I saw a black man carrying a white baby today. I stopped for a bit and stared, I thought it was an interesting sight, the baby with his shock of blonde hair and bright, blue eyes, and the man with his unruly, black hair and brown eyes. The baby was eerily comfortable in the black man’s hold, sucking his tiny, pink thumb while staring at the human traffic. The man looked exhausted, bags under his eyes, shoulders drooping and his eyes kept darting around, like he was waiting for something/someone to come take the baby off him.
I didn’t stare for long, maybe a couple of seconds, but even after I walked away, I almost messed up my photocopy order thinking about the man and what I saw outside. A physically imposing man cradling a baby, so expertly like he had done it for years, a physically imposing man who most probably would never cradle his own children, convinced it’s a woman’s job, but has little choice but to hold on to his boss’ child. A man who most probably hates what he does, but has no option but to wake up early and head out to his work, no time to play with his kids, but all the time to cradle other people’s kids. A man whose eyes dart around because he is probably making sure nobody he knows can recognize him. A frustrated man. Troubled. Easily irritable.
My friend from home just got news that the mother of his two other babies is pregnant, (I avoid the name wife because he only lets her live in his house because she had his babies). He is twenty three, and works a small retail shop in Kawangware. An ever-shrinking disposable income means that finances are stretched already, and another baby will only mean smaller portions of food, more trips to the hospital and delayed schooling for the bigger ones. A tin-walled single room means no privacy, nosy neighbours and one unhygienic person and an explosion of whatever is being harboured. Life is rough when you have more mouth to feed than you have money to feed them, which is a lot of the time. Little things piss you off, and that is why domestic violence statistics in the hood are crazy, warm instead of hot food and the blows start raining, no meat in the stew even when there wasn’t enough money for the ‘sukuma wiki’ to start with and it’s another beating. The sons learn that women need beatings to be rid of their ‘foolishness’, the daughters learn that beatings are part of marriage, and until he breaks a bone, then everything else is ‘workable’. A vicious cycle. A sick, long, predictable cycle. Parents, who were in most cases themselves kids when they had kids, are already struggling with the idea of parenting, add long hours at work, and that means the kids are alone and devoid of guidance. Idle young men, or moneyed, dirty old men, take advantage of neglected teenage daughters, a hundred bob here, a soda there, things the parent’s are too pressed to afford, and the daughters are at the mercy of anyone up for illegal, underage sex. The girls learn that it’s okay to use your body to get what you want, the sons learn that women are objects to kill carnal desires, and that they have a price, you just have to have enough of what they want. That means stds keep spreading, crime levels soar, the cycle is nasty, and hard to break, and that makes my people cannon fodder for the politicians, where the unsustainable promise of freebies is attractive because anything that will ease the burden is welcome.
I know people with five kids on a Kes 15,000 salary. That means a single-roomed house, that means a public education in an underfunded school, that means queues everywhere, at the hospital, at the water vendor, at the bursary office. Semi-literate kids who don’t study past form four, who can only work menial jobs, marry early and keep the cycle going. When you have five kids on a pittance of a salary, you have a need to do ANYTHING to make more money, little wonder sports betting firms are making a kill on these streets, get-rich-quick-scams work better on people whose logic is blurred by a primal need to provide. Here, politicians have a field day deflecting blame on the ‘enemy’ tribe, it works on desperate people, who are gullible and will quickly blame anyone but their indiscipline on the insane levels of greed and wastage, bloated workforces, neglected infrastructure and broken social and moral fabric.
The weekend before last, a colleague at work told me he had Kes. 50 between him and poverty. On the 15th of the month. Said he has to walk a distance, get a matatu for Kes. 20, walk a little more, and keep the remaining Kes. 30 as Monday’s fare, and even if the kids cried blood, he wouldn’t be moved because he needs the money for Monday’s fare. I felt bad for those kids, whose plea for a mandazi would land on deaf ears. Broke, deaf ears. The probability that it will be easier to turn a financially and emotionally deprived daughter into a sexual object is unbelievably high, same goes for the son being lured into illegal activities to be able to fend for himself when the kids grow older.
I feel like I overthink sometimes, because I know first-hand what lack of family planning does. Kids who are sent to neighbours houses during mealtimes, teenage daughters who have to ‘improvise’ during that time of the month because bread is necessity and sanitary towels..not really, teenage boys who need new clothes but can only wear hand-me-downs, or clothes two sizes smaller. A school near where I lived had about sixty students in a class meant for twenty five students, kids would be playing cards at the back during math class, the teacher will try discipline one kid for cussing, by the time they are done, another two are fighting because one made fun of the others torn shoes, in another part of the miniature banana republic, another boy is forcefully fondling a classmates breasts, all this time, the teacher still needs to teach and correct the math equations, check for homework and confirm attendance. All these in a forty-minute time span. We will always wonder why we have millions of functionally illiterate young people because school isn’t for learning, it’s a temporary refuge from the hell at home.
Maybe the black man holding a cute baby was waiting for his wife to leave the supermarket with the weeks shopping, and he was just calming Kyle down. Maybe I saw too much, and he’s not a driver who cradles someone else’s baby by day and pushes his own away at night. Maybe I need to chill and not mess up my photocopy orders. Maybe we are doing just fine as a population, and I am an alarmist. Maybe I need to mind more of my own business, like why I don’t have my own kids. Maybe I need a cute baby to hold, it might calm my fraying nerves.