I believe I can fly…
Unlike most people, I don’t know when I was born.
I suspect I am in my mid twenties though I feel like I have lived triple my age. Whatever that number may be.
My life started out pretty bog standard. You should have seen us back then, my siblings and I. Our eyes twinkling with everything ahead and nothing too terrible behind. We lived in a compact house with just enough room for decency. Dad would go out to hunt for bread while mum was the one who nurtured us. The scales were balanced for a couple of years, until dad died!
Then the bread stopped coming. What instead came, were his kin. They barged into our perfect existence and took our things away. At first it was in bits but when they saw how helpless we were, they just grabbed everything. ‘Maybe they are moving us to a different house,’ I mused. But they never came back for us.
You know you are poor when you can’t afford to live in the slum. We tried, but mom was unable to pull ends together. With my little brother suckling at her breast, she took us to live with her sister. There, we lasted a week. My aunt was newly entangled and a woman with three children did not fit the bill.
So she sput us out and we ended up on the streets.
To be specific, we moved to the Nairobi Central Business District; which was at that time, the safest place for street kids. Then, the City Council was not as brutal as they are now. We landed there and being the first born, I had to settle in fast. Within a week, I had joined a crew so that I could get protection for my mom and my sister who were soft targets for abuse and exploitation.
The first thing I was able to do, was get a corridor where mom and my younger siblings would sleep. That cost me 50 shillings on the daily which I paid to a guard to watch over them. I had become my dad. The bread chaser.
In this crew, I was the youngest and only one who had tasted school. Never mind that all I could do was basic arithmetic having only been in class one.
This was how we made money.
We would poop in paper bags then head on to the bus station and tell a lady, “Give us your handbag and go home clean. Refuse and we smear this on you.” Those handbags would be in the air, their owners running as if they were made of water. We would then congregate somewhere and go through the bag: phones were sold to a guy on river road. If it was a touch screen it would go for 900 shillings. A mulika mwizi, 500 shillings. We would sell the handbags for 100 shillings and throw everything else away.
This is where my paltry education would come in. I was to count how many we were and then divide the money equally. When we started the crew, we were nine then we grew to 15 and the math kept getting harder and harder but I got smarter at dividing it. I would change the notes into coins and give everyone their share. Something they all thought was genius.
We were not all bad all the time. Sometimes when our bellies were hollow and we didn’t have any poop to produce, we would go to the bus station and wash buses for 50 shillings.
Another income generating activity was taking out the garbage from restaurants. Once outside, we combed through the dustbin for food. We would eat anything that was thrown away and even carry some for later.
When it was time to sleep, we would put carton boxes together which we would hold down using nails and bottle tops. Our roof would be a polythene paper to protect us in case it rained. For our kitchen, we had dug a hole, put in three stones and would boil the food we picked from the garbage. Everyone would come with whatever food they had collected for the day. From the ground, the bin, it didn’t matter. We would just throw it all into a metal tin, boil it, eat it, then sleep and wait for the next day.
In the mornings we would bathe in Nairobi River depending on how dirty we felt, then wear our clothes which would wear our skin. After, we would skitter by, waiting for the day to unravel. Young as I was, I was involved in several intercrew fights. I was once cut by a panga so deep I saw the white of my flesh. Another time, I was hit by a motorbike, I thought my intestines would burst. Soon after, I fell off a lorry while hanging at the back and briefly went to the other side. My body is a tattoo of scars. And each scar has a story.
My family lived on the streets for three years. At the tail end of the third year, diversity led my sister and I to start begging uptown. We used to call it ‘kuduru.’ We would mark a street and ask for money from anyone who walked that street. One end to the other. Then cross the road and repeat the same on the other side. We didn’t know someone was watching.
One day, the eyes that had been watching us came to me and said, “I have been seeing you coming here day in, day out to beg. You and a young girl.”
“Nani? mimi?” I gave him a menacing look that three years in the streets had taught me.
“Ndio. Wewe. I own that hotel across the road there. So nimekuwa nikikuona.” No one ever spoke to us unless to insult, chase or have us arrested. So I used my body to tell him I didn’t really want to engage. He didn’t listen.
“Kijana, unanielewa?” I nodded slowly, my head bent but my eyes looking for an exit. As if he could tell he said, “Usikimbie. I want to help you.”
I looked up expecting to see money but instead he said, “Kijana, unataka kuenda shule? I want to take you to school.”
“Aki? As long as uchukue sisi wote. Madhe, my sister and baby brother.” I had started to grow restless with my life on the streets but I was not leaving my kin behind. It was either all of us or nothing.
