I called the Nairobi mechanics who have our camera and left the following message: I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my camera go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will um, well I will probably just ask you again for the camera.
It’s summer vacation for all school children in Kenya until early January. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t have a role at the shelter during this time, but I actually have been spending more quality time getting to know the boys than while teaching, especially since I don’t allow any smiling, laughing or speaking during class. We’ve spent most of my time gardening and playing sports. They are beginning to tell me their background stories. The stories are shocking. Remember, these are the best behaved students I have ever taught. They are polite, respectful and sweet, which is amazing considering where they came from. Here is a little of what I’ve learned.
There are three main reasons why boys turn to the street in Naivasha. First, as I have previously mentioned, it is still culturally acceptable for boys to be kicked out of their house. When women remarry, the new husbands see the boys as a threat, and they are forced to leave. Second, their parents were killed in the post 2007 election violence. Third, extreme poverty, crime, mental illness and family breakdowns make families unable to provide for the boys. A teacher told me there are over 300,000 children living on the street in Kenya.
There are around seven gangs of street boys in our little town of Naivasha. They each control certain territories and have a home “base” where they sleep at night. Most of the bases are in alleys behind hotels, where the boys scrounge for leftovers from the day. Each of the gangs have a chief, usually in his late teens or early twenties, who rules over the gang. The chief is usually demanding and violent, utilizing fear to gain power and loyalty from boys. The boys, as young as five, are initiated into the gang by means of harassment, starvation, beatings, and rape. The boys are then tested, told to return to the gang with a camera, a cell phone, or a certain amount of money, or be ready to suffer the consequences. They are quickly introduced to drugs, alcohol, and most become addicted to sniffing glue to suppress hunger.
Some notes from discussions with the boys and teachers.
- The boys are quite resourceful and earn a surprising amount of money. A popular way to make money is to steal or salvage scrap metal.
- One of the nicest boys I’ve met used to steal puppies to sell on the street.
- A common method for one gang is to run up to a stranger while holding a handful of feces and demand money, or they will throw it in the stranger’s face or on their clothes. Old car oil works as well.
- Physically, many boys look much younger than they are as a result of years of malnourishment.
It is hard to imagine.
|I'm in this picture! Standing in front of the four boys to the left, looking dashing.|
This weekend, the shelter hosted a football or soccer tournament to raise money. Most of the flower farms have soccer teams, and seven participated. I’ve been playing volleyball and running cross country with the boys all fall, but I had yet to play soccer until this week. Oh man, I should have stayed retired. Terrible. I thought about faking a soccer injury to stop embarrassing myself. BUT, they’ll be calling me Ronaldo by May.
So for those of you who don't like my son, Eric, you may want to stop here. Eric is owning the rest of the post like Brady owns Manning.
|...and he found geese! Hmmmm, what should I do now...|
|The geese had babies.|
|More babies! Our chicks. They tasted delicio..., just kidding.|
|My buddy, Simba, the old dog at the shelter. He is the only one that doesn't bite. He always trots over to me for a head scratch.|
|We attended a baby shower for Eric's teacher. Eric appears to be deciding what to wear.|
|Eric, always so smooth with the ladies. BUT, watch this little girl in red to the right...|
|...who comes over and shoves Eric! She must have been jealous.|
|Get that hippo away from me.|