It was on a Wednesday morning as the sun began its ascent over the horizon, casting a warm, golden glow that painted the sky in hues of orange and pink, I found myself on a journey into the heart of a backstreet joint of Majengo area in Githurai, Nairobi County.
I had heard whispers of its existence and activities after one of our partners from Community Pop John, Simone Ceciliani, gave me a chilling brief, a place where the vulnerable of society met and conducted their businesses in secrecy.
As Simione and I headed to ‘Kije’ place locally branded, the narrow pathway was dimly lit, and the air was thick with loud music from all directions. The tales of forgotten dreams and desperations were evident as we encountered an area of people living in the middle of a pub zone with commercial sex workers queuing at each entrance waiting for clients. Open sewer lines welcomed us as we put our body muscles to practice through the ‘hop, skip and jump’ motion. A mixed untold smell filled the air with children running around oblivious of the hazardous situation surrounding them.
My heart ached as I observed a group of young individuals huddled in a dimly lit corner. Their faces were etched with weariness, their eyes reflecting a myriad of emotions – pain, numbness, and a longing for escape. Despite the sorry state, the young men welcomed us as we engaged them in a conversation on the consequences of engaging in criminal activities and drug abuse.
“Life is so tough, some of us here have families but no jobs. Most of us dropped out of school because of poverty in our homes. We have been unable to secure anything meaningful. We don’t engage in stealing because we want to. If it were you, would you let your child sleep hungry when you can get it from someone else?” one of them posed. Well, I took time to digest that but at the same time did not want to judge him.
As our session in that particular place came to an end, and as we moved to the next street, we were signaled to pass by a base that was bushy and with houses built with iron sheets that were brownish in color, from a distance we could see smoke, but we were not aware what was happening. When we got close to the ratchet house, we were welcomed by some young men who were using drugs.
The room was fully packed with almost 40 young men between the ages of 20 to 30 years who were freely smoking Madibi (cocaine) as it is locally referred to. They would fill the powdered stuff into aluminum foil tubes and sniff it to the end. We could tell there was more than cocaine, they equally chewed khat and smoked cigarettes and bhang. The room also serves as a sleeping den during night hours as there was evidence of torn pieces of mattresses scattered all over
The same script of lack of employment and using drugs as an escape route showered our ears. They engage in all sorts of criminal activities to get money which they use to buy food for their families as well as restock their drugs.
The saddest part was the presence of a 5-year-old in the room. His innocence was snatched away too soon by the harsh reality of this environment. His fragile frame was a stark reminder that the destructive forces of substance abuse spared no one. The boy was placed next to a man sniffing “madibi” and releasing all the smoke in the atmosphere. The mother to the boy was idling around there looking shaggy with a piece of cloth covering her mouth while saliva flowed freely. She wore torn clothes, looked confused and sleepy, and could not utter a single word
As we continued with the engagement, giving them our assurance that we were harmless, stories of broken families, shattered dreams, and a sense of hopelessness that had driven them to the edge started coming out. The substances they sought solace in were a temporary escape from a world that had failed to provide them with alternatives.
As they spoke, it became evident that this backstreet had become a refuge for these young souls, a place where they found company amidst their shared struggles. Their tales revealed the systemic issues that had pushed them to this point – lack of access to education, limited job opportunities, and the absence of positive role models. It was a cycle that seemed impossible to break.
Yet, amid the darkness, glimmers of hope emerged. Some of these young individuals spoke about their dreams, their aspirations that had been buried but not forgotten. They yearned for a way out, for a chance to rewrite their stories. It was a poignant reminder that beneath the surface of despair, there were still sparks of resilience and determination.
The report by the National Authority for the Campaign Against Drugs (Nacada) released in May this year states that children as young as six years old are now abusing drugs, something that should be worrying the whole country. It is evident that many children have become passive smokers after being exposed by their guardians. The truth is that they eventually get addicted.
After a whole day of engagement leaving the backstreet, I carried their stories with me. They were stories of pain, yes, but also stories of strength and potential. The journey opened my eyes to the urgency of addressing the root causes of youth crime and substance abuse and providing support, opportunities, and a renewed sense of purpose.
My journey to the backstreet is a testament to the fact that even in the most challenging environments, there is an inherent desire for change. It is a reminder that behind the statistics and the stereotypes, there are real lives with real dreams. As I walked away from that backstreet, I vowed to amplify their voices and work towards a future where no child’s innocence is lost to the shadows of substance abuse. I however need partners on board to achieve this and save the future generation.
For a drug-free society, change begins with you, will you be able to be the voice to the voiceless by speaking and spreading informative messages to advocate against crime and drug abuse in your area?
My parting shot; The best way to predict the future is to create it together. – Joe Echevarria