Turns out, this gentleman was a board member of the Street families Rehabilitation Trust Fund — an organisation that takes street kids off the streets, and places them in childrens homes and schools. I went back, got my mum and siblings and he took us to his house for the night.
The following day he took us to his hotel to eat and boy I can’t remember the last time I stuffed myself that much. Thereafter, he took us to the Rehabilitation Trust Fund Offices where they organised for our placement in childrens homes. It was then that our union was split.
There are no mixed childrens homes so I was taken to Bahati Social hall and thereafter placed in Joy Divine Childrens home. My sister was taken to a home in Ruai and my mom was given some capital to start a business to sustain herself and get off the streets. My younger brother stayed with her.
Joy Divine was a true reflection of its name. The people there were all smiles and all hugs. I on the other hand had grown a crocodile hide. I had come from a background of sniffing glue to get high, stealing, fighting and struggling for a place in this world. They took me as I was, zero rehabilitation and placed me in Moi Forces Academy almost immediately. I was taken to class two.
Thing is, I was not used to any form of structure. A life run by rules and bells was not for me. I would sleep throughout the lessons then at break time go around asking other students to share their break, then resume sleeping until lunch time.
Once, I borrowed something from one of the students, he said no. What followed was a waterfall of insults aimed at him. I bet he didn’t understand half of the shit I spewed on him but that didn’t stop him from telling on me to the teacher.
“Mike, come here!” I was summoned to the front of the class. “This is not how we behave here. Why are you insulting this boy eh? Chokora wewe!” Everyone laughed and something in my spine hardened with the sound of that word. It stung.
By the time I got back to the childrens home that evening, I had vowed I was never going back to that school. I went to see the project Manager of the home and told him, “Fred, sirudi shule. I want to go back to the streets.” Besides some of the boys I had come with from the streets had long gone back.
Fred sat me down and spoke to me. He said many things — half of which I can barely remember probably because I barely understood him. But I agreed to go back.
Only to find that I had been baptised. I was no longer Mike. The other kids now called me, ‘chokora.’ So I kept myself to myself and started paying attention in class.
The term ended and I did my first exam and became number 54 out of 55. I took my report to Fred who kept whispering in my ear. Slowly his words started to rehabilitate me. The next exam came and I became number 30 out of 55. Still, Fred encouraged me. The next term, I was number four out of 55!
My classmates started to complain, “Chokora is cheating in exams.”
“Yeah I saw him copying.” Another one said.
So my sitting position was changed from the back to right under the teachers nose.
“Fred. Hao students wengine wanasema naiba exam. Alafu ni kama mwalimu anawaamini because I was moved bana.” I lamented.
“Mike those kids are not like you. Most of them come from well off families. The only thing that will make you equal is an education. Don’t give up. When they call you chokora, remember this is your only chance to turn things around.”
The next exam I became number one! And for the rest of my time in that school I was either number one or two.
By the time I was completing class three, I was elected the class prefect of the people who were calling me ‘chokora.’ With Fred’s help my mouth was now less foul. I was able to articulate myself and focus. The more they called me ‘chokora’ the more they fueled my bottom.
When I was in class seven, a lady came with her church to visit the childrens home. She took to me as I was giving them a tour of the home. In the kitchen we worked together preparing the food and she asked me, “Mike how did you end up here?” I told her my story.
“Mike you are a bright boy. I want us to make a deal. If you get anything above 400 marks in your finals, I will pay for your fees in Secondary school.” We shook on it and I got down to reading. In that same year, I was elected the Headboy of over 2,200 students.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get above 400 marks.
But she said, “Because I have seen your previous grades, I know your potential. I will still pay your fees.” And she took me under her wing.
I went to Parklands Boys High School. During the holidays, the lady and I would meet and talk. She would talk to me about the future. About hardwork. About morals, about school. Because of her, I entered Java for the first time. At one point, she invited me to her house where I met a group of her friends who opened the closed doors of my life even more. One of them was a photographer, Janet, who would take me for events she was covering. She taught me a lot about photography. Being a fast learner I caught on quick and she started to pay me a stipend. This was my pocket money for school.
High school was not without its challenges. One of them being visiting days. I would be reminded of my broken home. My mum’s business did not take off so she ended up back in the streets. They would get her out and she would slide right back again. My sister had also left the home she was taken to. These memories would play in the screen of my mind as I watched families coming to school, pitching tents, laughing with their children, eating.
In all my time in high school, I was visited once! By Janet.
