Chokora

His straight pearly white teeth were a contrast to his dirty and grubby countenance. He had the most exquisite smile and deep dimples, but his eyes were red, glossy and zombie like. He walked slowly towards me. The woman seated next to me on the public transport quickly reached over and slammed the Matatu window shut. “Don’t you ever hold your phone so close to the window while on public transport!” she admonished. “The Chokoras are always looking for something to snatch when the cars are stopped. Sometimes they will toss feces or body fluids through the window!”

“CHOKORA,” that is the name they give Street kids. Many were abandoned on the streets at a young age, some ran away from home to a avoid mistreatment, and others were recruited by grown adults to help pilfer from the unsuspecting. I looked at the boy. He seemed to be about 12 years old. He carried a gummy substance in a half-cut water bottle. He kept it close to his nose, inhaling the fumes to keep him high. I couldn’t help but think he was self-medicating to escape the horrors of street life. These kids and young adults are blamed for virtually every imaginable street crime, even some that they are not responsible for committing. They are savvy; they know almost everything to know about Nairobi and Kisumu. They travel in groups and have established friendship and familial bonds amongst each other. There are a few who make a living out of stealing, but a majority just want to live, eat and survive the cold streets. I looked over and the boy with the deep dimples and exquisite smile had already crossed the median to join a group dressed in tattered clothes much like his. They were sniffing the substance from water bottles, just like him. They welcomed him with handshakes and he flashed that sweet smile. The traffic police furiously waved and motioned as the roundabout cleared. Our vehicle moved forward and I kept staring. I stared until the group was out of sight. I was deep in thought and didn’t even notice that we had arrived at our destination until I felt a gentle nudge to alight from the vehicle.

It’s 2020, and there are children and young adults out on the streets fending for themselves. I saw that boy in Kenya in 2015 and his smile still haunts me today.  It’s 2020 in the middle of a pandemic and all I can think about is the street kid. My heart goes out to all those precious babies forced to grow up fast and live out in the elements.

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