With hopelessness all around, we need a miracle to get along

Raising a family in Nairobi without an income is a nightmare, if not an impossibility.

Friday February 5 2016

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I went to church after a long time this week. And as luck would have it, it was testimony Sunday. I don’t think I had attended another of those.

What struck me is just how much pain and suffering there is in our country and how desperately the people need their churches, their communities and their families to keep going in the midst of deepening deprivation.

I was moved to tears by the story of one young family, told by the mum with a face bathed in tears and a voice cracking with emotion.

She and her husband used to work for the same employer and were retrenched three years ago.

And for those three years, the couldn’t find a job. They have children, I can’t remember how many, but the youngest, is a two-year-old daughter.

Raising a family in Nairobi without an income is a nightmare, if not an impossibility.

For this jobless family, paying rent was a monthly ordeal and just when they thought they were about to be thrown into the streets, a relative got a job abroad and was required to relocate urgently.

The relative asked whether they could move into his house rent-free, on condition that they took good care of it. The family had been saved by the bell.

But then, there was the small matter of school fees.

They had no money for that. I can see in my mind a small girl battering her mum with questions, reminders and endless demands about school.

I can imagine too her joyful anticipation of the many new things she is going to see, to learn, to play, to experience.

I can imagine the big day arriving, the day she is meant to report to school, waking up earlier than the rest of the family, getting showered and selecting her best church dress, her favourite hair band, perhaps even her special little hand bag, the one stuffed with papers.

I can see her with her bag on her back, full of colouring pencils and crayons and notebooks and endless other childish things.

All the other children in the estate have left, but she is still keeping vigil in the living room, blissfully unaware that her parents, who are probably themselves just kids in their 20s, can’t afford to send her to school.

But I can’t imagine anything more depressing for parents.

The climax of their story – and I suspect the reason they had found the courage to stand in front of the church and share it – is that a miracle happened.

An SMS came through, somebody had sent them money by M-Pesa to pay fees. Again, this family had been saved by the bell.

As we raided handbags, shared tissue and shamelessly wept, I couldn’t help thinking: Hang on a minute, this is not right.

Kids such as this couple – bright, confident, determined, well spoken, intelligent, well educated, hard working – ought not to be without jobs.

They ought not to be struggling to pay kindergarten fees. They ought not to be living on charity.

Those of us who have a salaried income pump so much money into the government in taxes.

Shouldn’t those taxes be used in creating jobs for young families such as those?

Shouldn’t there be some kind of social net for those who have fallen on hard times?

From that service, I came to realise that not all the destitute people of this country are in Mathare and Kibera and not all the homeless ones are on the streets.

They are with us in the so-called middle class estates.

And there I was in a very crowded church, knowing in my heart that it was not beyond the realm of possibility that someone could toss a grenade through the window and kill me and my children and that the overweight AP woman with an old AK-47 sitting at the gate was of very little use.

I looked at all these people, slowly being dragged into the quicksand of poverty by the decisions of people they only see on TV and whose future was possibly only going to get worse.

I thought about our soldiers in a foreign land and being slaughtered, perhaps in their hundreds, by an enemy they should easily have overcome.

I thought about claims of justice being peddled by Supreme Court judges at petrol stations for millions of dollars.

I thought about the sense of foreboding we all feel these days, that we risk losing our freedoms, that the democratic space is narrowing, that the noisy civil society that keeps our country vibrant is on the very brink of extinction, that press freedom is on the back foot.

Well, perhaps all is hunky-dory. Perhaps everything is just great. Maybe all that praise-and-worship had addled my mind.

Mutuma Mathiu is the Managing Editor of the Daily Nation. [email protected]