Still, I continued to excel and was elected the class prefect again. I went on to become the CU chairman and this is how my worlds connected. While in Form three, we wanted to do a community outreach project. I told the other students, “Guys lets look for all the stuff we have that we are not using, put them together and take them to Bahati Social Hall.” So the guys brought soap, t-shirts, sweaters, all sorts of things together. We then co-opted our sister school to do the same and then we went and donated them and stayed on to help with chores and cooking.
One of the students asked me, “How do you know about this place?”
“I just do.” I had vowed I was never going to talk about my background to anyone in the school for fear of being called, ‘chokora’ again. When the school would close, I would stay in school for a while, spend time in the library and then go to the home just before school opened.
When the rest of the students would resume, some would ask me, “So what did you do over the holidays? Where did you go?”
I remembered the one time some of the kids from the childrens home were taken to village market and that’s the story I would tell each time.
“Heee mimi nilienda village market. Hizo slides maze. They are to die for.” And I would repeat the story the following term to a different set of ears.
In Form three, I was elected the School President. And in my final year, our class performed better than the school had ever performed in the last 20 years.
I completed school on a high! But now I had nothing much to do. People were going to college, learning computers and I was getting restless.
So I started calling some of my former schoolmates and together with some kids in the home I told them, “Guys let’s do something for VIPs.”
“Ala? Which VIPs are you talking about?”
“Street kids. I like to call them VIPs. You know I was one of them and I hate the name chokora.”
“You were what?!” And I cautiously opened up to them about my past.
“We can contribute our pocket money and maybe feed them once a month. Our childrens home is called Joy Divine. So we can call it Joy Divine Gives Back. What do you guys think?”
“Let’s do it.”
We put together the few coins we had, went to a social hall at a place called Mlango Kubwa, cooked a meal and fed the kids. The next month we did the same and the numbers began to grow. Because the parents of my classmates saw and liked what we were doing, they started to contribute and we bought more food. We would borrow cutlery and big sufurias from the childrens home, carry them by matatu to mlango kubwa, cook, feed the kids and then take the stuff back. Soon we graduated to twice a month. And more people started to plug in. The more resources we got, the bigger we grew. Until we registered it as a CBO (community based organisation) and opened a bank account for it.
We since moved from just feeding our VIPs and introduced other activities like; shule mtaani where we would teach basic language and arithmetic. Then Kanisa Mtaani because most VIPs are not allowed in church because of how they look, smell and act. After the church service, our team would divide itself into groups. One group did first aid and tended to simple wounds, another group talked to the girls about their sexuality, yet another group talked to those who are HIV positive. Just to find out if they were on meds and on follow up. Yet another group would give out clothes.
We have grown immensely over the years.
Currently we feed about 600 kids every saturday. And the registered members of Joy Divine Gives Back are at 250 with 30 regulars coming every single week.
Remember the lady who paid my fees, she saw what I was doing on social media and reached out, “Mike you are doing great things for others. But what do you want to do for yourself? Do you still want to be a pilot?”
“Wow! You remembered! Yes, yes I do!” I had told her about it during our talks and then tucked it away. Once in a while it would rise to the surface. A dream that started when I was still on the streets.
One night I heard the sound of a plane above and I said to my crew, “Wasee, siku moja nitapeleka ndege ama nitapanda ndege.”
They laughed. “Bro, hiyo glue yako iko na nini? Ati ndege? Ata baiskeli huwezi endesha. Ndege je?”
“Ok,” the lady said, “I can pay a certain percentage of your fees to join Aviation school. See if you can find someone to pay the rest.”
I started talking to a few of the supporters of Joy Divine Gives Back and I was able to get sponsorship!
That is how I got into aviation school.
On the first day of class the teacher said to a group of wide eyed youth, “You have decided to be pilots right? What are your favourite planes? Your favourite destinations?”
When it was my turn I said, “I have never been inside an aircraft.” Laughter. “I also don’t have a favourite destination but my favourite Plane is the Antonov 225.” A plane I had seen on you tube.
And we got to it. We started our lessons but covid came and my sponsors were unable to continue paying my fees. So I dropped out. I am yet to get back.
I am currently looking for scholarships to be able to get my Private Pilot License.
When I look back at where I am from, I know my story is not done.
I believe I will fly.
Guys, this is my feature article of the month.
Mike is an awesome kid with big dreams and an even bigger heart. He reminded me of the Maparasha girls y’all helped me to fundraise for.
So this is to say thank you. To God Almighty, and to all the people who gave Mike a hand to be where he is today.
And to everyone who sent in a donation for the five girls from Maparasha to remain in school. They start Form 3 next week.
Wondering who those are? Read about them here: https://medroomeyes.medium.com/hills-of-maparasha-dfcc2e6670bf