The phrase “grace is like water, it flows downhill and pools up in the lowest places” works in my community, Mathare. Mathare lies in the Eastlands of Nairobi which is topographically lower. The sound of its name is received with mixed reactions both locally and internationally. The population of more than 400,000 people is composed of Kikuyus, Luhyas, Luos, Kisiis, and Kambaas, along with several other small tribes. Many people are deprived of the basic needs such as water, food and shelter. Living in a 9 by 9 feet room that is made of wood and old iron sheet, life here is almost unbearable. But since people have no choice (sometimes it is the only heaven they have), traits and tactics for survival come in handy. If I may mention just a few: prostitution, mugging, gangs, drugs and alcohol form the economic power for my community. I told you earlier that Mathare is a name that raises eyebrows.
With a river that passes through with niceties from the upper side of the town, the community takes refuge and advantage by using the river as a cooler for preparation of the illegal alcohol chang’aa. While other places boast of their tourism revenue, tea exports and development projects, brew is the biggest source of income for my community. I am a Kenyan by nature of everything. By now you are asking whether I have a government. Of course I do! The outlawed sect Mungiki is my “government”. My community pays taxes to them for all of their services: security (when they deem you worthy), water (stolen), electricity (tapped from those that don’t obey)—just to name a few. We have been taught to be mute even if we don’t want to be. We are taught to obey. Yes, a fee is all you need to become deemed worthy of my “government”. After all, you wouldn’t want to get your head, hands, legs or even your private parts chopped off, would you?
Despite this, my community Mathare is like a champagne bottle shaken but not yet released. People are talented and gifted in so many ways. But these talents can easily run wild if people are not given the opportunity to nurture them. Are you still with me? We have teenagers and youths who like to practice what they see, like becoming a cowboy for a day after watching an action movie. I say this with great grief because there have been an average of two teenagers/youths being shot and killed every week by police when caught stealing or mugging. If you see these men and women in blue (police) patrolling my community, you can’t help but to be suspicious. They have either come to get kitu kidogo (something small) or quell an uprising that might have occurred as a result of their actions. Oops! I am not being harsh, am I? But I rarely see them around apart from these special days and that is why I am complaining.
My former government (which Mungiki took over from) has no obligation over my community. They don’t build schools, hospitals or other public facilities that people may feel is necessary for my community Mathare. They can only supply us with gunpowder to our flesh and tear gas when we cry foul. But my community knows better—they already have chang’aa, marijuana and other hard stuff that can easily end their miserable lives. You will notice this when you visit my community and see a father of ten or so, unemployed and intoxicated at eight in the morning. Such a guy has a prudent wife (God bless women) who will go an extra mile to provide for her family.
My question to you is, “Do you see God in the midst of all this?” Yes! He did not call the qualified, but qualified those He called. Just like he converted Saul, the persecutor of earlier believers, He is not limited in a place like Mathare. While there are days when I struggle to see Christ at work in this place, I know that God has given us a duty to give hope to the hopeless because our hope comes from Him!
Moses B. Okonji, a.k.a. “Big Boy”
The landscape of my origins:
With a crust of bread and a corner to sleep in,
A minute of smile to an hour of weepin’
Seldom a laugh but moans comes double,
This is my Mathare