and protector during the ‘slum tour’ as we were doing a research on how many children homes were present in the area, and how many needed urgent care and attention. I got introduced to Kinuthia through a far flung mutual friend. Well he’s not my friend but atleast he made the connection.

A hot sunny Thursday afternoon finds us trekking down hill in one of the most infamous shanties in Mombasa.

“Welcome to Banglaa,” Kinuthia tells us. The place smells of urine, and other pungent smells which are not friendly to our noses. He says in the slums, everyone knows everyone. They know whenever a new person moves in or when somebody moves out. Nothing goes unnoticed. We pass by some stream of sewage overflowing with human waste and other God-knows-what disasters underlying beneath as we see children making paper boats and watch them race along the dirty water. I ask him if the children aren’t scared of contracting diseases.

He laughs and say they rarely get sick. Had that been the case, they’d be long dead. He leads us through some tin shacked alley way as we meet another crew doing their patrols and they converse a little. During their conversation I noticed that there were many drunk men who couldn’t walk properly. Obviously too wasted from the illegal concoctions they’ve imbibed. The other crew looks at us menacingly, but Kinuthia tells them that we are with him. They go there own separate way. Life in the slums is hard. Especially when you live close to an illegal liquor den where you’d here nonstop karaoke singing from drunks whose decibels would make Jesus forget about his second coming and also harlots who would peddle their flesh without an iota of shame in them.

We had been walking for almost half an hour before we got to our first childrens home. The site makes us shiver despite the humid conditions. It was such a sorry state. The children’s home had close to thirty children living in deplorable conditions. The kids were malnourished and needed medical healthcare. Some had tattered clothes while others didn’t have shoes. We all felt the bridge between the fortunate and less fortunate. It was huge. We got to talk with the director of that particular home. He said they were surviving on a meager budget. At times he had to dig into his own pockets if well wishers didn’t pull the funds through. Most of the children in that center were school going age, which also posed a challenge. A challenge since most kids were easily manipulated at tender ages.

We bid him goodbye and moved to the next children’s home available. We had a total of five to do that day. Most of the directors posed the same challenges and difficulties all through. They sounded similar, moreso a sad story. Three hours when we had done our rounds apart from one, which we were reluctant to visit since we were tired. Kinuthia said he knew the last one. It was home to him.

That right there picked my interest. We arrived at that children’s home, and all the kids came flocking to him as if on cue. Kinuthia was the first child to be enrolled in the centre about a decade ago when he was the age of eleven. He is not an orphan. His mother practiced the world’s oldest vice during the night, and during the day she passes the hours in some liquor den. His father died due to alcohol related problems. He couldn’t stand the hunger pangs, and often he went to bed. Atleast if there is anything that has been spread down to catch some sleep. Most of the nights he would sleep in the cold. He says he is one of the unfortunates, he ran away from home. He began selling scrap metals or anything so long as he earned a coin. He lived from hand to mouth. Soon he joined gangs which were notorious in Banglaa. They would maim, injure or give you a thorough beating if you didn’t part with your goods whenever they confronted a hapless soul. Business was good to them that they even began printing their own money. Banglaa Pesa.

“Bangladesh is the home of all counterfeits”, he says.

Not everyone who has a sad story deserves to be helped. He stops, stares at the sky for a while. He lifts one of the kids up and throws her in the air as she laughs. Trusting that Kinuthia would catch her. Yes he did catch her. Such level of trust.

“What made me leave the life of crime was that I saw many of my hardened fall at the end of a gun but that wasn’t the real reason.” He says with a frown on his face.

“What was the real reason that made you quit a life of crime?” I asked.

Fate has a weird way of making people cross paths in their lifetime. I mugged the director of this centre twice. So one day she caught me, and told me that she’d change things, I didn’t believe her at first. Honestly I thought she would haul my ass off to the juveniles approved school but instead she bared my insolent ways. She brought hope, faith and love. All these were new strange feelings for me. Everyday she’d ask how my day was. If I went to school, where I stayed, if I had  bathed, a fresh set of clothes. All these were news to me.

So she followed me every evening just to know my whereabouts. So one day she said, “come child, no more suffering, no more sorrow. Your burden would be mine. I’ll light up a light in you, you’d be a beacon to the other children. I’ll provide all the basic necessities.” I Kinuthia son of a harlot and a drunkard couldn’t be a beacon to nobodies slum bastards. I laughed. But she saw something in me. She transformed her house into a kids centre open to us slum dwellers. From there the rest is history. Kinuthia had informed us that the director and founder was around. Much to our delight. He ushers us to the waiting room.

A sweet scent catches our nostrils as a woman who seems to be in her mid thirties walks to greet us. She looks elegant. She wore a turquoise blue polar necked dress which hugged her temple well. Her huge silver earings dangled from her ears marvelously, her smile reveals her white teeth which fit perfectly. She has a frontal gap between her front teeth. They say such women come from Venus. Her cologne smelled of something French like. Her well done braids fell from the back of her head to her back like a waterfall.

“Hi, I’m Monique the Director of Lindsway Kids Centre. It’s a pleasure having you here.” She says as she stretches her hand which has well manicured nails.

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